As Stewarded: Photographic Stories of the Built Environment


In the summer of 2022, I had the pleasure of curating a group photo show at the Block House Gallery in Pullman, just a short walk from my home. Featuring a combination of longtime photographer friends and respondents to an open call for submissions, the month-long "As Stewarded: Photographic Stories of the Built Environment" put a focus on how physical spaces are shaped through preservation, neglect, construction, demolition, or other forces, and how that stewardship interacts with broader patterns of investment and disinvestment in Chicago and beyond. The show received some preview coverage in the press prior to opening.




In addition to seven other collaborators (Cain Baum, Andrew Elders, Tonika Johnson, Maclovio Orozco, Aidan Piper, Oscar Sanchez, and Isiah "ThoughtPoet" Veney), I showed a selection of eight images during As Stewarded. My featured images all portrayed places that were the subject of conflict - an entire neighborhood being slowly bought out by a multinational oil company with the intent to erase it from the map, a street sign bent as a sign of disrespect to a nearby LK set, an all-affordable housing development whose construction was delayed by vitriolic opposition from monied neighbors... each structure and scene was fought over in one way or another, and many of them have yet to see a resolution to the conflict which characterizes them.




The choice of conflict as a theme was highly intentional, reflecting the venue for the show. When I moved to Pullman, a few people told me not to get involved in community organizations right away. Some have longstanding conflicts that are hard to untangle on first glance, and observing for awhile before joining a group can help prevent accidentally associating with people or conflicts that you'd rather not.

I couldn't keep my distance for long. I joined PullmanArts, a hub of artists from across the far south side. They're no stranger to controversy - they led a yearslong effort to open the Pullman Artspace Lofts, an affordable artists' housing complex that was the first new residential building constructed in South Pullman in half a century. The Block House Gallery is contained within the Pullman Artspace Lofts. A small but virulent subset of neighbors opposed it via arguments that took preservation to an extreme, demanding that an exact reconstruction of the tenement that once stood on the empty site be built instead of new housing. Those deteractors were joined by a small chorus of people who were opposed because of vitriol toward low-income artists (a vitriol that was heavily racialized).When it came time to participate in a photo show facilitated by this organization that I was now a part of, that braved a fight with neighbors to deliver something meaningful to Pullman, I had conflict on my mind.