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The Unseen Among Us

A documentary photo essay by Chaska, Minnesota-based photographer Julie K. Taylor.

As a child I was enthralled by the human condition. It perplexed me that so many had less, and even struggled to survive. Early on I was intrigued by black and white images that conveyed suffering. At the age of nine I bought a print by photographer Dorothea Lange, who took many images of the migrant workers in the 1930s. Her iconic “Migrant Mother” image was etched on my heart. It changed my perspective; by the age of ten I no longer was comfortable in my middle class life. It felt unjust to have more than others. The camera became a tool to bear witness to the human suffering that I began to notice in the world around me.

Julie K. Taylor | Light And Matter

The world is a  revolving  door. We are defined by our positions in society and by our productivity. The more we amass the more we are deemed  important. I have been compelled by something else:  the unseen among us. Those who are unobserved or unperceived. Those who are barely noticed as they quietly go about their days in the background of our everyday lives.

Julie K. Taylor | Light And Matter

I remember seeing a gentleman meandering up and down my block, countless times a day. He was elderly, shoeless, and unkempt. I wanted to will him the knowledge that he was as important and dignified as the people driving so quickly by.  Perhaps he already knew his worth.  All people inherently deserve dignity and kindness.  All people suffer.  Some people prefer  isolation. It is easier to be alone, to fly solo.  Some suffer with the available remedy on the shelf, with the loved one there to administer it. The isolated often suffer mentally, physically and emotionally alone.  I liken it to the arm dangling from the socket,  vulnerable to being brushed against. Often the approaching help seems the enemy.

Julie K. Taylor | Light And Matter

Some years ago I had the opportunity to visit and photograph several people who were battling the AIDS /HIV virus. They were all residing in the same non-profit housing project.  Each person was  eager to tell their story , and have their images taken.  I spent much of my time with Tony. He was a gentle giant. Tony contracted AIDS via shared needle use. Tony was a deeply kind  individual. He was gracious. He refused to be defined by his illness and beyond that he refused to be defined by the people who judged him. He was shunned many times, but his kindness prevailed.

J.P was a younger gentleman. He was eager to share his story as well. He had fallen out of a window as a child and sustained a brain injury.  On the day we visited he had just received a certificate of completion from a self-improvement program. He was so proud to share his victory with me.

I met Larry who was a corporate businessman for 25 years, who had decided to change direction. He was in  the process of becoming a monk.  He was gentle and receptive. He and J.P. wanted me to see their rooms.  They took pride in who they were.  There was Tom, who told me that his friend Sparky the dog was his only friend on earth. Tom had contracted AIDS via a tainted blood transfusion.  Tony and Larry have since passed away from complications of their illnesses. It was a honor to meet each one of these individuals.

Julie K. Taylor | Light And Matter

Separation in society and apathetic tendencies are pronounced when we are unwilling to meet others in the reality of their pain or their experiences. The walls of judgement dissipate when we recognize that pain is pain. Isolation dissipates when we are willing to be in relationship with those who are different then us. In some sense we all isolate and protect ourselves. People are hard to dislike close up, so move closer… closer still. Move on in. Loving is not an accolade but an action. The reward of love is improving community, not to be loved.

Julie K. Taylor | Light And Matter

I decided one early Sunday morning to walk downtown and take some photographs.  I saw Chip on the corner with his sign “Anything helps”. He was dressed in a worn, warm dark jacket, bright blue sweat pants, black hat, bare hands, and a great smile. He had a tear tattooed under his eye.He had worked the docks for years but had run into some tough luck. He now was taking it day by day, staying in shelters and pan handling. He told me he could not talk long as he had to get back to the job (collecting money).  He was dubious also of the police making their rounds.  We embraced and said goodbye. Chip lives life day to day.   I often think about Chip and how he is visually seen daily on street corners but in some regards remains unseen.

Some of us forget what we’ve seen. We go home and let go of the notion that others have no bed or food. We justify our neglect by claiming that those who go without are merely living through the consequences of their poor choices.  Some of us supply the temporary band aids to relieve the suffering; we relieve our guilt. We help from the heart.  I think the concept of relationship is paramount here.  The idea of forming a relationship with the unseen can be daunting for some. This is where the true healing begins, though, where the social justice issue becomes a real human being. The goal is recognizing ourselves in the other. We truly are not so different.

Some years ago I met a young mother. Her name is Heidi. She was battling a drug  addiction, and was mothering a young son. She lost custody of her child. A year later, after she completed several programs and improvement steps, she asked me if I would go with her to her court proceedings to regain custody of her son.   She had made great strides and was rewarded custody.  Heidi worked hard to improve, to right her wrong. I cannot imagine the tenacity and courage it took to overcome the addiction and mental illness, but she did. She is now working and doing a fine job of raising her son. Heidi taught me life lessons.  She has a compassionate spirit.

Julie K. Taylor

The lens has the capability to witness and document injustice. As a photographer I am compelled to capture the suffering I encounter with the hope of stirring the same degree of compassion in others that I feel. Ideally, the emotional response will become the catalyst for empathetic action and change.

My intent is not to traffic in pity, but to open eyes to our commonalities. All people deserve dignity and worth. Isolation and suffering are universal. No one escapes, whether we are integrated or unseen and isolated. My intent is to capture the truly extraordinary tenacity and resiliency of a body of people who often are overlooked. When one suffers we all do. When one triumphs we all do. It will be our common suffering and collective compassionate response that will be the catalyst for change in our communities.

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Jean
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Jean

Your gifts of love and compassion are eloquently expressed through your writing. I love the use of black and white photography to capture the soul and spirit of your subjects. You are amazing in how you take the time to hear peoples stories, especially of those who are often unseen among us. You photos share a simplicity of life that has been forgotten in today’s society. Thank you for using a unique medium to raise awareness. I would love to see your perspective of capturing some of the contrast of expressions when people reach out to support and assist those who are ‘unseen’.

Ian
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Ian

A very thoughtful piece of writing. The writer clearly conveys the importance of mercy and love in our world.

Josh
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Josh

Great article! Thanks for providing your insight on your passion. Interesting tales about interesting people. Keep the joy of humanity going!

Deb Grebin
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Deb Grebin

Beautiful photos and stories to go with them. So glad you were able to make these people visible to us.

steve
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steve

Hi Julie I known you for years and your wonderful heart as well as your wonderful skills with photography. Your photos see into the soul and that’s a special gift from God. These are wonderfully moving images. Thanks Julie and thanks for being a friend

One comment to others viewing these wonderful images that tare your heart. Remember those that are successful are not the enemy of people who are less fortunate. In fact, due to the richness of our country and our freedom to produce, American people every year give more to charities to help people in need then all of the other countries in the world combined. So I encourage you not to make assumptions about people that maybe different than yourselves. I have a very modest income however I know those who have significant incomes you may be shocked at how much they do to help others. Just a comment in case you’re tempted to judge those individuals.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Your images are a stark and stunning reminder of all the forgotten moments in this world. I’m glad that there is someone out there like you who can capture these moments so beautifully and express these people’s stories so eloquently. Thank you for sharing your remarkable work with the world.

Mary Quinn
Guest
Mary Quinn

Enjoyed your work immensely. Where can I see more?

Rodney Johnson
Guest
Rodney Johnson

I’m very impressed with all the simple but moving words and pictures that Julie has shared here. I’m basically speechless after reading her stories about different people and about mankind as a whole. I’m left feeling very humble after seeing all the things that other people have gone through. My troubles are small versus the troubles faced by the people that you have talked about Julie. It’s an honor to have known you for so many years and to see what talent God has given you.

Peter Trier
Guest
Peter Trier

beautiful work. thank you for sharing it with me particularly today. :)

Wendy
Guest
Wendy

Julie, You have found the soul of others and honored them as Beloved of God. Thank you for sharing their lives with us.

Nancy
Guest
Nancy

Thank you for sharing your insights and photographs concerning the unseen people who circulate among us. Your compassion streams through your photos and your words. Blessings to you and to all who able to receive your gifts.

Beth
Guest
Beth

Beautiful photos, beautiful words: thank you for raising our awareness of those we may not see!

Jen Welvaert
Guest
Jen Welvaert

Beautiful photo essay! There is such tenderness in these images & stories.
Thank you Julie, for giving a voice to our neighbors who often feel they’ve lost their voice.
Keep up this important work…each person you meet, leaves with a sense that they truly MATTER.
Blessings.

Irving
Guest
Irving

Enjoyed reading this very much so. It’s so easy for everyone to just assume all homeless people are drug addicts, or they’re homeless because they chose to. They deserve to be heard and for their stories to be shared

Zackery
Guest
Zackery

So insightful and compassionate. Makes me want to do better in this world. Thank you, Julie.

Thomas Blute
Guest
Thomas Blute

Julie has such an amazing ability to put words and images together. Meditating on the images she stitched lovingly together made her comments and reflections so much more powerful. More government programs and money spent on social programs will be sterile unless informed and motivated by love, which springs from compassion. I sincerely hope that everyone who reads this will take time to reflect on Julies message and see the lonely suffering people around them through the lens of her camera.

Kim Franek
Guest
Kim Franek

I really enjoyed reading the article. And it is also very true. It makes one really think deep and hard about the less-fortunate people that are even just around us, in our own neighborhood, in fact. I am going to share this story with my friends on Facebook, so their eyes can be open more to the people in their surroundings. The story and the photos together really make it more of a reality, and it really touches ones soul and spirit, and moves you to be more aware of the needs of others. In Christ’s love, Kim Franek

Julie Bachman
Guest
Julie Bachman

Julie, the first word that comes to mind after reading this documentary photo essay is:
EXTRAORDINARY! This piece is very powerful in the way that you were able to capture the image of isolation through many of your photographs, but even more importantly how you explained the significance of how we really are all the same. We all have feelings, we all have pain, we all have hopes, and we all have dreams. The only difference is the road we are on. As a woman of GOD, I believe that we are ALL here to help each other. It is our assignment in life to be kind, caring and compassionate toward others, especially toward those who have much greater challenges in life, and you have depicted that perfectly, which reinforces my own understanding of life. You have a GREAT gift from GOD. Your compassionate heart helps us to see great LOVE and EMPATHY through your photographs and writings, which we all need to be reminded of. May GOD BLESS you.

Gaurin
Guest

Photography is witness of time, space, and humans and I think photographer must be curious about human, about the the hidden face of humanity, the strangers, all the people who are not memory and they lost their representation of themselves and Photographer is here to bring back them to humanity and Julie make exactly that. Photography is memory, and Julie has built the memory of this people, long life to Julie and his work, thank you. (sorry for my english, I’m french !)

Nancy
Guest
Nancy

A beautifully written piece. I can tell that Julie Taylor sees the humanity in people. I’m so grateful to have read this article. It makes me think of how I miss ‘seeing’ others around me sometimes. I want to see the humanity and dignity of all people like this author does.

Carol
Guest
Carol

This beautifully written article by Julie reminds us of what is really important in life. She captures the heart, soul and spirit of people in her beautiful photography! She has such great compassion which is communicated through her words and pictures. Well done Julie!

Barb
Guest

Eye opening in words and photos, beautifully done piece! Thanks for sharing your talents with so many, in away that will help so many.

Betty
Guest
Betty

I understand your concern and the important thing is that you are doing something about it.

John Helgen
Guest
John Helgen

Julie combines the power of her amazing photographic images with keen insight about the human condition and the results are incredible. Great article!

Phil
Guest
Phil

The conventional wisdom is that a picture is worth a thousand words; in Julie’s world, the math is a bit different. A few thousand words and a few dozen pictures tell a story more worthy than the constant drivel of “News” that we see and hear.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Julie, you are amazing.

Jessie
Guest
Jessie

Amazing photos! I love when photography is able to not only capture a moment, bit also invoke an emotion. Powerful and lovely.

Ty
Guest
Ty

Beautiful and humble
Real and mental
A good dose of “life is art”
A wonder of talent

Meagan
Guest
Meagan

Beautiful photos and heartfelt sentiments!

Teresa Patton
Guest
Teresa Patton

These are incredible photographs. I was going to say which is my favorite but I couldn’t decide. There are so many good ones. They really capture their subjects. Thank you, Julie.

Kathy Perschmann
Guest
Kathy Perschmann

Julie- your words and photos are beautiful and inspiring… I am glad you are doing this important work.

Sandy
Guest
Sandy

Amazing photography as usual. By way of her photos, she shows the heart and soul of the people in them. Good reminder to us all to treat all people as equals – you never know their story.

Megan
Guest
Megan

Wonderful photos Julie, and even more so while reading the stories of the people in them, as well your thoughts. Photography can bring together worlds that have seemingly become foreign to each other, especially in situations where words can easily fail. Your work is a genuine example of that, moving us closer. I hope you keep sharing your experiences and thoughts with us, and those of the people you meet.

Alan Taylor
Guest
Alan Taylor

Wow Jewels, I didn’t know you could write! God bless all the friends we’ve met……

Phil
Guest
Phil

Of course Jewels can write too.

Ferlon
Guest
Ferlon

This article was well written and made me think deeper about my perspectives on people that I have personally overlooked. I desire not to look past anyone and remembering they’re an individual that matters (whether I know them or not) really helps in this. I lose sight of that at times, and it’s good to see you helping people to regain sight of this.

Lynn
Guest
Lynn

Julie, thank you for sharing your lovely words and photos. Your genuine love for others shines through.

Tami
Guest
Tami

Beautiful pictures and heartfelt story! Julie has the ability to capture the essence of the human spirit.

David
Guest
David

The photos show a gentle grace !

Rachel D.
Guest
Rachel D.

Julie photography captures a raw truth that is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. What stunning images and a poignant, thoughtful article. Thank you for sharing.

Grace
Guest
Grace

Loved this piece :)

Pete and Betty
Guest

Your photographs truly tell a story of compassion. You have an insight in to the pain and hurt in our communities that so many of us fail to see. May we all open our hearts and minds. Thank you.