ENGLEWOOD — Kenneth J. Johnson's "I Am Englewood" photography series captures residents in their natural element.
A native of the community himself, he wanted to give the world a positive image of the community he grew up in, he said.
His 13 photos are unique in that most of the scenes are in black and white but there's always one person or object depicted in color. Johnson says he took that approach because he wants to steer the viewer's eye to where his eye was when the photo was made.
One photo shows a little boy in a backyard with a firecracker in his hand. Another shows a father walking with his little girl. In another, a family sits on their front porch, with only some of the subjects looking directly into the camera. Johnson said he's still searching for that family because he wants to give them the framed photo.
Street photography has always been a love for Johnson because he enjoys the timelessness of the photographs, he explained.
Johnson has been snapping photos since he was 11. Now 32 and living in Calumet Heights, he said the plan wasn’t to create a series but it just sort of happened.
His aunt introduced him to art — she would enroll him in free classes around the city. One was a photography class, he said.
“She would let me play around with her old camera and I learned how to develop the film,” Johnson said.
Because cameras were always too expensive for him, he wasn't able to buy his own modern camera until five years ago.
Around 2014, Johnson began meeting strangers and taking photos of them doing everyday things.
“I just went ahead and started taking pictures, random pictures,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, I didn't know it was going to turn into a series.”
A mentor helped him and he began to have more of a focus. The series is supposed to spark conversations and showcase Englewood residents as people.
“I wanted to highlight the really positive images that I saw of the everyday-ness that goes on,” he said, adding that he believes the media tends to portray the community in a negative light.
Intruding on people’s space quickly turns into a pleasant conversation in most instances, Johnson said. The lens doesn’t get in the way; if anything, people are typically drawn by it, he said.
“If I’m just walking down the street with my camera and I’m approaching people, I want them to know I’m taking [photos] of them because I think they’re special,” Johnson said.
Last month Cole Glassner, owner of the Frame Shop, featured Johnson's series at his businesses in Bucktown, at 2525 N. Elston Ave., and in Bridgeport location, at 3520 S. Morgan St. A quarter of frame sale proceeds are donated to the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.) and the Englewood 5K, Glassner said.
RAGE president Aysha Butler had been working with Johnson for some events like So Fresh Saturdays, which hosts local educational and social gatherings. She said when Glassner saw his work, he wanted to give back to the community in some way.
“His pictures were great and I loved his vision,” Butler said. “When we did the exhibit — to see it big, framed and people admiring all the beauty that Englewood has to offer — was so heartwarming.”
She said it is great to see a neighborhood business from outside of Englewood wanting to help the community.
“A lot of times we look within our community, so it’s just a really good feeling to have a local business that is not in our community that’s willing to give back,” she said.
He's also working on mass producing his book "I Am Englewood," which includes images from community meetings, barbers cutting hair, the first day of school and more.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: