Uptown Book Wins Five Awards So Far

As many loyal followers know, I’ve made my living in the advertising/marketing communications business for more than 40 years. I began working at Leo Burnett right out of graduate school at Northwestern – one year before beginning my photo project in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. After Burnett, I worked at three other major agencies in Chicago, Dallas and Houston before starting my own shop twenty years ago this week.

Last August, this blog went viral. This month, it should surpass 7 million hits since then. Back in November, interest in the Uptown photos turned into a book called Uptown: Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s. Web site analytics show that the Uptown photos clearly drive the most traffic to this site.

I originally posted the images because I thought they might help us win some commercial photography work from companies looking for gritty portraiture. So after the book was published I mailed several copies out to clients and prospects as a self promotion. The mailing brought in several photography jobs and another book publishing job for a major Fortune 500 company.

Somewhere along the way, I entered the book in the Houston Ad Federation’s annual award contest in three categories: agency self-promotion, book design and black and white photography. It won Gold awards in all three categories. By virtue of that, it automatically advanced to the American Advertising Federations regional award ceremony in all three categories. There, it won two more gold awards (I’m still trying to figure out which categories it won.)

This region covers Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana – the entire south/central portion of the United States.

Next, the book advances to the AAF national competition in New York.

It’s hard to talk of the images in the Uptown book and “advertising” in the same sentence. It almost seems disrepectful to the trials and tribulations that some many Uptown residents suffered through in the mid-1970s after the OPEC oil embargo. But at least you know the back story.

These awards are quite an honor in our industry. The American Advertising Federation contest draws more entries each year at its various levels (local, regional, national) than any other awards competition. Typically, the contest draws more than a hundred thousand entries. To win so many awards in so many tough categories against such stiff competition is a tribute to the power of the Uptown images and the fine people who allowed me to create them.

Thank you all for helping a lifelong dream come true. Stay tuned to see how the book does at the national level.

If you haven’t yet purchased the book, we still have about a thousand copies left from the first printing. You can buy an autographed copy through this web site, or plain copies through Amazon or Please tell your friends about it.

Collaborative History

Uptown16From 1973 to 1977, I photographed the people of a neighborhood in Chicago called Uptown. The project was a self-assignment but many of the photos I took there were later published by the Chicago Tribune. Then the images laid in a drawer for almost 40 years.

I recently rediscovered them and posted them here on my photo blog. The response has been overwhelming. has received 1.5 million hits in the last month. I say that, not to brag, but to introduce the subject of this post, collaborative history.

Many of the people in the images have written to tell me more about their circumstances and growing up in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods during the 1970s. I’ve heard from policemen, firemen, teachers, social workers, residents, widows, gang members, writers, historians, shopkeepers and more.

Dozens of people have sent me valuable information that is helping to deepen my understanding of the neighborhood as well as the social and economic forces in play at the time. To put this into perspective, the year I started photographing there, the big news stories were “OPEC Oil Embargo” and “Watergate Tapes.” The embargo quadrupled gasoline prices in a year, threw the country into recession, and caused inflation to skyrocket. The tapes brought down the Nixon presidency within two years.

Lesser stories, including the struggle of working class families to make ends meet among these circumstances, got lost in the fog of time. Now, with the help of the Internet and readers, I am piecing their stories back together again. I hope to have a book ready by the end of the year.

When published, it will be more than a portfolio of my early documentary photographs. It will be a collaborative history of one of Chicago’s most fascinating neighborhoods, made possible through the spread of social media on the Internet. As readers see themselves in photos, they spread the word to their friends who are in other photos. Then they write me with the stories behind the photos.

While the stories I’m discovering do not all have happy endings, they do have important lessons. I learned last week of the fate of a gorgeous young woman. I wrote about her, “If she hadn’t been in Uptown, she could have been in Vogue.” She died young of HIV.

I also photographed a family with three kids. Two of them were in gangs. They always had cigarettes danging from their lips because it made them look tough. According to the widow of one, both moved to Alabama to escape the gang culture in Uptown, but then died from esophageal cancer in their mid-forties.

Yesterday, I was contacted by a Chicago firefighter after I posted a picture of his station house. He informed me that his engine company was the busiest in America during the decade of the 1970s and early 1980s. This helped put the slumlord protests that I photographed into perspective.

I’m finding many life lessons in the emails I get. I doubt the inventors of the Internet had collaborative history in mind when they designed the medium. But the social networks that the Internet spawned have created a tool to do just that.