Articles of Faith: The Sacred Personalities of Chicago’s African-American Storefront Churches

Articles of Faith: The Sacred Personalities of Chicago’s African-American Storefront Churches

Photography by:  Dave Jordano

The Storefront Churches of Chicago is an exquisite photographic documentary by photographer Dave Jordano, which is contained in his recently published book, Articles of Faith.  His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Northwestern University, among others.  Jordano’s powerful and reverent images in this work capture the small details that make the church spaces unique, familiar and alive; Jordano shows us it’s not only how, but where congregations pray that defines their faith.  Describing this work, Jordano observes that, “There is a long history of small storefront churches in urban areas throughout America.  The great migration of African-Americans to the north during the last century has definitely contributed to this.  Even after Blacks moved north, they still encountered much racial tension and segregation, creating isolation and economic hardship within their communities.  Because of this, many groups couldn’t afford to build a large church, so the idea of reusing small empty storefronts in depressed areas where rents were low became the catalyst for their reuse.  It’s a cultural phenomenon that still resonates today and has become a vital component within the cultural fabric of poor Black urban communities.”

Jordano photographed the churches mostly empty in order to capture interior images that revealed the unique personality of each sacred space.  In this way, the manner in which each pastor adorns and decorates a space is a reflection of their religious ideology, their concept of what is appealing and attractive to others, and of how that space can make others feel comfortable and leave them with feelings of importance and hope.  Perhaps more significantly, he documented these spaces in order to illuminate their positive influences as pillars of community stability and support within poor Black neighborhoods, especially where crime, prostitution and drugs are often right outside the front door.

When these elegantly refined photographs of the sacred rooms are viewed as “portraits,” they resonate with their creators’ personalities.  Seemingly insignificant items such as the ripped and folded-up paper song sheet that a young girl is holding so delicately between her fingers become important documents that signify identity. The hand-written titles are someone’s favorite songs to sing.  It may be only a piece of paper, but its history is profound.  Many of these little churches displayed portraits of the churches’ founders, to pay tribute or memorialize them.  Some of them were photographs, some were paintings on the walls; all of them were signs of respect and testaments to the importance of the here and now, tributes to the day-to-day guiding moral principles of the leader of the church.

Music: Mahalia Jackson/Amazing Grace

Slide Show: Articles of Faith/The Sacred Personalities of Chicago’s African-American Storefront Churches

(Click Image to View Slide Show)

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