Chicago 2020 Timeline & Artist Statement
I spent the first 20 years of my life in a small farming community in Southwest Iowa. From as early as I can remember, I felt a strange form of spatial dysphoria, as if I was born in the wrong place. Even though my hometown and the surrounding communities were all I knew, it never felt like my home or my truth. I felt misplaced throughout my entire youth.
I moved to Chicago at age 20. From the moment I stepped foot off the Amtrak train at Union Station and admired the skyline towering above me, I felt an immediate connection with the city. I credit this as the single most pivotal moment of my life. I have reflected on those moments countless times over the years by asking myself, "How can a place so unfamiliar feel so right within mere seconds.”
Chicago is a complex city with an equally complex reputation. Boasting 77 officially recognized neighborhoods, each possessing its own unique personality, Chicago is at once friendly and brash, progressive and reserved, and cosmopolitan and downtrodden. The accumulation of these complexities and its rich history swept over me in a way I have never understood. These contradictory characteristics combined with the city’s rich history shaped who I am as a person and as an artist. I was eager to search for this understanding through my work.
As the year 2020 was approaching, I realized that I had lived in Chicago for 20 years and I moved to Chicago at the age of 20, so the year 2020 was a personally symbolic year for me to set out on a year-long project to seek out this understanding through my work. I committed to creating work in all 77 communities. Visiting every community forced me to explore new neighborhoods which helped me experience parts of Chicago for the first time, the same way I initially did 20 years ago.
Having a specific start and end date was a critical and exciting way to bookend this project. Knowing that the clock started ticking on January 1, a year-long project offered me the right amount of urgency and presented me with a disciplined framework. Exploring one neighborhood at a time gave me the structure and guidance to stay on course.
This project was not only a search for a sense of home in a physical space but in my heart and in my head.
I had no intention of telling the complete story of Chicago, which would be impossible for one photographer to do; instead, my objective was to avoid common images I’ve already seen and instead, seek out the city’s authentic character and understand my relationship to a place. By March, the world changed, and additional layers of complexity mounted on top of each other throughout the year, one after another. I found myself capturing the emotion and personality of a city during a time (mostly) without people while simultaneously coping with my own stress and anxiety brought on by the year’s events.
The project evolved beyond a self-discovery project to also become a time capsule of a great American city during a time of political unrest, economic uncertainty, social injustice, and a pandemic. Chicago is normally a bustling city, but 2020 was a year of missing – missing friends, family, events, and regular day-to-day life however, in this year of missing, I went searching.
This journal helps track my thought process throughout the project, providing insight into what I had intended to create, and what I eventually created. The interweaving timeline provides insight into how the events of the year affected my thought process and emotions all year long while providing context to the images throughout the book.
My goal was to dive deep into each neighborhood; I created a schedule of every major event in Chicago along with every local festival. I started with street festivals, music festivals, exhibits, parties, and any other event I could find; they were all on my calendar. I began reaching out to youth groups, schools, and minority groups, in hopes of incorporating as much diversity into the work as possible. I imagined for myself a project of honesty, heart, and depth, however, by March the world changed, as did the direction of the project. I truly feel that what I eventually produced was authentic to Chicago in the year 2020. It is a time capsule of a city during a very tumultuous time. It is not the body of work I initially intended on making, but 2020 was not a year that any of us could have ever anticipated.
I set out with only a few rules for this project:
- All the images are to be created in the year 2020
- Create work in all 77 neighborhoods
- Be attentive and adapt to anything happening throughout the year
- No traditional “postcard” or familiar images of Chicago
It is important to note with point 4, the only exception I made was the first image in the book. I felt like a symbolic entry point to the project would be of the sun rising over Lake Michigan on January 1st.
January 1st – Excited to get the project started, I left a New Year’s party shortly after midnight to get some rest. As I explained why I was leaving early my friends, were both surprised and supportive of the ambitious project I was about to begin. I woke before sunrise and traveled down Lakeshore Drive to North Avenue beach, where I intend to capture the sunrise over lake Michigan. This beautiful January morning brought out several other photographers and joggers who shared in the beauty of the sunrise and the overall optimism in the air.
I live on the Northside of Chicago in the Uptown Neighborhood. To be efficient with my time, I intend to start creating images on Chicago’s south side and make my way north. The South Side is the largest of three sides radiating from downtown — the West and North Sides.
January 4th - I begin photographing in the far southeast neighborhood of Hegewisch, which is the only neighborhood in Chicago with a trailer park in it, and wetlands surrounding it. For most of the rest of January, I focus on the southern neighborhoods known for their role in the big industrial manufacturing boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s, each of which was a neighborhood I had never been to. This included Pullman, West Pullman, Roseland, and Burnside.
January 7th - The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a notice for Americans traveling to Wuhan, China, due to a cluster of pneumonia cases associated with a seafood and poultry market in the city. This virus, COVID-19, or the coronavirus, reaches the United States on January 20, 2020[JH1].
January 15th – The House of Representatives votes to send its impeachment articles against President Trump (for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress) to the Senate.
January 21st – A Washington state resident becomes the first person in the United States with a confirmed case of the novel Coronavirus.
January 24th - Illinois health officials announce the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Illinois; the second confirmed case in the United States.
January 26th – Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others die in a helicopter crash.
January 30th – The World Health Organization (WHO) declares the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency.
I continue creating work on the South Side of Chicago. The South Side has a varied ethnic composition and a significant disparity in income and other demographic measures. Although it has a reputation for a high crime rate, the South Side ranges from affluent, to the middle, to low, as far as income goes. Southside neighborhoods like Armour Square, Bridgeport, New City, and Morgan Park host more blue-collar or middle-class residents, while Hyde Park, Kenwood, Beverly, and Mount Greenwood feature more affluent upper-middle-class residents. Neighborhoods such as Englewood, West Englewood, and Fuller Park generally carry the weight of high crime and a negative reputation. Through February I will try to find an equitable balance across this disparity.
February 2nd – Global air travel is restricted.
February 3rd – The U.S. Declares the coronavirus a public health emergency. Pete Buttigieg wins the Iowa caucus.
February 11th – Berne Sanders wins the New Hampshire primary; Joe Biden finishes fifth.
February 16th - Chicago has a reputation for bad winters; however, the city is experiencing it’s 35th least snowy year on record. I have a brief opportunity to photograph the snow-covered ground in Englewood, West Englewood, and Douglas.
February 22nd – Bernie Sanders cruises to victory in the Nevada caucus.
As I travel through one neighborhood after another, the massive amount of work I decided to take on feels like an enormous weight on my shoulders. I’m not spending enough time in each neighborhood, but I need to move quickly to ensure I can make it through all 77 neighborhoods while reserving time to capture events happening across the city all year long.
February 24th – President Trump tweets, "The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA" and "Stock Market starting to look very good to me!" as Dow Jones falls 1,000 points.
February 29th – The first coronavirus death is reported in the U.S. A third Illinois resident tests positive for the virus in the Chicagoland area. Biden scores an overwhelming victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary, reigniting his presidential campaign.
March 1st –Buttigieg drops out of the presidential race and endorses Biden.
March 3rd – Biden takes a commanding lead in the primary race with sweeping victories in 10 states on Super Tuesday.
March 4th – Chicago turns 183 years old.
March 11th - The WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic; Illinois reaches twenty-five confirmed cases.
March 12th – Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot cancels the city's annual Chicago River dyeing on March 14th and the South Side Irish parade on March 15th in response.
March 14th – Disappointed that I would not be able to capture images of Chicago’s world-famous St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, I decided to turn my camera to the Westside Neighborhoods of East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park.
March 13th – 26-year-old emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor[JH2] is shot and killed [maybe add while sleeping] in her Louisville, Kentucky home by police serving a narcotics warrant for a suspected drug dealer. This tragic incident later becomes a significant part of the year's social injustice uprising.
March 16th – Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Dow Jones industrial average falls 2,997.10, the most significant single-day point drop ever.
March 17th – Local officials announced the first death related to COVID-19, a Chicago woman in her sixties.
March 20th - Illinois reports its fifth COVID-19 death. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issues a stay-at-home order taking effect 5 pm, Saturday, March 21st, and lasting through April 7th for all of Illinois. The drastic order is intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
March 21st - Not knowing what to expect, I set out on a marathon of shooting in the Clearing and Garfield Ridge neighborhoods.
With a 5 pm curfew and much of our future unknown, I try to stay calm and focused on shooting all day for this project. Without a plane taking off or landing, Midway airport is quiet, and anxiety is unavoidable. The streets are empty; businesses began putting up signs announcing that they are closing [permanently?] due to the pandemic. While I am out shooting, my worried mind asks all sorts of questions. What will happen if I am not home by 5 pm? Will I receive a warning? Will I get arrested? Will Mayor Lightfoot be watching? What If I do not have enough food, or even worse—enough alcohol?
I make it home right at 5:15 pm; thankfully, Lightfoot was not watching me, or if she was, she gave me a break. In less than a month, our country went from every day to a new pandemic reality. The American way of life is locked down and locked in. I continue to abide by the SIP order through the end of March. The alcohol helps.
April 2nd - The number of coronavirus cases worldwide had passed 1 million, and more than 6.6 million workers had filed for unemployment in the United States.
April 3rd - the CDC recommended that everyone consider wearing cloth or fabric masks in public.
April 5th - The project has been idle for a few weeks. Although I know I'll be breaking the city's shelter-in-place rules if I continue to shoot, I also feel that as a photographer who started a body of work about Chicago in 2020, it is my responsibility to document the city at this time. I laugh at myself (and the photography practice as a whole) due to feeling what I consider "photographer existentialism" which I define as the idea that the work we create not only gives the photographer purpose, but the work is also essential to humanity, even if no one ever sees it. The latter half of that is nonsense, but it's also what drives me. As an ambitious artist, I have no choice but to soldier on. So, with a mask on my face, I gather the courage to start the project back up.
I am compelled to visit downtown Chicago, which feels like a ghost town. The streets are empty, parking lots vacant, and some businesses are boarded up to prevent looting while they were closed. Art school mannequins are left hanging, waiting for the fashion design students to cover their bare bodies with their midterm assignments. My favorite restaurants and coffee shops are closed. A major American city feels deserted.
April 11th - Although I am not abiding by the city's stay-at-home order, I’m finding a rhythm in correctly practicing social distancing while continuing the project, including arriving in my target neighborhood before sunrise, avoiding people as much as possible, and practically bathing in hand sanitizer. I’m coming to terms with the fact that many of the images I hoped to capture for this project, such as concerts, events, street fairs, etc., are not going to be possible, however, it also dawns on me to embrace this change in circumstance. As events are getting canceled week after week, so are the obstacles preventing me from creating work. The lack of city and social events allows for more time to create work and for the first time in my life, I feel like I can focus on one body of work. Although the content of the work is shifting, I can now slow down, spend more time in each neighborhood, and truly work on work that is meaningful to me and the project. My state of mind changes, and the project truly starts to take off. I travel to the far west side neighborhood of Austin, the largest neighborhood in square miles.
April 12th - On Easter Sunday, I visited Austin’s neighboring community, Montclare, one of Chicago’s smallest neighborhoods. Most of the Easter decorations in the front yards included references to the coronavirus in some way.
April 23rd – President Trump suggests injecting disinfectant as a potential cure for COVID-19.
April 26th – I make my way to the Chicago Theater to take a photograph of the building’s famous façade which reads “We Love Chicago,” representing the feelings I’ve had over the last few weeks while creating work. A lovely woman named Jasmine stands near me to take a similar picture. We strike up a conversation and as I explain what I’m working on, I ask if I can take a portrait of her. She enthusiastically agrees, helping me realize I can continue to make portraits for the project, adding another layer to this body of work.
April 24th – The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpasses 50,000.
April 27th – The U.S. passes 1,000,000 total coronavirus cases as worldwide totals pass 3,000,000.
April 28th - At approximately 12:14 pm, I am out on a walk taking pictures for the project. At the 4800 blocks of North Magnolia in Uptown, a small group of men walks past me. When the group is roughly 20 feet away from me, gunshots start firing. It seems a rival gang coming from the opposite direction has cut them off. Two adult males shoot at each other on the sidewalk. A 23-year-old male is shot in the back of the head and is transported to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where he later dies. I am caught in that crossfire, and although bullets ricocheted off a fence near me, I am uninjured[JH3] .
May 1st – Now that I have the courage to approach strangers for portraits (at a safe distance), I walk the streets of the Loop to photograph essential workers in masks. I feel that this is an important time in history to capture and I fear that my window to do this is short. Most of the people I approach are willing to participate. As I continue to scour the city, anti-lockdown protesters gather at the Thompson Center to demand an end to the City’s stay-at-home order to reopen the state’s economy. A group of counter-protesters gathered, consisting of essential workers with signs asking for sympathy.
May 3rd – The U.S. faces an invasion of "murder hornets," which threaten domestic bees.
May 8th – The U.S. unemployment rate reaches 14.7% with more than 33 million jobless claims filed since mid-March.
I initially felt nervous in some neighborhoods due to my lack of familiarity with the area and the reputation that preceded them; however, as the year progresses, I eventually feel more comfortable making pictures throughout all neighborhoods regardless of reputation. Challenging these reputations is offering an enormous amount of personal growth for me. My photographs are generally an examination of sociology and my motivation to better understand humankind. To truly understand something, especially other people, or cultures, I aspire to experience them firsthand. I do not want to just know about something; I need to feel it, touch it, smell it and hear it. I’m understanding that the neighborhoods with difficult reputations often flourish with culture and personality, leaving me craving more.
May 16th – The city remains desolate, utterly devoid of human presence. The uncertainty about COVID-19 is keeping people inside, even as the weather is getting nicer, and the days are getting longer. Signs of life are marked by signs of encouraging us to wear a mask, wash our hands, stay inside, and call a loved one.
May 19th – The U.S. Passes 1.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 90,000 deaths.
May 20th – The Willis Tower loses its power due to severe flooding from the Chicago River that spilled into the building’s basement. A building that dominates the Chicago skyline is both literally and figuratively powerless as it disappears into the night sky.
May 25th – A Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin is filmed pressing his knee on the neck of an unarmed black man named George Floyd for about eight minutes, killing him as three other officers watch. Video of Floyd's death goes viral; the four officers are fired the next day.
May 30th - A Black Lives Matter protest is scheduled at Daley Plaza to protest the killing of George Floyd and years of police injustice towards African Americans, including Breanna Taylor. A crowd of several thousand carry signs, wore face masks, and bore shirts with slogans like “I Can’t Breathe.” By 4 pm, the crowd splits into several groups heading in different directions. Assuming that the protests are over; I head home for the evening. As I lay in bed, I receive texts of concern, claiming that the demonstrations have turned violent, and Mayor Lightfoot is imposing a 9pm curfew on the city.
May 31st - The Illinois National Guard is summoned to the downtown area. The decision is considered the first time since 1968 that a Chicago mayor had asked for the National Guard’s help in dealing with civil unrest and disturbances. I am determined to find my way into the downtown Loop area to photograph the aftermath of yesterday’s events. The drawbridges over the Chicago River are raised, preventing people from entering the Loop from the north and west sides; CTA trains are bypassing the Loop entirely. After three hours of attempting to get into the Loop, I finally realized that, unlike the north and west sides, the Chicago River doesn’t block the Loop from the south so drawbridges can’t prevent me from entering the loop, only City Trucks blocking off the roads. I drive to Chinatown and rent a Divvy bike which I use to navigate my way through alleys, around the city truck blockades, and finally making my way into the Loop. Once I enter, the police and National Guard did not seem to mind my presence. The few people I come across were wandering around in pure shock.
Almost every business in the Loop is affected by the looting; downtown Chicago feels like a post-apocalyptic movie set. To my surprise, no other photographers are to be found, it’s as if this movie set is solely mine to capture. While some banks and jewelry shops are quickly being boarded up, several restaurants and coffee shops are not being attended to at all. Some businesses are still being looted while I photograph. As I walked the streets, blood covered the sidewalks outside my favorite coffee shop. I feel empty, not sad, or shocked, just completely devoid of any emotion. I have only felt this way once before when I was in Chornobyl.
Central Camera, a business with special meaning to me was looted and set on fire last night; their iconic sign remained intact. Last week I created an image of the storefront while it was still unharmed; today, I recreated the image after the looting and the fire. While taking the picture, the store’s owner, Don Flesch came up to me and handed me a [McDonalds] hamburger and smiled. A local news reporter then interviewed him, I listened in on the conversation. His good nature humbled me; he was not upset and understood the reasoning behind the protests and rioting; he would rebuild. I keep the hamburger in my pocket for the rest of the day to remind me to stay positive. My emptiness has been filled with hope and inspiration; the hamburger was the motivation I needed at this exact moment.
June 1st – I wake up to texts from a friend telling me to get to Wicker Park immediately to photograph the aftermath of the looting that happened the night before. The popular stretch of bars and department stores on Milwaukee Ave between Armitage and Chicago avenue was in disarray. I made it to the area as businesses were being boarded up. Some stores had prepared for the potential protests by posting signs of empathy and pleas for salvation such as “we stand with you,” “independently owned,” and “minority-owned.” Some of these stores reminded intact, but many did not. I spent the day scouring the city, photographing the aftermath of the second day of protests.
Driving back to my home in Uptown, I found a car precariously stuck in the median along Ashland Ave on the near-west side. As I photographed it, passing cars honked as their drivers laughed. This was a much-needed moment of comic relief.
As I return home I hear helicopters, I look up and see a few helicopters hovering above an intersection a few blocks away. Not knowing what to expect, I grab my camera gear and follow the helicopters to a massive gathering outside of a Target at Broadway and Wilson. Uptown was the next neighborhood to host the third straight day of protests. Thousands gather around an impromptu open mic where many share their personal stories. This was a moment to listen and observe; I put my camera away and sat quietly as I listen and felt the impact of so many personal stories. Once the speeches conclude, I begin to photograph as the peaceful demonstration marches through Uptown to Lakeview.
June 2nd – My Birthday. After several long and emotional days, I am completely exhausted. As friends make me aware of protests happening across the city and live feeds tip me off to other protests, I physically can’t bring myself together to photograph them. The protest is happening so quickly in so many different neighborhoods, it’s difficult to figure out where to go and when to be there. Instead, I crash. I take this day to rest.
June 5th – Joe Biden reaches minimum delegate amount needed to secure Democratic nomination for President.
June 7th - The stretch of Milwaukee avenue that was ravaged the week prior has become a canvas for artists to create murals of protest and support. I spend the morning documenting this giant mural.
I spend the following days photographing signs of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. These messages are unavoidable. Chicagoans have shown up in massive numbers to support the Black Lives Matter movement during the pandemic. Those who are attending the demonstrations are aware of what they are risking but clearly feel that the movement is worth the risk. Every protestor has worn a mask and tries to avoid touching others. I had never seen more respect for one another in my life.
June 14th – A group of high school students has organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Hyde Park, supported by teachers from across the city. I travel to Hyde Park to meet these students and follow in their leadership. I then travel north to Boystown where another protest “Drag March for a Change” has replaced the usual Pride Parade with a rally demanding racial equality in LGBTQ+ spaces, specifically in the Drag and Trans communities. The event is attended by tens of thousands of participants.
June 19th - On the heels of days and days of regular protests, today Chicago honors Juneteenth, which is in correlation with other Million Man Marches across the country. Thousands attend this rally. Today I spend more time listening than I do taking photographs.
June 22nd - Illinois hits a nearly three-month low of 462 new daily cases. As a society, our lives have completely shifted to cyber reality. All birthday parties are being held virtually on zoom. Concerts are on Facebook live or Instagram live. I’m joining Gallery Exhibits and artist talks virtually and for me, TV has been replaced by podcasts. Chicagoans live for summer and have been canceled. All I can do is work on the project, which is now my therapy for what has become an incredibly stressful year.
July 4th - When I first moved to Chicago, I spent the first six years living in Pilsen, which is part of the Lower West Side neighborhood. In this time span, I celebrated a number of 4th of July holidays in this largely Hispanic neighborhood. I intentionally waited until the 4th of July to photograph Pilsen as I have fond memories of how patriotic the Hispanic community is. The Lower West on its own requires several photography projects as its rich with culture and is visually compelling. I reach Pilsen by the crack of dawn as fireworks screech across the sky and American flags blanketed the neighborhood. Pilsen doesn’t disappoint reminds me that it’s still one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city.
July 12 – I make my way to Hyde Park early in the morning. Access to the lake shore has been off-limits for most of the year to stop the spread of the Coronavirus by preventing people from gathering along the lakefront. While I was scouting earlier this week, I found a location in Hyde Park where I could get past the fence that was blocking access to the lake. Shortly after making my way through a hole in the fence, an impressive storm makes its way across the lake and towards the city. With my camera in place, it’s as if Mother Nature is putting on a show for me and only me.
July 19th – With the MLB announcing a shortened season, the first pre-season game is held at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. No fans were in attendance.
July 20th – The second pre-season game is held at Guaranteed Rate Field between the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.
July 20th - Political unrest and social injustice continue to flair. The next target is the 15th-century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus - A symbol of hope for generations of Italian Americans but loathed by some who saw the statues celebrating him as monuments to white supremacy. The Grant Park Columbus statue has been a regular target of vandals after George Floyd's death, but the situation escalated this month as hundreds of protesters have converged in the park with some trying to tear the statue down. Police in riot gear is dispatched to protect the statue and disperse the crowds. Mayor Lori Lightfoot originally argued against taking down the statues, but then - citing concerns over demonstrations becoming "unsafe for both protesters and police" - did exactly that overnight.
July 25th – A massive Black Lives Matter protest is set to gather in downtown Chicago. Although it was among the larger protests of the summer, it was mainly peaceful. The balancing act of attending and photographing protests, and negotiating a pandemic, all the while maintaining enough energy to continue this project became my own personal “new normal”.
This project has not only been the therapy I need to get me through this roller coaster of a year, but it has also contributed to my anxiety all year. I think about the work constantly, so much so that I struggle to sleep at least twice a week. I made a rule with myself, at least for the summer, that if I could not fall asleep by 12:30 or 1 am, I would stay awake and shoot through the night. Due to the pandemic, the streets are eerily quiet. I’m finding a strange sense of peace in driving around the city on warm summer nights. Due to the pandemic, the city is safe, the streets are quiet and empty. A city that is constantly reborn is on pause. I am reminded of this all year as a movie poster for a bad Jim Carry movie set to come out on February 24th is still on display at bus stops across the city.
August 10th – I’m flying to Los Angeles to shoot an album cover. The weather is predicting a fast-moving intense storm. I luckily catch an early flight and when I arrive in LA, my social media feed is covered with stories of a Derecho storm that has plowed through the city. Images of torn-off roofs downed power lines, and thousands of destroyed trees are covering my social media feeds. An EF-1 tornado touches down in Rogers Park before spinning out onto Lake Michigan and morphing into a waterspout. This is the first time since 1976 that a twister with comparable power has made its way through the city.
August 11th – Joe Biden announces Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his vice-presidential running mate, the first woman of color to appear on a major party's presidential ticket.
August 15th - I return home to find north-side neighborhoods littered with fallen trees, demolished cars, and downed power lines. I follow the path of the storm on the north side visiting North Park, West Ridge, and Rogers Park.
August so far has given us a temporary break from Protests, extreme COVID concerns, and political unease, allowing me space to realize what I was looking for in my image— emotion, a hard thing to portray in a photograph when there are no people present.
Before the pandemic hit, I was fearful that I had bitten off more than I can chew. I felt that the scope of the project was entirely too much to complete in a single year. I blew through each neighborhood to ensure that I was able to create work in all 77 neighborhoods. The pandemic prevented all potential obstacles which allowed me to spend more time in each neighborhood. I have now completed my goal of creating work in all 77 neighborhoods
Admittedly, I felt bad that I had started the work on the southside, during our cloudy and dreary winters so my intentions are to now return to the southside on brighter days. I focus my lens back on the neighborhoods of East Side and South Deering and begin to make my way north.
September 5th – The El Dorado fire erupts in San Bernardino County, sparked by pyrotechnics that was part of a gender reveal party.
Though protests were winding down, we hadn’t seen the end of them. On September 5th, sex workers and allies gather at Millennium Park for the “Stripper Strike.” This rally is to protest strip club owners and managers who had committed acts of racial violence to maintain the status quo of the white male patriarchy. The mission of the protestors was to eradicate oppression to facilitate a safe space for everyone to coexist.
I continue to reflect on the year and the project. For the first time in 20 years, Chicago was new to me again albeit in a completely opposite way from when I moved to the city. I was not dodging bike messengers downtown; drunk baseball fans were not peeing in my yard; the nights were quiet. My nights driving around the city allow me to reflect on my time there, from swimming in the lake at 4 am on a warm summer night to belt sander races being held in my neighbor’s lawn in Pilsen. I’m also recalling forgotten childhood memories; When I was asked to create a Diorama in 5th grade of any state in the U.S., why did I choose Illinois? Wouldn’t a 5th grader prefer a state that packs a better punch? Maybe California, Hawaii, Alaska, or Florida? Why did I have SO MANY Chicago White Sox and Cubs shirts? Why were we lifelong Chicago Bears fans and my brother a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan? Why was my favorite band Chicago’s beloved Smashing Pumpkins? Maybe Chicago had a hold on me this whole time? I asked myself, “Is this fate or just a series of coincidences?”
September 18th - Long-serving Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87 years old. Citizens across the nation mourn her death; Chicagoans marked her loss by leaving flowers, photos, and chalk messages outside Cedille Records in the Edgewater neighborhood. Her son, James founded the record label in the late eighties. Signs read May her memory be for a revolution, May her memory be a blessing, and Rest now, Justice Ginsburg, We’ve got it from here.
September 21st - During the spring and fall equinox, Chicago experiences a phenomenon called “Chicago Henge” when the sun is rising and setting between the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago as the streets in the Loop are plotted East-West directly, this phenomenon occurs twice a year.
Just before Chicago Henge, the El Dorado fire that erupted in San Bernardino County, California, that was sparked by pyrotechnics as part of a gender reveal party becomes a part of two dozen other major blazes still burning state-wide. Usually, the sun glares down the city streets, providing an opportunity for beautiful silhouettes and sun flares, however, the smoke in the atmosphere from the El Dorado fires made its way all the way to the Midwest. In most 2020 of ways, the smoke essentially mutes the sun and put a damper on the full experience of Chicago Henge. The sun feels powerless, quiet, and lonely.
September 22nd – The death toll of the pandemic in the United States passes 200,000
October 1st - Our nation was experiencing the collision of a global pandemic, an economic collapse, social injustice, and an upcoming, extremely divisive election.
As I’m spending the year documenting Chicago, tensions were peaking around the country. What I have been experiencing all year throughout Chicago is happening across the country, so I feel like it is essential to examine this unique moment in our country’s history by expanding the work beyond Chicago. Like most major American cities, Chicago is exceptionally liberal, and as a result, the work has an inherently liberal bias. I’m taking a 3-week hiatus from my Chicago 2020 project to drive across 12 states, exploring both rural and urban areas to document a more comprehensive view of our nation at the peak of what might be the most controversial and tense times in my lifetime.
Chicago 2020 is a body of work about one city with complicated subjects layered within it, whereas the work I Intend to create on this road trip is the opposite. In this project, I’m setting out to precisely capture these scenes and layers across the country. My goal was to photograph, literally or metaphorically the following:
- · Politics
- · Social injustice/Racism
- · Covid-19
- · Economic Hardship
- · Climate Change
Other than a start and end spot, I have no plan for each day.
October 2nd – Trump, first lady test positive for COVID-19; Trump enters hospital
October 14th – I set out with a hunch that scenes featuring the previous points existed across America and as predicted, they were unavoidable.
October 27th – I’m arriving back in Chicago after a 5,000-mile road trip, I took detours, and wrong turns, followed my intuition, and at every turn, stumbled across images that portrayed this time in American History. This trip was one of the more humbling experiences I’ve had in my life; creating more politically equitable work challenged my point of view.
I took a gamble on this trip, and it turned out to be the perfect time to tackle a side project such as this. Having been mentally, physically, and emotionally wrapped up in Chicago for nine months, this trip allowed me to take a step back and think about the year and Chicago.
October 31st - I return from my three-and-a-half-week road trip just in time for Halloween. Like everything else in 2020, Halloween is canceled. In place of Halloween, are the signs and efforts encouraging citizens to vote. Halloween and Autumn themed voting signs are everywhere.
November 3rd – Four years of political anxiety have led up to November 3rd, election day. My goal is to capture scenes of the day across the city and portraits of voters. Due to the pandemic, most people voted by mail or voted early. Today has been a quiet day around the city. After midnight, Trump announces that he has won the election and demanded that all vote counting should stop, alleging voter fraud. With millions of votes still not counted, mainly due to mail-in voting, no news organization declared a presidential winner.
November 4th - the U.S. becomes the first country in the world to exceed 100,000 daily cases of COVID-19.
November 7th – After days of waiting, Joe Biden secures enough electoral college votes to win the presidency. Chicagoans across the city rejoice.
November 26th – Thanksgiving
November 27th - I had originally intended on taking today off from the project. It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I wanted to rest. I am proud of the progress I have made so I feel like I deserve a break. I woke early, and as I lie in bed knowing I would not fall back to sleep, the guilt of knowing the project would end soon set in. I decide to head out and create work. I look at my notes and the map to decide which neighborhood to go document. In my notes, I have a few neighborhoods marked to return to create better work. I chose the southside neighborhood of Washington Heights.
On a whim, I decide to travel to the southside neighborhood of Washington Heights. It’s an incredibly foggy morning, and as I aimlessly drive up and down streets, I notice that the fog seems curiously thicker down one street. I drive around the block to uncover what this phenomenon is when I notice a house on fire. Because it was early in the morning on “Black Friday,” No one in the neighborhood is awake to notice the fire or call the fire department so I immediately call 911.
Impressively, The Chicago Fire Department arrives a few minutes later. I help the initial few firefighters where I can but then keep my distance. It appeared to be an electrical fire in a house that was being renovated. No one was injured in the fire. When I arrive home, I reflect on the series of events that took me directly to that house; I hadn't planned to shoot that day when I did decide to shoot I had no plan of what neighborhood I was going to go to, and then when I got to that neighborhood, I somehow went directly to that house that was on fire. This seems beyond a series of coincidences.
December 2nd - Due to a backlog from the Thanksgiving holiday, Illinois reports 238 COVID-related deaths, the most of any day since the pandemic began.
December 3rd - Another 192 COVID-related deaths are reported, the second highest count since the pandemic began. This spike pushed the daily average for deaths to its highest point ever, even higher than the first peak in mid-May.
December 11th - the Supreme Court rejects a highly unusual lawsuit filed by Texas that urged the justices to overturn the election result by nullifying President-elect Joe Biden's victory in four key states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia.
December 14th - The first COVID-19 vaccinations start in the United States. The first doses are expected to go to front-line healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities, followed by other at-risk groups.
Chicago shines during the holiday season. The lights, the spirits, and the good cheer is truly special to me. This year is particularly interesting; every day feels like Christmas or New Year’s Day. The streets are empty, Michigan Avenue is not bustling, there is no annual tradition of lighting the Christmas tree at Daley Plaza or Millennium Park, and inflatable Christmas lawn ornaments are more likely to be deflated. On a personal level, 2020 is the first year in my life I’m not visiting my family for the holidays, instead, I am determined to see the project through.
The project is wrapping up and every day of the year I thought about the final image of the project. I’ve struggled to find the perfect shot or metaphor. Ultimately, I choose a location in Edgewater with a large sign reading “Everything will be okay.” With a new president, a vaccine on the way, and people finally feeling a sense of hope, I thought that this image was the best way to end the project.
I expected this project to be a challenge but not in the way that it was. By June I was physically and emotionally drained, but the project also provided me with the therapy and resilience I needed to get through the year. Due to the unique and relentless challenges that 2020 presented, it ended up the perfect year to accomplish what I set out to do. Coincidentally, what I had hoped to learn about myself, happened precisely because of how difficult 2020 was.
2020 forced me to look at my humanity in relation to others, accept my responsibility to behave morally, and ethically, and use my voice for the greater good. 2020 also made me think about what is necessary, essential and needed in my life. It offered an awakening that forced me to grow more in one year than I did in the previous 40. This self-discovery helped me realize that the snap decision I made when I first stepped foot in Chicago was to eventually become the man I am today.