Carlos Javier Ortiz, Girls Dancing, Englewod, Chicago, 2008

Arts, Activism, Policy, Power: Your Chicago

Published October 24, 2022

Student at Prosser Career Academy photographing in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood


This guide will lead students through documentary projects in photography and video that depict their own neighborhoods. Students will be encouraged to think about how images in the media shape perceptions of different neighborhoods and communities. In closely examining Ortiz’s nine-year-long documentary project, We All We Got, students will create their own images of people and places in their communities.

9-12th grade learners                      

Approximately 20 hours of classroom discussion and workshop

DSL-R or iPhone cameras. Access to the internet is required for uploading materials to MoCP. Access to Adobe Photoshop and a printer preferred but not required.

Students in this session will learn through making their own images of their neighborhoods and city about the ethical responsibilities of telling human stories with a camera. Students will discuss how media depictions of Chicago shape or reinforce divisions between communities. 

About the Teaching Artist: Carlos Javier Ortiz

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in Chicago, Carlos Javier Ortiz is a cinematographer and photographer. Ortiz works with photography, experimental documentary films and text, projection projects and specializes in long-term documentaries that focus on urban life and marginalized communities. In 2016, Carlos received a Guggenheim Fellowship for film/video. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in a variety of venues including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts; the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY; the Detroit Institute of Arts; and the Library of Congress. In addition to his photography and film, Carlos Javier has taught at Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley. He attended Schurz High School.
Carlos Javier Ortiz, Girls Dancing, Englewod, Chicago, 2008
Carlos Javier Ortiz, Block Party, Auburn Gresham, Chicago, 2009

Carlos Javier Ortiz, Members of the Martin Luther King College Prep marching band relax in Chicago’s Hyde Park after performing at a Fourth of July parade, 2011

Extended Resources

Podcast: Carlos Javier Ortiz and David Schalliol in conversation

‘It’s all about community’: the photographer who captures unseen Chicago

Carlos’s photographic essay for The Case for Reparations

A Thousand Midnights

Image Set for Download

Students from Prosser Career Academy view works by Carlos Javier Ortiz in a print viewing at the MoCP, 2022

Questions for Looking and Discussion

  • Have students watch the short film, A Thousand Midnights. What strategies does he use with sound and imagery to blend the sense of past and the present?
  • What is the mood of the film? What does it say about Chicago?
  • Now, looking at his images from We All We Got, what similarities or differences do you see between his two projects? 
  • How do the images make you feel? What do you notice about his choices in point of view, contrast, and lighting? How do these formal elements affect the overall mood of the images? 

Walking Field Trip

Inspired by Ortiz’s long-term documentary projects in Chicago neighborhoods, take a walking field trip of your own neighborhood and photograph, capturing stories that feel authentic to your experience of this area. 

There are all kinds of ways to work. Some people like to move continuously, becoming part of the rhythm of the street, in flow with the moment. Others like to stake out a set space, like a street corner or some specific area, like a five or ten square foot space, and stay there for a time to see what happens. Of course, there are other strategies you might employ, too. Here are some questions to get you thinking about your process. No one way is right or wrong. You can try different approaches and see what feels right for you!


  • When you think about the photographs or videos you’ve seen of your neighborhood, what sticks in your mind about them? Where did you see those photographs or videos? What kind of things were pictured in the photographs you’ve seen? How did the context in which you saw those images make you think or feel about the images?
  • Are there things or aspects of this neighborhood which you already know that you would like to show through your photographs? Make a list of them. You do not have to follow your list exactly. It’s possible that once you get out there walking, you’ll notice completely different things are pulling your attention.
  • When you think about the elements of making photographs, which ones appeal to you and which do you think you will try out today?
  • Who are your images for? In other words, who is your ideal audience and why?


  • Are you an introvert or extrovert? Do you love talking with people, especially those you don’t know, or does that feel scary or stressful? 
  • If it feels stressful, would you be willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone and give it a try? How might that help you make even stronger pictures?
  • If you plan to photograph people up close, you might want to have something already in mind for what you will say when you want to ask their permission. What will you say?
  • What ethical concerns might you have photographing people in the street, in a shop, etc.
  • As you walk, what kinds of things are immediately catching your eye?
  • Where is the light coming from?
  • Where do you want your body to be when making the photograph? Can you try a few different perspectives of the same scene?