Camilo Jose Vergara has been photographing America's urban neighborhoods for more than 30 years. He's often compared to Jacob Riis, one of the first and most famous social documentarians of the last century. Riis published the groundbreaking work of photojournalism How The Other Half Lives in 1890. And just a few years ago, Vergara published his How The Other Half Worships. Listen to the radio story here.
Last Supper by Manuel G. Cruz, on the side of El Toro Meat Market, East Los Angeles, 2001
Ecce homo drawn with felt-tip pen, Bronx, N.Y., 1971
This image of the suffering Christ looking directly at the viewer was painted by an ex-convict. Crossover Inner City Gospel ministry, Cass Avenue, Detroit, 1994
Murals sponsored by the local Catholic church to stem the number of gang killings in the neighborhood, Los Angeles, 1997
Stations of the Cross by Manuel G. Cruz on the wall of El Toro market, East Los Angeles, 2001. This mural was erased when the store owner converted to Protestantism.
Gratiot Avenue, Detroit, 1995
Los Angeles, 2000
Someone called Ross painted what looks like a Keith Haring rendition of Christ, south Bronx, 1990
Latino blue-eyed Christ on the wall of a car wash, South Central Avenue, Los Angeles, 2003
God's history from a black perspective: The Real Last Supper, Mount Zion Holiness Church, Chestnut Street, Camden, N.J., 2003
An image inspired by "El Rostro," a famous Mexican icon, Los Angeles, 2007
In this mural, barbed wire echoes the crown of thorns of the crucified Christ, Menahan Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2003
Los Angeles, 2002
Christ rests in a landscape that looks more like Michigan than Jerusalem, Detroit, 2005
An alley in Los Angeles, 2002
Crucifixion painted in an alley near Union Avenue, Los Angeles, 2007. The mural, completed in 1990, was commissioned to bring peace to a high-crime area and was blessed b the local parish priest.
Christ painted by Dezo on the wall of a botanica, Bronx, N.Y., 2004
West California Machine Shop, Los Angeles, 2004
The body of Christ is not on the cross; he has risen. Zion Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination, North Richmond, Calif., 2004
This painting at True Gospel Tabernacle Church depicts the day of Pentecost, Bronx, N.Y., 2001
Blue-eyed, resurrected Christ showing his wounds, Compton Avenue, Michoacan Meat Market, Los Angeles, 1999
Mount Paran Baptist Church, Brooklyn, 2008
Mural painted by a schoolboy member of the church, Chicago, 1992
Christ-Devil, Grace Church of God in Christ, Chicago, 2003
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Vergara is interested in how places change — how storefronts become churches, and how churches change identity from one religion to another. In going through his archives, something else caught his eye: images of Jesus from all over the country. Although not a religious person, Vergara has found great significance in the diversity of these images, and in the commonalities. He wanted to tell a story, but decided to let the Bible do the work. Arranged in the order of the Passion of Christ, these images also tell the story of, as Vergara puts it, "an American passion." Put your headphones on and listen to his commentary.
On his site, you can explore places like Harlem, N.Y., and Camden, N.J., which he has painstakingly documented building by building, block by block, year after year. And an upcoming exhibit at the National Building Museum in D.C. will feature his photos of Storefront Churches.