ARTS

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October 28, 2008

Out of the bank vaults, a wealth of perspectives on Chicago emerge

Tourists and natives have different ideas about Chicago, and both kinds are on display in Made in Chicago: Photographs from the Bank of America LaSalle Collection. The exhibit includes “classic” Chicago images like the skyline and Lake Michigan, but also offers a fresh view of the city by displaying images of residents, celebrations, lesser known sites, and even demolished buildings.

Drawing from the Bank of America’s LaSalle Collection, the exhibit features photographs of the city of Chicago and its residents by many different artists. Although all the photographs take the city as their basic subject matter, Made in Chicago shows that the city can be viewed from many perspectives. Images range from black-and-white to color, from large panoramic views to shots so tightly focused on an object that the viewer does not know what he is looking at. The exhibit does cover all the classic Chicago images: the skyline, the Chicago Board of Trade, and Oak Street Beach. But other photographs give the viewer a glimpse of the city he has probably never seen before, like Russian immigrants standing in line for social services or a message left by a resident at the Cabrini Green housing project last year before it was razed.

Made in Chicago also offers an interesting record of how Chicago’s landscape and culture changed between the early 20th century and 2007. Because the photographs are not presented in chronological order, the past and present are connected by what appears in the photographs: buildings, cars, and people. A few of the buildings in the photos, according to the captions, have been demolished, and the blocks they once stood on look completely different today.

Several photographs feature Chicago residents in their homes or on the street. These images offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of different Chicagoans. Ben Gest’s photograph, “Jessica and her Jewelry, 2006” shows a woman putting on a bracelet in her bedroom; the use of the subject’s first name and the photo’s intimate setting gives the viewer a very candid look at a Chicago woman. Judging from the exhibit, Chicago’s residents have changed much less than the city’s landscape.

One of the most interesting photographs in the exhibit, Abelardo Morell’s “Camera Obscura Image of Building Cluster in Office, LaSalle Bank, Chicago, IL, 2006” uses the camera obscura technique to juxtapose the interior of a LaSalle National Bank Building office with the skyscrapers in the background.

Photographs of Chicago’s skyline tend to be impersonal because they give the viewer no idea of the lives of the millions of people who work and live in the tall buildings. Morell’s photo gives both perspectives by projecting the image of an office worker’s desk and a company’s white board filled with notes on top of an image of the protruding towers surrounding the building. It is the most personal view of the LaSalle National Bank Building or any other skyscraper that I have ever seen in a photograph.

Some of Chicago’s most historic but lesser-known buildings also get attention in this exhibit. One of the more striking of these is a photo of the still-standing but underappreciated Holy Trinity Cathedral in Ukrainian Village, which was designed by famous architect Louis Sullivan and partially funded by the late Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1903. Tourists rarely visit Chicago’s stockyards, meatpacking district, and industrial areas that were made famous after Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906, but several photographs feature those rarely seen districts.

Made in Chicago gives us a fascinating look at Chicago through the ages, as well as the neighborhoods and people that make up this city. Contrasting the classic images of Lake Michigan and the city skyline along the Chicago River with lesser seen views of Chicago, the exhibit offers viewers a more complete visual survey of Chicago than they will find in any tourist book.