(American, b.1956; resides in Chicago, IL)
The subject of public housing, its sudden eradication, and its significance to the history of race and class issues in the U.S., though fascinating, is beyond the reach of photography. - Paul D'Amato
Following a long-term project documenting the Hispanic community on the South Side of Chicago, in 2003 Paul D’Amato began photographing three public housing projects from the city’s near west side: Rockwell Gardens, Henry Horner, and Cabrini-Green. Please Be Free Now, which takes its title from a piece of graffiti at the Henry Horner housing project, adopts a more formal approach than his previous series. The pictures include textural studies of shattered glass and burnt dollhouses, but the portfolio is dominated by pictures of the area’s residents. These portraits are taken from a close but not intimate middle distance and feature the direct gaze of subjects who seem open yet guarded. Their expressions register somewhere between resistance and resignation, as intense and complicated as their situation.
Paul D'Amato was born in Boston, educated in Portland and New Haven, and currently lives and teaches in Chicago where he has been photographing for decades. The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded him a Fellowship in 1994 and a Subvention Grant in 2004, and the Illinois Arts Council recognized his work with Grants in 1989 and 2005. His monograph Barrio, Photographs from Chicago's Pilsen and Little Village was published by University of Chicago Press in 2006.
For over fifteen years Paul D’Amato has focused on the Mexican-American community living in Pilsen on the south side of Chicago. The rapport he has built over the years with members of the community is apparent in the uninhibited expressions of his subjects. Photographing everyday life as well as celebrations such as weddings, D’Amato aims to create imagery that refers beyond visual specifics to larger truths about the dynamics of the neighborhood.