In the 1960s American photojournalist Steve Schapiro traversed the country photographing for LIFE and other news magazines, covering the major political and cultural happenings of the time including the Civil Rights Movement. He photographed Martin Luther King at Selma in 1963 and later covered King’s assassination. He spent months with Robert Kennedy, travelling with him throughout the US and to South America. For Sports Illustrated he hung out with Muhammed Ali shooting the boxer over five days in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
In the 1970s Schapiro turned his camera on Hollywood establishing himself as a movie stills photographer. He created what is considered the iconic series for the Godfather Trilogy as well as shooting on Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy, Rambo and Risky Business amongst others.
Over a career that has spanned more than five decades Schapiro has photographed countless celebrities, tripped the light fantastic with pop culture icons including Andy Warhol, published numerous books, held exhibitions of his work around the globe and starred in the documentary film ‘Steve Schapiro: An Eye on American Icons’.
It’s a stellar legacy, but Schapiro isn’t finished. Now in his eighties he is still making new work and his latest book, Misericordia: Together We Celebrate is a portrait of a unique community and one of Schapiro’s finest, and most celebratory collections to date.
Misericordia, which means heart of mercy in Latin, is home to more than 600 children and adults with developmental disabilities. Everyday the residents of Misericordia, which spans a 31-acre campus in Chicago, go to work, take education classes, exercise, create artworks and enjoy the warmth of a loving and supportive environment.
In talking about Misericordia, Schapiro’s voice rings with genuine pleasure. “There is a flowering of personalities and they have a great sense of humour and everyone is filled with joy,” he tells me. “You walk into a room and someone holds out their hand and wants to know your name and then they want to tell you their name and it’s just a joyous place”.
Schapiro says he is now more focused on doing documentary projects and telling stories he’s interested in like Misericordia, which is a beacon of hope and love in one of America’s largest cities. Schapiro, who lives in Chicago, spent months working with the staff and residents at Misericordia to create this intimate portrait of an exceptional facility where many spend their entire lives.
Within the pages of this beautifully produced book published by powerHouse New York, Schapiro takes the reader on a visual journey into the daily lives of this diverse community. Here we are introduced to residents, their carers and family members, at work and play. “When I’m taking a portrait, I want to capture the spirit of a person,” he explains. That objective is very clearly met in the portraits in this book, which radiate with optimism, love and sincerity.
“I love Misericordia. It is always fun to be with old friends and meet new friends. There are always new things I can do here, I never feel bored. I like everything about Misericordia and I love saying good morning to all the staff on my way to work. Misericordia helps me to always feel good about myself!” Anna D., a resident.
This quote is just one example of the sentiments expressed by those who live at Misericordia. In the book there are comments from residents as well as staff. The book is sectioned into 11 parts including Work Opportunities, Creativity Art, Technology, Children, Water Therapy and Athletics, Music and Dance, and Parties.
Misericordia provides a full continuum of care and services for those suffering mild to profound disabilities across diverse racial, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. Founded in 1976 by Sister Rosemary Connelly, who is the Executive Director of the Center, Misericordia not only supports its residents, but also operates an outreach service that helps more than 150 families in the community with children living at home.
Schapiro says, “Being a good photographer comes from that unique point of view that we all have and trying to do things with that sense of yourself and also of doing things you really care about”. Misericordia is that philosophy in action. It’s a wonderful, uplifting book. Its arrival comes at a time when some would try and shake our belief in humanity to the core. But Schapiro reminds us of the joy to be found in the smile of a child, the power of a hand extended in friendship and hope, and the significance of a place where everyone is welcome.
Alison Stieven-Taylor is a writer specializing in photography based in Melbourne, Australia.
Steve Schapiro, Misericordia: Together We Celebrate
Published by powerHouse New York