Uptown Chicago: Mid-1970s

Hydrocephalic man in front of Uptown halfway houseA lady named Joanne Asala edits a website called CompassRose.org. It contains a history of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. She discovered my Uptown photos yesterday and asked if she could post a few on her website. I gladly agreed. There must be a great deal of interest in them. She posted the shots around 10pm last night and by 4am this morning, I already had more than 800 new visitors to my site! I have approximately 4000 images that I took in Chicago Uptown in the mid-1970’s. See the story about how and why I shot them in the About section, then review some of the photos. I’ll be posting more in the coming days and weeks as time permits.

Digitizing the Past

Most of the photos were originally shot on film with a Nikon F2, though some were taken with a Rollei SL66 medium format camera. Digitizing all of them may take a while because I have a business to run. But I’ll try to post at least a dozen new ones each week. Please check back from time to time to see updates.

Portrait of a Neighborhood

Most of these Chicago Uptown images are NOT landmarks. I tried to capture a sense of the place through the people that comprised it. Be forewarned: Uptown in that era was a pretty rough neighborhood, so some of these images may be hard to look at. However, it was also a place of love and compassion. People thrown together by poverty somehow struggled through it and managed to survive … with the help of each other.

What makes a good photographic portrait?

There are many different ways to gauge the success of a photographic portrait.

Does the portrait succeed on a technical level? For instance, is it lit well? Is it properly exposed?

Next, does the portrait succeed on an emotional level?  Is it merely a record of a fleeting expression at a point in time? Or is it riveting? Is there something about the portrait that takes your breath away?

Next, does the portrait tell a story about the subject? By looking at it, can the viewer learn something about person being photographed? Their circumstances? Their burdens? Their joys? Does the portrait capture the essence of the person?

I believe that for a photographic portrait to succeed, it must succeed on all of these levels. I, like most photographers, have certainly taken many portraits that were well lit and that captured the moment.

But unless the portrait reveals something about the subject and tells a story, I consider it a photographic record and not a photographic portrait.

Homeless Lady with Tear on Thanksgiving Morning

Every person tells a story with his or her life. They “wear” this story. You can see it on their faces. We all stand for something. Beauty. Fairness. Toughness. Hope. Sadness. Sorrow. Strength. Creativity. Fun. Love. Intelligence. This list is infinite.

When I can capture that essence, and do it in a way that tells a story, it will create a riveting portrait that stops viewers in their tracks and compels them to try to understand what the subject is trying to communicate with his or her life.

I consider some of the Chicago Uptown portraits I took almost 40 years ago to be some of the most successful in my life. Each tells a story about the subject. Four decades later, people still gaze at them for the longest time, feeling the struggles,  joys, sadness and sorrows of life in that place at that time.

The portrait above was taken on the street outside a women’s shelter on a cold Thanksgiving morning. It was so cold that morning, the ground glass in my Rollie SL66 was fogging up. I didn’t see the tear on the woman’s cheek until I developed the film.  See more portraits of Uptown Chicago in the portfolio section.

How do you judge the success of a portrait?