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Justin Maxon: When the Spirit Moves

Justin Maxon is a visual storyteller, educator and socially engaged artist. He collaborates with communities that are connected to his own positionality and history, making design and ideation decisions with participants. His socially engaged work seeks to challenge free-market capitalism, by challenging authoritative system of knowing through repositioning members of society within the social hierarchy.


“The Sun Village is a place where families shut themselves into their homes; where people sleep in their basement because gunshots are like birds screeching in the night. But on this morning, the neighborhood awoke to a new air: a Sun Village alive and breathing. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters; sweeping together, picking up trash together. A loud speaker blasts from of a moving car. A beloved pastor coaxes people from the walls of their homes. “We are all working together to clean up Sun Village. Join us, as we take back our neighborhood.”


Chester, PA is located along the Delaware River and has a rich history dating back to the mid-1600s. In the mid 1960’s the city experienced an industrial collapse and subsequent economic meltdown. Many residing in Chester (pop 37,000) now live in an environment of hardship. A food desert spans the length of the city: there hasn’t been a single grocery store in the last decade. The city’s public schools rank last among the state’s districts. The murder rate is one of the highest per capita in the United States.

©Justin Maxon


When I began this project in 2008, I quickly learned Chester to be a place where a domino effect of socio-economic issues and a long history of government corruption, have revealed the community to be a microcosm of the wounds of racism that stain the United States today. As my vision of the community grew, so did the parameters of my project.

With this work, I want people to understand the true complexities of living in a community like Chester. How everything is interlocked: a patchwork of trauma and courage. A woven legacy deeply rooted in the foundation of American society. I’ve witnessed tragedy here, but I have seen equal moments of strength and beauty. The moments of light and progress are not forgotten under the overwhelming weight of violence and oppression. In fact they weigh heavier on the pendulum of life and death. The scales will tip ultimately in favor of dawn. It’s only a matter of focusing our attention towards the morning sun.


Written and Photography Justin Maxon

Workshop with Justin Maxon in India –

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