My family lived on the south side, west of the fancy historic part of George Pullman’s company town. Back then I was fascinated by the crumbling Florence Hotel, and the other unique architecture of the neighborhood. It still seems a world unto itself, yet striving to keep itself beautiful and vital. Much of the old industry is gone, but the Method Soap Factory opened in 2015 and the workers I met were pretty happy about it. Visiting the neighborhood again for this project, I was encouraged to see glimpses of revival and renewal in part of the city that my family once called home. The last time I saw it, the house where I was born looked nothing like I remembered, and I decided not to stir up old memories again, instead enjoying the experience as if I were a tourist on a walking tour.
Red House, Bee Hives
New Industrial Revolution
Bathing At The Edge Of The Water
For years I lived in one of the historic Victorian homes that remain from the era when Rogers Park was a suburb of Chicago. The Rog, as we affectionately call it, is the quirky, wacky, crunchy, liberal home to both long-time Chicagoans and recent immigrants. It has beaches and a university, theaters and an arts district, neighborhood bars and cozy restaurants. It is at the far end of the Red Line, which you'll lament on those icy, winter days when a bitter wind sweeps across the elevated platform. But when summer arrives, you'll pass your neighbors garden full of flowers on your way to an afternoon at the beach and smile at whatever new and bizarre garden sculpture you see there.
Our Lady Of Rogers Park
The Geometry Of Music
I went to school in Hyde Park and was married in Bond Chapel, a lifetime ago it seems. Today, I’m studying again, walking through the quads, enjoying all the changes this time around, like the Logan Center. For me, the neighborhood and the University are tightly bound together, an idea that not everyone agrees with. But, on my walk home I would sometimes slip into the Oriental Institute or Smart Museum when I should’ve been studying. Other things that made excellent distractions were drinks at Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap, fried chicken from Harold’s, or music at the Checkerboard Lounge. Roaming the areas amazing parks was another way to dally when a long study session loomed. Today I’m much more disciplined, but I’m still attracted to the same diversions, and in one of my walks in the park I ended up chatting with a group of people fishing there who assured me that the catfish they catch make an excellent fish fry. It sounded pretty good, but I’m sure I’ll pass a JJ Fish & Chicken or Harold’s on my way home instead.
Comic Book Heroes
Lakefront, Lincoln Park
The city's wild spaces are my secret haunts. Chicago's Lakefront is home to some of the most accessible created outdoor spaces in the city. Created wild spaces are so important for city dwellers, with limited access to the outdoors. These outdoor spaces provide room for relaxation and renewal of body and mind, essential for life in crowded urban areas. Unique in every season, I especially love winter on the Lakefront. I have cross country skied along Montrose Beach in the magical snowfall on Christmas Eve. I watched a coyote hunting rabbits in deep drifts of snow in late winter. I've listened alone in silence to the calls of birds in the cold springtime that is still winter in Chicago. Every season is its own meditation here.
Chinatown feels relaxed, friendly, and sociable, an unhurried meal with lots of lively conversation. One year I celebrated Chinese New Year as the guest of recent immigrants from China, cultures colliding amusingly. My kids, thinking they were going for dinner with their friends, were horrified to find that their math teachers were the guests of honor. Kids on their very best behavior, things got off to a slightly awkward start. Maybe to Americans it seemed odd to take your teachers to dinner, as if angling for a better grade. By the end of the meal, though, full of good food and laughter, we were feeling quite comfortable with a new custom of showing honor and respect to teachers.
Coming Soon Luxury Condos
Historic Logan Square has been home to the wealthy and the working class, shifting immigrant groups and a vibrant arts community. While I lived and worked there, I loved to watch from my studio windows as the sun set and the Logan Theater marquee lit up. Sundays at the Farmers Market, I was bound to run into someone for a chat. The Comfort Station hosted all sorts of art right outside my door. Long walks down leafy streets, the boulevard was beautiful in all seasons. Restaurants and coffee shops beckoned me to meet friends inside. I liked the diversity of an upscale restaurant next to a diner, an arts space next to a neighborhood jeweler, the Mega Mall murals across from trendy bars, 30 year veteran residents and young newcomers sitting side by side in an old school cafe. Walking, I would discover beautiful new murals in unexpected spaces, small restaurants with ambitious aspirations, friendly coffee shops, businesses that had been a part of the community for decades, parks and neighbors gardens, all providing a sense of community and belonging. Increasing gentrification and crowding began to change the neighborhood, pushing out long-time residents and businesses. I missed the diversity and creative environment that first attracted me, the focus seemed to shift rapidly to sports bars and hastily built condos, and for me it was a difficult goodbye.
Gentrification Coming Through
The historic Bronzeville neighborhood was a magnet for African Americans leaving the South during the Great Migration, becoming a source of culture and social change. Contemporary Bronzeville continues to evolve, welcoming African immigrants and others into a community of neighbors. It is full of history, along with a good helping of food and art. It's tree-lined streets and boulevards beckon me to explore, document the changes underway, eat and chat with friendly folks I meet along the way. Bronzeville is one of Chicago's cultural treasures, and a point of pride for African Americans. As the nerdy kid borrowing old jazz and blues records from the library, Bronzeville was a mythic place where the kings and queens of music and culture once reigned. As a student in Hyde Park, it was where I headed for soul food and breakfast at Peaches. Now when I pick up my daughter from her dorm in Hyde Park, we head to Peaches together, where we might see politicians or celebrities eating alongside all of us regular folks enjoying the legendary breakfasts.
After The Gilded Age
Neighbor Outside The Cleaners
The Lame To Walk
From My Point Of View
Chicago's Loop or Downtown is full of famous architecture, theaters, concert venues, museums, schools, offices and shops; all of which draw tourists and commuters into the city. But residents also enjoy the beautiful public spaces where Chicagoans meet in parks, gardens, beaches, to view public art, at free concerts and outdoor activities. I remember marveling at the opening of Millennium Park, and later enthusiastically applauding the preview of Kinky Boots at Broadway in Chicago, before the rest of the country had seen it. Balancing downtown development with neighborhood need is a perpetual point of contention, and landmarks develop in every era. My mother’s first job was at Marshall Field’s on State Street, and mine was in the Sears Tower. As a kid, I remember taking the train to State Street with girlfriends for the first time, probably without permission, where we revelled in the freedom of our escape from the neighborhood. A generation later, and a whole lot closer in, the city feels different and my own kids regularly meet friends from all over in the Loop to socialize.
Pilsen has been a magnet for immigrants coming to Chicago since the 1800s. From Czechs to Mexicans, families have been drawn to Pilsen's affordable homes and friendly streets. Years ago, when I spent significant amounts of time in Mexico, I would come back to Chicago, "homesick" for the places I'd just left. I knew I could always come to Pilsen to find the ingredients for the foods I loved to cook, the familiar sights, sounds and tastes, and to hear Spanish spoken in the shops and on the streets, as if I could travel back to another place and time. I shared my own experience of Dia de Muertos in Mexico with my children, taking them to the exhibit every year at Pilsen’s National Museum of Mexican Art. Walking to the train on my way home after a day making street portraits near the Museum, I met a woman who would become my muse on an emotionally challenging project, channeling all the complicated feelings into a riveting portrait. You never know who you’ll meet on your way home through Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Bienvenidos A Pilsen
Santa Maria De La Calle
Contemplating Chicago’s shift away from an industrial economy, I decided to explore the West Loop. Here the neighborhood is moving towards a residential and tech focus, but on the far western edges of the neighborhood, the old industrial area still works. I peered inside the room where a worker was shoveling refuse from huge concrete grain silos and the air was a swirling dust storm, the filtered light creating an unearthly glow. I asked him about his experience working in what seemed like a particularly hazardous environment. “It’s hard work,” the man said, “but it’s a job. And I need a job.” As you walk further east, the industrial area rapidly gives way to trendy restaurants and high-tech offices, maybe you’ll pass an art installation on the way to your condo, converted from one of the old warehouses. I thought about the disappearance of factory jobs and what it means for workers, and I wondered about the uncertainty of the future for workers like the man who spoke to me.
Grains Of Dust
Sunset On The Lagoon
Humboldt Park is another neighborhood built along Chicago’s boulevard system, with mansions of the wealthy, flats for working folks and a 207 acre park that has its own beach, a cafe and paddle boats along with wetlands that attract a variety of birds. Gentrification has nipped at its edges, but so far it’s retained much of its character with food trucks, cafes and restaurants featuring Puerto Rican food and shops that cater to the neighborhood residents. On warm spring days older folks gather in the park to play dominoes, eat and chat. One spring day I ended up talking with two gentlemen about their classic cruiser bikes, making their portraits while we chatted. In June, Fiesta Puertorriquena surges into the park with island rhythms, a whirl of dancers and a buzz of activity. As the summer moves on, the baseball diamonds ring with the crack of bat against ball and the cheers of the crowd. In the fall I like to roam the park as the sun is setting, amidst the kids heading home from school and neighbors out to walk their dogs. The park is a much emptier place in winter, but I love the solitude. One freezing January day while shooting along the creek, a man started up a conversation by asking if I would make a portrait of him. He told me about his unemployment and health problems, and as I shivered my way through the portrait offered me his flask “just to keep warm, you know.” It’s Chicago in winter, and don’t I know?
Mansions For The Working Class
Softly Comes The Twilight
A Man's Gotta Do something To Keep Warm
Uptown is home to the famous clubs and ballrooms whose faded charm is rediscovered by each new generation of concertgoers, including mine. From the haze-filled air at the Grateful Dead, to the intensity of the crowd at the Pretenders, to the beer-slick floors at Flogging Molly, there have been so many concerts, too many to remember. Somehow Uptown has managed to maintain its character and diversity, even while undergoing a period of restoration and renovation. The patina of its time-worn beauty, the music, ethnic food, coffee shops, diversity, proximity to the beach, Uptown's soul, all draw me in and make me wonder if this will be my next home in Chicago?