When photographer Juan Giraldo moved to Chicago, he began to photograph the Great Lakes Reload (GLR) on the city’s far southeast side. “GLR is a 385,000 square foot warehouse that transports, stores and processes various type of steel products; sheet, plate, bar, beam and tube products,” explains Juan.
“The smell of diesel and cigarettes reminded me of the loading dock I worked on in my youth. GLR’s dock workers share qualities with so many of my family members, former co-workers and friends.” As a Latino photographer, Juan felt it was important to represent the lives of Latinos and people of colour by “documenting our own stories, our own narratives” through the workers. Through the ongoing series titled Blue & Blue, Juan is “trying to convey that we are part of the history” and by getting to know the dock workers, their families and day-to-day lives a “strong bond emerged” allowing Juan to capture his subjects as he would his family.
“I think for the most part my subjects were very comfortable in front of the camera. I use a 4×5 field camera; it’s a slow process, giving me more time to compose the image I have in mind,” explains Juan. “It becomes more of a collaborative spirit between my subject and I. They have after all let me into their homes to make this work these past few years.”
There’s a mix of images of the workers during their downtime at work, at home with their families and at special occasions. To build a richer narrative, Juan combines portraits with still life photographs, allowing him to highlight objects and settings integral to their stories. There’s an almost filmic quality to the images where Juan plays with light and shadow to create tension and atmosphere.
“I’m always looking for the beauty in the drama of the mundane. Growing up in a working class neighbourhood, things tend to be a little rough around the edges but you manage to find the beauty in your surroundings,” Juan says.
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