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


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

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

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Such a beautifully poignant look into the human soul. Through the eyes of a photographer we see and feel the compassion every human longs for. Well done Julie, please continue to share your journey.

  • I am amazed at the depth of your writing. Thank you for sharing your talent and compassion with all of us. I was truly moved by all of your work.

  • Julie, Exceptional photography and writing. You have a great gift that you share with others, a gift of love and compassion and it shows through your work. Blessings to you. Julie

  • Julie, you have such an amazing gift both through your writing and your photography. Thank you for sharing your gift and helping to show the life of those around us. Blessings to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.