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.

More from Julie K. Taylor

The Unseen Among Us

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


  • Somehow B+W tells another story, it reminds me of the story August Sander of Germany and his photos gave of ordinary people and their life……

  • Dearest Julie,
    This is an I credible article, words of a poet
    & pictures that capture the hearts of how deeply you love others & how these precious hearts of people who are unseen
    But not forgotten. They are not forgotten because you are making it known.
    Thank you for your heart for the hurting & opening the eyes of us who need to see.
    Compassion for others is truly what we need to show the love of Jesus to a suffering world. Well done my friend

  • Magnificent work, amazing to know you had a love for capturing photos early as a child it shows in every photo.

  • Julie, thank you for sharing this article. The photography you captured to share about the unseen are absolutely beautiful…just like you. You have such a kind and compassionate soul. Again, thank you for sharing and opening our eyes to see the unseen. Julie

  • Julie’s photos speak volumes, but her words add another dimension—one that draws me in even closer to the people she meets on the street. Thank you so much for your powerful gifts, Julie.

  • Julie’s life journey of her passionate eye of photography capturing the deep humanity of individuals lives of all mankind in all walks of life just says it all. To love one another unconditionally to all extremes!

  • I enjoyed seeing the black and white photos and reading about the circumstances surrounding each carefully designed frame. It made me think of the every day struggles that so many of us have never had to face. Julie made the people feel comfortable and willing to share their stories. Very well done.

  • I’ve enjoyed following Julie Taylor’s photography on her facebook page for some time; it’s a blessing to read these words of the heart while considering the faces — to hear the song conveyed in her gentle art. How encouraging that the thought and tenderness expressed has not been lost in our time. The unseen among us are assuredly where we find God. <3

  • Its not easy to learn of the pain and suffering of the human race, but necessary for us to not turn from it, but instead, serve and show the unconditional love of Christ. Thank you for being a vessel for Christ, Julie, and for being an example of what it looks like to do what he calls us to do in boldness, and not in fear. Nice work!

  • Looking at the photos of Jacqueline Taylor, I thought she was a person of good nature. This article corroborates the idea that I made. She deserves the gift of expressive ability she has!

  • It is nice to get to know some of the thoughts and motives behind the extraordinary work of Julie Taylor. Every one of her pictures gives you the feeling that there is a message inside. Now I have a feeling as to what that message may be.

  • Julie opens her lens aperture and our eyess to see those we ignore. It’s like hearing but not listening.

    Getting the stories behind the images makes images even more powerful.

    Moving words and pictures.

  • Give a saint a camera and a pen… this is what happens. The great spirit of divine love loves us all with a force that is unfathomable. The problem is that our suffering cuts us off.

    I agree that we are all equal that we all deserve respect. We all deserve much more than this place will give us. This world unfortunately is unforgiving and intolerant of the divine. Julie captures this unfortunate fact with grace and dignity.

  • Beautiful. You capture the human spirit and uplifted my heart. I see the joy, the courage, and optimism. Thank you for reminding me to see everyone and everything.

  • Julie, I love the beauty of your black and white images, but really love the gentle way you bring forth these people who are out brothers and sisters. You truly have a gift.

  • A beautiful story by a beautiful woman. I am so proud to know you and to be your friend. You have changed my life and way of thinking in many ways and you are a true blessing.
    Your heart and kindness are amazing and the world is such a better place with you in it…

  • Thank you, Julie! Beautiful photos and words. It is my prayer that your work will draw attention to the unseen among us and call people to respond. There are opportunities to help and lift others up all around us!

  • The system has created ways to keep us in a loop demanding for quantity and meet the needs of the structure itself. It infuse us with things we don’t need disconnecting us with brainwash technology and society manipulation. We are in a state we care about more for the things and objects and not about facing and looking into the true essence of life and above all, the problems that exist which are a foundation for a healthy society. The root of all problems lies into the core matrix of the society . The knowledge and the awareness of the people around us. I feel grateful there are people like you who truly see , penetrate, expose , and reestablish the reality of the situation , the truth, create windows to awareness and connect the heart with the mind of people by allowing them through your photos and words to take action and transforming the problems into solutions for safety, comfort, recognition and reclaiming the human rights to experience with dignity, love and happiness the life as it should be !!!!! Thank you Taylor once again for your active contribution !!!keep up and be the voice for those who cannot speak !!

  • This is beautiful and thought-provoking, Julie. If we just look around, it won’t take long to find someone who you’d rather just ignore. A smile, eye-to-eye contact, and a warm hello can be a day-changer, for both the giver and the receiver!

  • Nice work! I’m curious to know how you approached your subjects. I’ve always wanted to do a piece like this one, but I have some apprehension about approaching people.


  • Well, I don’t know much about art but seeing this and reading it made me slow down and think for the first time in … a safe estimate would be *weeks.* Thank you for your work!

  • Congratulations to Julie Taylor! What a beautiful person you are- I love your photography and I love your stories. You know my favorite photo ever is the curtain in the window photo! It makes me dream that I can do anything. You are such a special lady and it is hard to find too many as special inside as you are friend.

  • God is love! Pass it on!

    1 John 4: Beloved, let us love one another. God is love. Whoever dwells in love, abides in God and God abides in them.

  • This is a fantastic article, but it doesn’t surprise me coming from Julie Taylor. This should be read by everybody because it’s an ode to human dignity, the most important value to mankind, very often forgotten. Congratulations and Thanks to Julie and the Publisher.

  • Another insightful photo essay. Julie’s work has often reminded me of Dorothea Lange’s work, so it was fun to learn of Julie’s admiration for that photographer. Like Lange, Julie has a remarkable ability to capture the essence of each individual.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *