April 24, 2009

Jordano offers gritty portrait of South Side’s many-sided Faith

For many Chicagoans, the South Side is a forbidden realm, accessible only during daylight hours for the sake of visiting that university whose name sounds a lot like UIC. In a new exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center, David Jordano attempts to remind these fearful Chicagoans that there is an intriguing culture south of the Loop and beyond the U of C campus.

In Articles of Faith: Photographs by Dave Jordano, the artist depicts the religious institutions of the South Side with gritty, brightly colored photographs. Unlike more expensive megachurches that have multiplied across the Midwest, these houses of worship are much humbler, relying on the community’s support for their continued survival. The old and oftentimes dilapidated buildings where the churches are housed illustrate the rich culture of the South Side, as well as the economic challenges that communities in the area face.

Jordano is an award-winning photographer who garnered early praise for his commercial work for companies such as Crate & Barrel and Starbucks. More recently, he has started work on projects with more artistic and social value, including the current exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center. His work, which will be featured in the book he is writing, clearly seeks to convey a socialrather than an aesthetic message.

Many of the photographs in the collection illustrate the undying sense of faith and community that members of churches possess, as well as the long history of these South Side neighborhoods. One picture shows a young boy reading a torn piece of paper filled with the songs to be sung daily by the choir. The shot is visceral, candid, and definitely not composed for beauty. The rough hands of the boy and the worn piece of paper are a reminder that his life may not be easy, but he still has his faith.

Another work features a church with a neon-lit biblical verse at the front of the pews and red chairs, flanking a very large red cross. This particular church looks more like a little white chapel in Vegas than a place of worship, but the small, intimate space clearly serves as a source of inspiration and comfort for the community.

Other photographs put church architecture on prominent display and give a sense of the rich history of their surrounding communities. Many of the church buildings are old stores that have been converted into religious facilities, giving each church an eclectic and unique identity. Jordano’s use of wide angles in a small space gives the photographs interesting perspective and allows each viewer to feel a part of the space.

Jordano clearly succeeds in conveying the sense of community that the churches exemplify, but a side effect of viewing these photographs is a somber realization of the social disparities that exist in Chicago. While the churches clearly show a culture that is often overlooked, they also illustrate the poverty and segregation that remain in the city. It is often difficult to embrace the sense of warmth that Jordano attempts to convey when photographs of decrepit churches line the walls. Articles of Faith can be, at times, slightly more depressing than inspiring, but Jordano’s candid photographs of the South Side are worth seeing.