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Great Migration Inspires 10-Year-Long Project by Hyde Park Photographer

By Sam Cholke | August 6, 2015 6:03am
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Carlos Javier Ortiz

CHINATOWN — Hyde Park photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz has narrowed his focus to just one house after documenting the South Side’s block parties, funerals and vigils for 10 years.

Ortiz will show work from a new series “Mama’s Dream,” a project about one home on Indiana Avenue that’s been in the same family since the Great Migration, at 6 p.m. Friday at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

“It’s the story of this house, but you can throw a rock and hit a family that’s had the same experience,” Ortiz said Wednesday at his studio in Chinatown.

The exhibit, part of Ortiz’s fellowship with the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, is inspired by the experience of Aunt Mae Garrett, who left her sharecropper father in the mid-1940s in Walnut, Miss., to come to Chicago and run a boarding house near Indiana Avenue and 39th Street.

 Hyde Park photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz has spent the last 10 years documenting the South Side for his project
Hyde Park photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz has spent the last 10 years documenting the South Side for his project "We All We Got." He will show works from his new series, "Mama's Dream," at the Logan Center starting Friday.
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The house’s story is full of nephews who later take it over, Garrett’s father after he’s been run off his farm in Mississippi and Garrett’s sister, Bette Parks Sacks, who is also Ortiz’s mother-in-law.

All are lured to Chicago during the 1940s by promises by the Chicago Defender and others that the city was a paradise compared to the South.

“But if you came up here, you found your neighborhoods were already mapped out in red lines,” Ortiz said.

After 10 years of documenting the South Side of Chicago, Ortiz said he’s come to believe the Great Migration is one of the most significant events to shape the city’s history.

“That dream really happened for a lot of people,” Ortiz said. “But what happened to the grandchildren is that upward mobility has been stunted.”

For the last decade, Ortiz has been working on “We All We Got,” a series documenting life in some of the poorest South Side neighborhoods. He’s stood in a kitchen while a boy had a revolver pressed to his temple, sat next to the casket while a mother grieves her dead child and played with kids in neighborhood lots and beaches.

“Where are we 100 years after the start of the first Great Migration? Where is the metropolis?” Ortiz said.

Ortiz will screen “We All We Got,” a short film that accompanies a book by the same name that collects Ortiz’s photos from the past decade.

“I’m just trying to know and scratch the surface on these people who made so much out of nothing,” Ortiz said.

The exhibit will run through Sept. 13 at the Logan Center.

Hyde Park photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz has spent 10 years shooting the photos for his "We All We Got" project. [Carlos Javier Ortiz]

Ortiz continues to work on "We All We Got," but is now working on a new series about the Great Migration, with the first work being shown on Friday at the Logan Center for the Arts. [Carlos Javier Ortiz]

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