Calvin – A Relationship in Pictures, Phase 2 Karen Byers 2012
The photos on these pages began as an effort to capture some of the story and essence of Calvin, a
man I met one day in Water Tower Park on Michigan Avenue in Chicago in 2008. I was charmed by his
loquaciousness, and the clarity and enthusiasm in his speech when he talked about his life. Calvin was
willing to share his stories with me, my camera, and audio recorder as well as show me his struggles
on the streets of Chicago.
Over the next four years, Calvin and I met frequently to share and record his experiences, both past
and present. We became friends, but these images reflect, for me, our relationship as viewer and
presenter, and perhaps, as audience and performer. Early in the project, we agreed that Calvin did not
need to prove the veracity of his stories, so during our time together, I never questioned the truth or
accuracy of what he was telling me. The tales he told and the photos I took of him were free to become
a medley of his presentation of his culture, experiences and fantasies (his stories), and his reality (my
photos, to some extent).
Calvin did not divulge many details of his upbringing, although I learned enough to know his childhood
was distressed. His values and ethics were formed inside a violent and harsh environment that did
not protect him. And yet, he embraced the aesthetic and persona most familiar to him with seemingly
little introspection about his motivations, and lived his life decisively. Sometimes Calvin’s decisions
were surprising to me, because they seemed to be made without considering the consequences, but I
learned that those decisions were made for reasons that were uniquely his.