Camilo José Vergara photographs, 1977-2009

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Vergara, Camilo J.
Camilo J. Vergara is a documentary photographer, focusing on the evolution of urban spaces. Collection of color prints from Vergara's 2009 National Building Museum exhibit Storefront Churches, with photographs of urban churches, pasters, and murals from cities around the United States. This exhibit was part of a larger collection featured in Vergara's book, How the Other Half Worships.
5 Linear Feet
87 Items
Material in English, and Spanish
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Collection consists of 85 color prints, ranging in size from 11x14 inches to 20x24 inches, as well as two 30x30 color transparencies. These images were all part of the National Building Museum's 2009 Vergara exhibit, "Storefront Churches," and many are also featured in his recent book, How the Other Half Worships (2005).

Subjects include urban churches in cities throughout the United States, in particular New York City and its neighborhoods (such as Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx), Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Gary, and Camden. Vergara's photographs vary in what part of each church is highlighted: some are simply the church's exterior, offering a glimpse of the neighborhood and condition of the building; other images are taken inside the church, whether it be an abandoned sanctuary or an active praise service. The collection also contains, to a lesser extent, photographs of religious and spiritually-inspired murals and artwork from different urban environments; cemeteries and outdoor worship spaces; and some portraits of different pastors and preachers, including street preachers. Most of the churches represented in the collection are Pentecostal, Baptist, or some other branch of Evangelical Protestant Christianity.

The collection documents the evolution of church structures, such as the series of rephotography of a Chicago building that evolved from the Holy Raiders Revival Church in 1981 to the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in 2009. Vergara rephotographed the building six times during that period, and each time the building's facade and surroundings had changed significantly. Vergara's photographs also offer one-time glimpses of abandoned and decaying buildings, as well as documentation of reclaimed and re-used urban structures, such as the former Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant that is now a worship center in Newark.

Biographical / historical:

Camilo José Vergara is a New York-based photographer documenting the changing urban landscape of inner cities throughout the United States. He began focusing on urban neighborhoods in the 1970s, and since then has published numerous photography compilations and essays. Vergara is known for his ability to capture transition within a city and its structures, such as the re-use of buildings and their eventual abandonment and reclamation by nature. His titles include Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery, The New American Ghetto, American Ruins, Twin Towers Remembered, and How the Other Half Worships.

Vergara earned a B.A. in sociology from the University of Notre Dame (1968) and a M.A. in sociology from Columbia University (1977). He has received several awards for his work, including a 2002 MacArthur Foundation genius grant.

Acquisition information:
The Camilo José Vergara Photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2010.
Processing information:

Processed by Meghan Lyon, April 2010

Encoded by Meghan Lyon, April 2010

Materials may not have been arranged and described beyond their original condition.

Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 2010-0010


This collection has been arranged and boxed by the size of the photograph, and is not organized by subject or date. Vergara's captions frequently include the street address for the structures or people he photographed; these addresses are noted when available. In addition, frequently the church's name was not included in Vergara's caption, but is visible in the photograph. In this case, the church name has been added to the description below. The collection's oversize transparencies are undated and unlabeled, and have been boxed separately.

Physical location:
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Vergara, Camilo J.


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Collection is restricted to educational, non-commercial use.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

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The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Camilo José Vergara Photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.