Cartier-Bresson in Chicago
Excellent: I didn't know that the great Henri Cartier-Bresson was ever in Chicago, let alone that he photographed memorable images here, like this one. I'm heartened to see he was as enamored with the abstract geometry of the El tracks as countless other, lesser photographers (myself included) have been since the system's inception. And I admire the juxtaposition between the hard rigidity of the tracks and the soft and slightly pained humanity of the boy's face.
Merchandise Mart, 1934
Love this gorgeous 1934 photograph looking east along the main branch of the Chicago River, with the Merchandise Mart on the left. The river was so placid at that moment that it almost looks like a reflecting pool, and not the open sewer it was back then.
Blymyer Building, Cincinnati
This 1912 photo of downtown Cincinnati is very cool in general (such bustling energy!), but even cooler is this inset photo of the top of the Blymyer Buidling and this glorious ad:
Unfortunately, it's not a fading ad now, since the building no longer exists - still, this is the most extensive "building directory" ad I've ever seen. That building apparently was quite the mecca of the writing trade - two typewriter dealers, a printer and a stationer.
Fading Ad: Boston Store redux
My good friend Frank Jump was kind enough to repost this photo that I put up last week on Facebook, where I've been running an album called "Photo a Day", of photographs that I've taken each day this year. One afternoon last week, I was walking down Washington Street and looking for a subject, and happened to look across the street at the Block 37 office building, and was very pleased to see the old Boston Store fading ad reflected in the glass. (I had previously photographed the ad - posted here - and inevitably look for it every time I'm walking nearby.) In his post Frank provides more background on the Boston Store, including a great old newspaper ad. I really like the photo, particularly its juxtaposition of modern and aged.
The guests posed politely, but were itching to go home.
Another marvelous found-snapshot from Ron Slattery at bighappyfunhouse. Apparently taken by a young girl, of a less-than-easygoing group. I wouldn't have guessed this was from 1973; based on the outfits, it seems at least a decade earlier.
Catholics and girlies and air raids, oh my!
Love this 1942 photograph by Fenno Jacobs of a magazine stand in Southington, Connecticut. If you click here for the full-sized image, you can zoom in on the various covers. I particularly like how randomly the publications are arranged - that inset photo shows, all within a few inches, Catholic International, Smiles (based on the cover, some sort of girlie/lingerie pulp?), Little Oscar's First (Air) Raid and an astrology magazine.
Ice Ice Baby
I love this photo. If my writing was at all comic - which it isn't - I'd want to have this as a book cover some day.
Fading Ads and Fading AIDS
My great friend Frank Jump is refining his Fading Ad Campaign series of fading ad photographs, and will soon be incorporating vintage ads into portraits of fellow AIDS survivors, such as the photo of Steed Taylor and the Griffon Shears ad shown above.
As this project has matured and I have become a long-term survivor, the original metaphor of the Fading Ad Campaign that rang true for me fifteen years ago still resounds, but the overtones have modulated. Although I continue to utilize these images to draw light upon the fading problem of AIDS, fostering awareness isn’t the primary focus anymore as is the condition of the aging survivors, many of whom have lost their fear of dying from AIDS but are succumbing to age-related illnesses and complications from pharmacological toxicities. Through this campaign, my life mission is to continue to shed light on this lingering issue that still affects many of us in the LGBTQ community.
Frank has always seen fading ads as a metaphor for perseverance and survival, but this series of portraits and interviews with AIDS survivors will undoubtedly make that connection even stronger. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.
Two views of 1950s Chicago
Rush Street, looking south from Delaware Street, in 1954. Love that tawdry, gaudy neon. The area is now informally known as the Viagra Triangle (for the middle-aged divorced guys haunting the steakhouses and trying to get lucky), but there's no way it has the hustle and throb it enjoyed well into the 1970s.
Doorway by Harry Callahan, 1955. Probably far from the glare of Rush Street, and likely in a working class neighborhood. Just in this tight frame, I see advertisements for three beers (Sieben's - painted directly onto the window at the upper right - Schlitz and Budweiser) and two whiskeys (Hiram Walker Imperial and Echo Springs). I like a place that gives you a hint of what's inside before you even step off the street.
I love the rusted decay of this door on the Harrison Street side of the old Chicago Main Post Office, which has been abandoned since 1997. Sixty hulking, empty acres of floorspace - 2.5 million square feet - just a short walk from downtown. The place still amazes me, in both its gargantuan size and its emptiness.
Fading Ad: Casey's Liquors
This fading ad for Casey's Liquors (1444 W. Chicago Avenue) is one of the more difficult ad photos I've taken. It was in a narrow, fenced alley that made it impossible to photograph in any manner other than from this extreme angle. I really like the now-defunct store's slogan: "Chances are we got it."
Fading Ad: A. Sulka & Company
Here's a different kind of fading ad. At the former Chicago branch of luxury clothier A. Sulka & Company at Madison Street and Michigan Avenue, the company name was affixed onto the building with some sort of raised script lettering. The signage must have been there for quite some time, because after it was removed, the years of weather left an outline of the lettering on the building. Nice little relic.
Monadnock Building, west-facing wall, taken during the late afternoon from the tight confines of Federal Street. One of my favorite buildings in the city. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a novel about the office denizens of just such a building.
Sometimes accidental photographic subjects are more interesting than what you intended to photograph. I was trying to snap a long-distance photo of the Santa Fe Grain Elevator from my fast-moving train, but although I did catch part of the elevator in this photo (at the center-right, beyond the telephone pole), far more interesting to me are the brick houses, garage and oddly-parked van in the foreground, plus the blurred rush of the trees. This is in McKinley Park on the near Southwest Side, at 33rd and Damen.
Hilton Head photographsLast week we were on our semi-regular vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. As always I took a ton of photos, but since the natural geography never changes much there, I'll skip showing the usual sunsets, waves and mountains. Instead, this time I'll focus on some strange and quirky images I managed to capture.
Nothing symbolizes the heaven-and-hell, saint-and-sinner tension of the south for me quite like this roadside scene: the sprawling Adult World sex superstore, towered over by a giant cross. This perspective is deceiving: the cross (a quarter of a mile down the road) is actually much taller than the store. It's almost as if the cross was built to give customers one last reminder, as they step into the store, just whom they're pissing off by satisfying their craven urges.
Tunnel through an Appalachian mountain, in the Pisgah National Forest. Julie cringes every time we go through a tunnel, especially a long curving one like this where you can't see the other end.
I always know we're arrived in the south when the first Waffle Houses begin to appear. I like how the motel sign next door seems to comment on the regional orientation of the restaurant chain.
Strange cover illustration of James Agee's iconic autobiographical novel. If I didn't know better, this cover would lead me to believe that Agee's mother was some sort of human-butterfly hybrid.
Narcissism, pure artsy narcissism.
I love the refreshing informality of Piggly Wiggly. Every other supermarket calls it bathroom tissue or toilet paper, but not The Pig, nosiree.
Fading Ad: Grocer
I was pleasantly surprised to come across this fading ad this past weekend, during our drive home from vacation (on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina). The ad is for an old grocery store in Lexington, Kentucky (343 E. High Street); the building now houses Common Grounds Coffeehouse. A fading ad and good espresso. Two of my favorite things.
This morning's dramatic sunrise almost looked like a Bierstadt landscape. With no mountains anywhere near Joliet, we have to rely on clouds for our grandeur.
Fading Ad: Chicago Paper Company
On an instant whim, I photographed this image from my train this morning, of the old Chicago Paper Company building at Wells and Polk in the South Loop. I'm not sure which I love more: the fading ad bearing the company name, or that marvelous vast wall of small windows. (The blank spots are windows reflecting the morning sun.) I converted the photo to black and white to eliminate the sickening greenish tinge of the train window; I also found that doing so, combined with higher contrast and reduced brightness, really helps bring out the lettering.
I previously photographed this building last year, specifically for another ad along the roofline. But I like this current image much better.
Spruce grove at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. This weekend the three of us did a long hike through the arboretum, where we hadn't visited since Maddie was a toddler. Beautiful place - it's the former estate of the Morton family (of Morton Salt fame) and includes everything from thick forest to savannas to marshes to prairie to formal gardens. The Mortons were pioneering naturalists (the family patriarch was the founder of Arbor Day) and their legacy has been lovingly maintained at the arboretum. We really enjoyed our visit and plan to return regularly, the next being a month or two from now for the autumn foliage.
The 40th Parallel
Completely fascinating: photographer Bruce Myren traversed the United States along the 40th Parallel, and photographed each of the 52 points at which the latitude line was intersected by a whole degree of longitude. Navigating west to east, you don't even see a building until Noblesville, Indiana, and only a few of the photos show any signs of human habitation at all. And only one depicts a genuine city: Columbus, Ohio. This is a vivid reminder of how much of our country is open, uninhabited land, despite having over 300 million people.
That photo above was taken in Hollenberg, Kansas, and is probably my favorite in the collection.
(Via Steve Himmer.)
Fading Ad: W.W. Kimball
This fading ad is pretty tough to read. Running vertically down the right side of this building, you can just barely see the name "Kimball", with the "K" being even more faded than the rest. This was the former home of W.W. Kimball and Company, the famous manufacturer of pianos and organs, at the corner of Jackson and Wabash. (And, incidentally, right across the street is the old Lyon-Healy building; Wabash was once Chicago's Music Row.) Both the Kimball and Lyon-Healy buildings are now owned by DePaul University as part of its downtown campus.
This charming medieval couple has clearly been keeping diligent watch over the fire alarm at 314-316 S. Federal for decades. The building was originally St. Hubert's English Chophouse (which was quite the destination in its day) but is now used only for storage by the adjacent Union League Club.
Fading Ad: Century Building
I'm somehow charmed by this stylistic hodgepodge of a fading ad, on the south side of the Century Building, 202 S. State St. Reading from top to bottom:
202 S. State Street
Choice Space/300 to 3500 sq. ft./Phone 431-1730
Based on the graphics and the lack of an area code with the phone number, I would guess this ad dates from the late 1960s or early 1970s. That's also roughly the last time State Street had anything that would have been considered "choice" office space. The less-than-pristine portion at the left side of the ad is due it being painted over a vertical outcrop in the brick wall, which I assume conceals a chimney pipe.
Fading Ad: Falstaff Beer
My friend Marie Carnes posted this fantastic fading ad for Falstaff Beer, on the side of the Brooklyn Tavern in Springfield. I'm calling it a fading ad because although the bar is still in business (and in the news), Falstaff has been defunct since 2005. I'll always remember Harry Caray drunkenly waxing poetic about the glories of Falstaff during Sox games on Channel 44 during the seventies.
Seeing this 1954 photo of commuters getting off the Illinois Central train in Park Forest, Illinois, reminds me that I still want to read Walter H. Whyte's landmark study The Organization Man, which was based on the denizens of Park Forest, one of America's first centrally-planned suburbs. After Whyte's book, I'd also like to read The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Sloan Wilson's bestselling novel of the same era and subject matter. Based on this photo, it looks like Park Forest had quite a few gray-suited organization men back then.
River North usually gets a bad rap as being a vacuous playground for suburbanites, but at least the area has preserved its architectural heritage much better than the Loop has. Here is the main entrance for the old Union Special Machine Company building, at 310 W. Kinzie, right behind the Merchandise Mart. The building is now condominiums - which is far better than being demolished.
Fading Ad: Majestic Building
This fading ad is of the Majestic Building, at 18 W. Monroe. The building originally housed the Majestic Theatre as well as general office space, and is now the Bank of America Theatre, with the offices recently converted to a Hampton Inn hotel. Lately I've been enjoying taking city photos during the late afternoon, when the sun is lower in the sky and casts some dramatic shadows such as this one.
Fifth in a series of memorable curbside discards. This one is actually of our own driveway - Maddie decided to finally get rid of her Elmo lawn sprinkler, which never worked very well anyway. Given the longtime appeal of Elmo, I'd be surprised if somebody doesn't salvage this before the garbage man arrives tomorrow, but it was still there as of this morning.
I just can't get enough Randolph Street photos from the fifties and sixties, and only partly because my dad used to work in the block shown above, between State and Dearborn. The signage (including, just on the north side of the street, Eitel's Old Heidelberg, the Oriental Theatre and the Woods Theatre) is so gaudy that it's almost beautiful. Plus I love that there was a bowling alley right in the middle of downtown; its unlit sign is in the left-center of the photo, above the bus.
Lake Street, looking east from the Chicago & North Western viaduct. Yesterday afternoon.
View from inside of Cafecito, Wells Street, Chicago.
Strolling on Canal Street
I love this 1953 view of Canal Street, looking north from Fulton Street. I'm intrigued by the presence of the woman and child - back then the area was almost entirely industrial sites and railyards, and not exactly the ideal place for a stroll. All I can think of is that with the Chicago & North Western railroad station having been a few blocks from that corner, maybe the two had a layover between trains and the woman wanted the kid to burn off some nervous energy before getting on their next train.
Here is the current view from almost the exact same vantage point. The tall building in the old photo (North American Cold Storage) is just visible as a sliver at the left of the right-hand condo tower - the cold storage building itself was converted to condos during the 1990s. The industrial building on the west side of the street in the old photo is now Cassidy Tire, which is marked by red signage.
Fading Ad: Champlain Building
Walking down Wabash this afternoon, I was surprised to see this faded ad in the distance, a few blocks south on the opposite side of the street. I don't remember ever seeing it before, but I guess the El tracks block its view from most vantage points other than where I happened to be walking. The lettering is hard to make out, but I could just discern "Champlain" and "37", which I later found out was the Champlain Building, at 37 S. Wabash. Though the faded ad itself leaves much to be desired, I like the composition of this photo, particularly the contrast of the vertical columns of the buildings against the diagonals formed by the streetlights, tracks and windows.
At home with the Petries
I just love these two 1963 photographs by Earl Theisen, taken on the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show. I grew up on reruns of the show, and it's fascinating to see the oh-so-familiar Petrie living room and bedroom from these unfamiliar angles. It's also wonderful to see the genuine warmth between Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in the second photo - I think I heard somewhere that during the show's heyday, a significant portion of viewers thought the two were married in real life. That's how convincing the actors were.
Joliet has a modest maritime connection, thanks to its location on the Des Plaines River between the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Illinois River. Any barges traveling from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi have to pass through Joliet. Above is an Egan Marine towboat docked on a river wharf, just south of the McDonough Street bridge.
Ordinarily I love vintage signage, especially for a former Chicago institution like Karoll's. But I have to admit that this signage (shown in 1977) was kind of tacky, and really marred the exterior of the Reliance Building, one of the Loop's true architectural gems.
(Via Calumet 412.)
Yesterday afternoon, while enjoying a brief stroll, I couldn't help admiring this bas relief on the Commonwealth Edison substation at 115 N. Dearborn. Though I'm not sure what that's supposed to be - maybe a superhero? Electric Power Man?
Having a catch
Love this 1953 photograph by Gordon Parks, especially how it echoes (unconsciously?) Henri Cartier-Bresson's classic "Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare". (Based on how all the boys are bunched together, I can't help wondering if they're playing a game of 500.) Parks was quite the Renaissance Man: FSA photographer, poet, composer and, of course, director of Shaft.
Sometimes train delays are good things. Yesterday morning my train was stopped for several minutes on the southwest side, in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood, which gave me time to fully take in the scene outside. A dusting of snow had partially covered this vacant industrial lot, which used to be a car junkyard but was recently cleared and graded, for some unknown purpose. I couldn't decide how to best describe the scene; at first, the snow mixed with the dark soil reminded me of powdered sugar on chocolate cake, but as I gazed longer the table-flat lot ringed with wild grasses looked almost like a lake. And obviously, the cake and lake versions are impossible to reconcile. Fortunately, images often succeed where words fail, and this photograph describes the scene more vividly than I can in writing.
Fourth in a series of memorable curbside discards. Or in this case, alleyside - behind an apartment building on Jefferson Street, on the east side of Joliet. The taped-on sign, of course, begs the question of why the TV's owner is just throwing it away. And I suspect it probably won't work quite as good after sitting in four inches of snow.
The Kings' new home
What a wonderful image: Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King (the couple at the top center) at the apartment they moved into in 1966 at 16th and Hamlin on Chicago's west side, to bring attention to living conditions in the city's slums.
It's hard to imagine now, but there once was a CTA elevated track running right down the middle of North Wacker Drive (then called Market Street). That photo above shows the Market Terminal at Madison Street, where the line terminated, in front of the grand Civic Opera House. The stub was demolished during the late 1940s, undoubtedly to the relief of the Opera House's owners. This memorable 1946 painting by John Falter shows a scene beneath the terminal, at roughly the spot where the lone car protrudes from underneath the structure in the photo. I walk past this intersection on a regular basis and always admire the broad, airy expanse of Wacker Drive, and although I'm normally a traditionalist, I'll admit that the demolition of the Market Stub is one act of urban renewal that I have absolutely no objection to.
Hockey at the Garden
I have no interest in the New York Rangers, but I'd still love to own an original of this poster, as shown in this 1943 image. Interesting that they'd go to the trouble of printing and hanging a poster that only promotes the next three home games, which would have given the poster a useful life of no more than a few weeks.
Schulze Baking Company
This morning, Frank Jump posted this photo of a faded ad for Schulze's Butternut Bread. And thanks to a Metra debacle, this morning I had to take the Rock Island train instead of my regular train, which serendiptiously brought me within two blocks of the old Schulze Bakery. My hurried photograph of the building (at 55th and Wabash) is shown above. Butternut was baked there until 2004, before the owners shut it down. I'm not sure what business (if any) operates there now, but at least the building is still standing, and the Schulze name is still emblazoned across the top.
"At the Pub with Tony Hall"
(Photograph copyright © Libby Hall)
Spitalfields Life shares a terrific collection of 1960s pub photographs from London's East End, by the late Tony Hall. I love the look of quiet mirth on the face of that lady above as she sips her ale.
This is one of several water-intake cribs on Lake Michigan, from which Chicago and many suburbs get their drinking water. The cribs were built three miles from shore, primarily to adequately dilute the pollution spewing from the Chicago River, which was an open sewer for decades. The water was (and still is) pumped to shore via underground tunnels.
My dad used to tell me than when he was a kid, the lake would freeze solid all the way to the cribs in winter, and it was possible to walk across the ice to the cribs. Though I didn't totally believe him - it sounded like a tall tale a father would be fond of telling - now I have visual proof. (Which is not to imply that my dad was a kid in 1875, when this photo was taken.) Forgive me for doubting you, Dad.
Milwaukee & Racine
Charmingly shabby image of the corner of Milwaukee and Racine, 1958. I'm pretty sure those two toughs are up to no good. Here's a current view of that same intersection, which has been utterly condo'd beyond all recognition.
Spike, in sunlight
A few weeks ago my evening train stopped briefly on the Western Avenue viaduct in McKinley Park (between 36th Street and Archer Avenue), and I was very pleased to capture this image. The bumps on the diagonal are rivets in the steel walls that line the edges of the overpass (the dark tails are shadows from the late-afternoon sun), the square with the one curved corner is a patch of dirt and dead grass next to the entrance to a Jewel supermarket parking lot, and the whitish blur at the upper right is a passing car. The only clearly recognizable, non-abstract element here is the sewer cover near the upper edge of the photo.
Jos. Kohler's Bier Halle, 1883
Vielen dank, Herr Kohler. I'll have a lager in my regular stein.