Chicago Church Essay Photographic

Dave Jordano was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1948. He received a BFA in photography from the Center for Creative Studies in 1974. In 1977 he opened a commercial photography studio in Chicago and quickly established a client list that included, among others, Crate & Barrel, Starbucks Coffee, Sears, Nestle, Quaker and Kraft Foods. As an emerging fine art photographer, he was awarded an honorable mention in the Houston Center for Photography’s Long Term Fellowship Project in 2003 and received the Curator’s Choice Award the following year. His photographs are included in several private and public collections including the Federal Reserve Bank, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chilcago IL, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He lives and works in Chicago IL.

How long have you been documenting small African-American churches in Chicago, and what made you decide to embark on this project?
‘The project of documenting African American storefront churches came about quite by accident. I was working on another project just over the Illinois/Indiana border and my route took me over the Chicago Skyway Bridge. I would often look down onto a small plain industrial building that had a large hand painted sign above it’s door that read, “Cathedral of Divine Love Church.” I was impressed that this pastor felt that his little nondescript building was worthy of being called a cathedral. This notion stuck with me for quite some time and I just couldn’t shake it off. Finally, after several weeks of driving by the building, I decided to stop and introduce myself and ask if I could photograph the church. The pastor’s obvious remark was, “Services start in about an hour, you can come by after everyone has arrived.” My response was, “No, what I really had in mind was to photograph the church empty and that I was mainly interested in how he had decorated and set it up.” This threw up a cloud of suspicion as he thought my request was rather odd. I persisted, and after much discussion about my intentions, God, and religion, he granted me permission. I felt as if I had been the center of an inquisition, but rightly so. It was important that I had the trust of every pastor, that they knew my intentions were sincere, and that I had a great deal of respect for their church. I went back several times over the next month and made more photographs.

After that first experience, I sensed there was a profoundly independent, eccentric quality to each of these pastors and each of them in their own way were determined to create a church based on their own beliefs and faith. I wanted to document these spaces not only for their unique qualities but also because their importance within poor black urban neighborhoods were pillars of community stability and support. After I had photographed a number of churches, I put together a small portfolio that I would present to a pastor so that they would get a sense of the project. I continued to work on the project for three and one-half years, photographing about 65 churches. I finished working on the project in 2006. The Center for American Places, Columbia College, is publishing the work next year in a monograph titled “Articles of Faith” with an essay written by Carla Williams’.

The colors are so vibrant in these spaces. Do you have to look hard to find these environments or are they reasonably common in the churches you photograph?
‘Although I found each church interesting, on average most of the interiors shared a common look consisting of plain white walls, used wooden pews or a mixed set of chairs and red carpet. This was probably for economic reasons as most pastors have little money to work with. I never knew how a church was going to look until I entered and introduced myself. Knowing when to enter a church also became an issue. I didn’t want to enter and disrupt services so I would try and time my visits before services started or enter when things were just wrapping up. Sometimes I would quietly enter and someone would encourage me to come in and sit down. When services were over the pastor would introduce me as a new visitor to the church and I would explain my project to the members. Most times there were no more that 10-15 people present. Ironically, the most unadorned, simply decorated exterior facades revealed some of the most colorful interiors. I’d walk in and just be blown away by the beauty. The churches with the most color and decoration were often run by female pastors, or there was a women who was designated the “mother” of the church who was responsible for the decorating. Some of the simple, stripped down minimalist churches were also some of my favorites as well’.

Can you briefly tell us the story about the photo of the person wearing the orange suit?

‘This is a portrait of Pastor Anderson. He was the patriarch of a small church that had no more than 8 members, all of them relatives. His daughter had recently gotten married but they didn’t have any wedding photos so I offered to do a portrait of them. For this, I brought in a strobe & umbrella light, trying to make the whole affair a bigger deal. I took portraits of other members too but in the end I felt that all the extra equipment was a distraction that created a formality I wasn’t comfortable with. After I packed up all my equipment, I noticed him idly leaning against a table, the room was illuminated by only the light in the ceiling. It was the shot that I had been looking for all day. It took no more than a minute to shoot but his gaze had an eternal quality that was powerful. I went back a few months later to visit again but found the church had disbanded with no forwarding address. This was common with about 25% of the churches I photographed’.

As a successful commercial photographer, do you find that you work in a different mindset when shooting your personal/documentary work?
‘Yes and no. I often get comments that my fine art work is completely different from my commercial work, and people are both puzzled and impressed by that. The commercial work is done to make a living and the fine art work is done because you think you have something to say about the world in which you live in. I’ve never thought about interconnecting the two, only about keeping them separate. It’s the same reason why I have two different web sites, one for the commercial work and one for my fine art projects. I don’t want to attach any commercial connotation to the fine art work. It’s strictly meant for personal expression and issues that I feel are important to me. Having said that, I think the work ethic discipline that I acquired running a commercial studio has had a positive effect on my personal work. Working toward a goal, devising a plan, staying focused, and following through with a project is equally as important whether your running a business or shooting a personal/fine art project. But none of this, quite frankly, matters unless your passionate about what you do’.

You have been in the photography business for over 30 years, how do you feel that the industry has changed over time?
‘The biggest difference I see has been the digital revolution. Art directors have so much visual material at their disposal today that when I see a layout, it’s so completely executed that I’m often wondering what it is they want me to shoot. Their client has seen the finished concept and are often so enamored by the comp shot in the layout that they’re reluctant to deviate and try something else. They’ve already made a pre-conceived decision of what the ad will look like. Instead of the layout becoming a point of creative departure, it becomes a tool of increasing restriction. Basically, I liked it much better when art directors worked with pen and prisma markers instead of a Mac.

The other aspect is how fast digital technology is moving. I used the same 8 X 10 Sinar view camera for 25 years in my studio. It’s still in perfect condition and makes a great door stop today. In the past four years I’ve upgraded my digital camera system three times already and next year Hasselblad announced it’s coming out with their new 50MB digital capture back. I find these kinds of upgrading expenses difficult to deal with on any professional level but for most start-up photographers just beginning their careers and with the economic challenges we face today, it has to be particularly painful’.

Are you currently working on any new projects you can talk about?
‘Yes, I’m currently working on a project about rural Illinois, small towns specifically. To paraphrase my artist statement: “Illinois is a state long monopolized by mechanized agricultural farming, creating endless fields of corn and soybeans and leaving several hundred economically challenged older small towns dotting the landscape. Within this geographic and economic framework I’m searching for strong notions of individualistic expression that are tied directly to the land and its people. As someone who is admittedly an outsider, I’m trying to discover for myself the differences that separate my own perception of rural life and what I find to be that reality, whether real or imagined.” Much like the church project in its relationship and connection to Chicago, Illinois small rural towns make up a part of the economic and social fabric of the state that gives it its character’.

What kind of camera are you using for your documentary work?
‘I went from film to a digital format about 4 years ago. I use a Hasselblad H3DII medium format camera coupled with a 39MB capture back. I use this camera for both my commercial and personal work’.

Historical Note

The South Chicago neighborhood is 10 miles southeast of the Loop. The neighborhood extends along South Chicago Avenue east to the Lake and Calumet River and from 79th Street south to 95th Street. South Chicago is number 46 of the 77 official neighborhoods that make up Chicago.

For an overview of South Chicago, see

  • "South Chicago,"Encyclopedia of Chicago
  • "CA46 -- South Chicago," Local Community Fact Book, Chicago Metropolitan Area, 1990

Scope and Content

The SCCC is divided into nine series ranging from "Biographical Data" to "Street Scenes." Photographs are listed at the end of the finding guide.

What follows is a list of significant subjects in the SCCC:

  • Calumet and Chicago Canal & Dock Co.
  • South Works
  • U. S. Steel
  • South Shore Methodist Church
  • South Chicago Community Forum
  • Political Organizations
  • "History of South Chicago"
  • Cal-Sag Channel Project
  • Calumet River Improvement

Series Descriptions:

Series 1: Biographical Data, 1959 - 1970

This series contains correspondence, booklets and newspaper clippings about South Chicago’s residents. It is arranged alphabetically by biographee’s surname.

Series 2: Business Establishments, 1883 - 1956

Brochures, contracts, newspaper clippings and picture books describing South Chicago businesses are all found in this small series. Business establishments ranging in size from South Works to Brown’s Funeral Home can be found in this series. The series is arranged alphabetically by each business name.

Series 3: Religious Institutions, 1886 - 1961

This series contains anniversary publications, historical sketches and newspaper clippings of South Chicago religious institutions. It is arranged alphabetically by name.

Series 4: Clubs & Organizations, 1931 - 1960

Community service groups, religious organizations, labor brotherhoods and fraternal clubs are all represented in this series. The series contains brochures, anniversary publications, newspaper clippings and yearbooks. It is arranged alphabetically by organization name.

Series 5: Community Historical Essays & Sketches, 1936 - 1970

This series contains historical essays written about different aspects of South Chicago’s development. The essays, while covering a wide variety of subjects focus mainly upon the development of South Chicago’s industrial infrastructure. Materials are arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Series 6: Hospitals, 1952

This series contains programs and newspaper clippings from the South Chicago Community Hospital. An eleven part series describing the development of this South Chicago institution is included in this series.

Series 7: Municipal Agencies, 1892 - 1940, undated

Reports, newspaper clippings and a tax assessor’s receipt book are some of the items contained in this brief series. This series is arranged alphabetically.

Series 9: Schools, 1943 - 1963

This series contains historical sketches and newspaper clippings from South Chicago’s schools. The schools are arranged alphabetically.

Series 10: Street Scenes, 1880 - 1957

This series contains pamphlets and newspaper clippings about the development of streets in South Chicago. Streets are arranged alphabetically.

Supplement 1

The tax receipt book of John Bruszer, 1880-1899, has been added to the section of Community Histories. It is in folder 3:31.

Oversize Materials

Business Establishments

Oversize—SCCC 1Map of subdivisions of the Calumet & Chicago Canal & Dock Co. At South Chicago, Cook County, Ills. Map, 41 x 44 inches. Scale 1:2400. Rand McNally & Co., printers, 1884.
Oversize—SCCC 2Subdivision of the Calumet & Chicago Canal & Dock Co., in sections 5 & 6, T. 37 N, R. 15 E. Of the 3rd P. M. at South Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Folding map in 24 sections, 30 x 38 inches. R.W. Dobson, surveyor & lithographer. No date.

Clubs and Organizations

Oversize—SCCC 3Chicago Federation of Labor, Federation News. 68:35, 1956 September 3. Two copies.


Folio Oversize—SCCC 4Map of Hyde Park, Calumet, Thorton, South Chicago and northern portion of Lake County, Indiana. "Owing to the natural advantages of its situation, South Chicago is to become the great industrial center of the north west." map; 24 x 27". Handcolored. No date, [1850s?]

Container List

Series 1: Biographical Data

Box 1Folder 1Bruszer, John: Special Assessment Receipt, July 1922.
Box 1Folder 2Buchanan, Alderman John J.: Newspaper clippings, 1969-70.
Box 1Folder 3Butler, Walter: Newspaper clippings, 1959.
Box 1Folder 4Cranby, Helena Nix: Newspaper clipping 1961.
Box 1Folder 5Kazacik Family: ALS, March 25, 1969. Booklet, 1969.
Box 1Folder 6Langer, Edward: Newspaper clipping, circa 1941-45.
Box 1Folder 7O’Hara, Congressman Baratt: Newspaper clipping, 1969.
Box 1Folder 8Pavichevich, William: Newspaper clipping, 1966.
Box 1Folder 9Rowan, William A.: Correspondence, circa 1940’s.
Box 1Folder 10Walters, Nenona: Newspaper clipping, 1965.
Box 1Folder 11Zirngible, Andreas von: Newspaper clipping, 1962.

Series 2: Business Establishments

Box 1Folder 12Brown Funeral Home: Newspaper clipping, 1960.
Box 1Folder 13Calumet & Chicago Canal & Dock Co.:
Box 1Folder 13Calumet & Chicago Canal & Dock Co.: Agreements, 1883-85.
Box 1Folder 14Calumet & Chicago Canal & Dock Co.: Contracts, 1884.
Box 1Folder 15Calumet & Chicago Canal & Dock Co.: Court Petition, US Northern District v Calumet & Canal & Dock Co., 1884.
Box 1Folder 16Calumet & Chicago Canal & Dock Co.: Ordinance of Permission, 1886.
Box 1Folder 17Calumet & Chicago Canal & Dock Co.: Specifications, 1883-89.
Box 1Folder 18Calumet & Chicago Canal & Dock Co.: Subdivision map, circa 1880s. See: Oversize 1& 2
Box 1Folder 19Calumet National Bank: Brochure, "South Chicago - Its History and Progress," 1927.
Box 1Folder 20Calumet Publishing Co.: Directory, circa 1940. Carneogne-Illinois Steel Corp.: See: South Works.
Box 1Folder 21Chicago Steel & Wire CO.: Picture book, 1945.
Box 1Folder 22Clinkerville Gulch: Program, Sept.-Oct. 1903.
Box 1Folder 23Inland Steel: Booklet, 1956.
Box 1Folders 24-28In Print, 1952-1956.
Box 2Folder 1Sauganash Hotel: Advertisement brochure, Dec. 1961.
Box 2Folder 2South Chicago Savings Bank: Silver anniversary souvenir book, circa 1926.
Box 2Folder 3South Works: Pamphlets, 1950’s.
Box 2Folder 4S. Steel: Newspaper clippings, 1960.
Box 2Folder 5Wisconsin Steel: Newspaper clipping, 1977. See also: U.S. Steel & South Works.

Series 3: Religious Institutions

Box 2Folder 6Congregational Church: Centennial Concert Program, 1876.
Box 2Folder 7Immaculate Conception B.V.M. Parish: 75th Anniversary book, 1957.
Box 2Folder 8Our Lady Gate of Heaven: Newspaper clippings, 1957.
Box 2Folder 9Our Lady of Peace Parish: "Fr. Friel’s Pastoral Jubilee," 1953.
Box 2Folder 10Sacred Heart Croatian Church: "Memorial Book of WWII," 1946.
Box 2Folder 11St. George Church: Parish almanac, 1943.
Box 2Folder 12St. George Church: 50th Anniversary Souvenir Booklet, 1953.
Box 2Folder 13St. Mary Magdalene Church: Newspaper clippings, 1960.
Box 2Folder 14St. Patrick’s Parish: Centennial Souvenir Program, 1957.
Box 2Folder 15St. Petri Evangelical & Reformed Church: Newspaper clippings, 1960.
Box 2Folder 16Peter & Paul Parish: Jubilee Program & Newspaper clippings, 1957.
Box 2Folder 17South Deering Methodist Church: Brochure, undated
Box 2Folder 18South Shore Methodist Church: History, 1956

Series 4: Clubs & Organizations

Box 2Folder 19Calumet Region Youth Council: Newspaper clipping, 1957.
Oversize 3Chicago Federation of Labor: Federation News - Special Labor Day Edition, Sept. 20, 1956.
Box 2Folder 20East Side Lions Club: Centennial Publication, 1951.
Box 2Folder 21Industrial Management Club: Newspaper clipping, 1957.
Box 2Folder 22Old Settler’s Association of South Chicago: Jubilee Publication, 1936.

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