Orlando woman’s photography highlights harsh realities of struggling communities

‘Black Mary’ exhibit on display at Orange County Public Library

ORLANDO, Fla. – Renata Sago is an independent journalist in Orlando who has seen some of the harsh realities in communities across the United States.

She’s using photographs to highlight their struggles and pain but she incorporated an iconic character who inspires hope: Mary Poppins.

“I wanted to re-imagine Mary Poppins as this modern-day black woman walking the streets, engaging with people who needed to be seen and heard,” Sago said.

Her exhibit, which is on display at the Orange County Public Library, features 25 images. Almost all of them include the popular character.

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“This exhibit demonstrates images of people across ethnicity. It transcends race. It’s really about portraying a universal human experience of joy and unconditional love,” the Chicago native said.

Black Mary, an exhibit with photographs that showcase social issues seen mostly in marginalized communities, where people suffer from unemployment, poverty, homelessness or emotional trauma. The images capture people in need of comfort.

“The purpose of the project is to create a juxtaposition between this very magical figure -- this endearing, nurturing figure of Mary who brings love and joy and support to these spaces that exhibit a stark reality of pain,” she said.

To capture those images, Sago traveled across the country to major cities like Los Angeles.

“You’ve got the beauty of Hollywood, of the industry there, but you’ve also got people living in tent cities -- you know, just miles away from where the creativity is happening,” Sago said. “We went to New Orleans, same thing. There’s a spirit of resiliency in that city but also, a spirit of deep pain that’s come from trauma in the past few years.”

She also brings to light issues going on in her hometown of Orlando.

“This is where you have a creative community that pushes the envelope, but at the same time, we experience -- just as any other major city -- some of the stark realities of life without affordable housing, life without jobs.” she said.

But who is Mary in those photographs? It’s Sago’s mother. Sago says the exhibit is also a way to honor her.

“I look at my mother as sort of this embodiment of joy, of resiliency, of just greatness and in many ways, her story -- her lived experience -- tie to the individuals who I photographed,” she said.

One of the pictures includes a remake of one of the most iconic Mary Poppins images.

“We wanted to demonstrate her in movement. That’s the philosophy behind this,” Sago said while referencing the image of Poppins taking a leap with her umbrella open. “No matter what your obstacles are -- Momentum. Momentum. Don’t ever let life’s obstacles stagnate you. Keep moving.”

The Black Mary exhibit is located on the second floor of the Orange County Public Library and will be on display until Feb. 29.

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