Not so very long ago, cameras were cameras and phones were just phones.
The democratization of photography now allows anyone with a phone to travel around with what amounts to a personal photo gallery in their pocket, able at any moment to proudly and enthusiastically show friends or strangers their spontaneously shot photos of cute kittens, autumn leaves or plates of whatever it was they ate for dinner last night.
But many people still use cameras and shoot with purpose, and some of that sort of work is on the walls of the Jackson Junge Gallery at 1389 N. Milwaukee Ave. (www.j2gallery.com), where it will stay (and perhaps dazzle, provoke and prompt conversations) through Jan. 14.
The photos, taken over one year by a dozen female photographers in a dozen of the city’s neighborhoods, are part of the Chicago Neighborhoods Project, which in turn is part of a larger Jackson Junge venture called In the ’Hood.
This is an ongoing mission intended to present, as the gallery folks put it, “a visual representation of Chicago’s physical and cultural vastness … in the form of an array of media from photography and painting to sculpture and works on paper.”
Initially meant to showcase the gallery’s neighborhood, which is lively and colorful Wicker Park, it expands with this show thanks to the efforts of Women in Focus.
This outfit was founded in 2013 by Tiffany Weems and Karen Egerer in partnership with the Chicago Photography Center. When that latter institution ceased to exist, WIF (www.womeninfocuschicago.org) carried on with monthly meetings to discuss ways to support and promote what they refer to as “the photographic arts.” With 30-some members, WIF is active in offering workshops, lectures, outings, skills and business development, often in collaboration with other arts organizations and groups, “especially those without ready access to the visual arts. “
It was at one of the monthly meetings in the summer of 2016 that the Neighborhoods Project was born. “And who could not immediately love this idea?” says Egerer.
Photographers signed up, and their first collective task was choosing which of the city’s many neighborhoods (the exact number of which is ever up for dispute) to feature.
“It was all but impossible to pick just 12 neighborhoods,” says Kristin Cass, one of the photographers whose work is featured in this show. “There was a lot of debate and lobbying.”
This was all Cass’ idea, hatched over breakfast one morning with another female photographer pal. “We were talking about neighborhoods and in so doing realized we had such different outlooks on the city, and so one thing led to another and here we are,” says Cass.
Cass was born in West Pullman, grew up mostly on the South Side and, she says, “has since lived in many of the neighborhoods we eventually chose.”
So, the list was made — Bronzeville, Chinatown, downtown, Pullman, Hyde Park, Lincoln Park and the lakefront, Logan Square, Pilsen, Rogers Park, Uptown, West Loop and Wicker Park — and the photographers hit the road.
“There was such a sense of discovery that we all felt,” says Cass, whose work as a photographer (and as an attorney) is firmly focused on social justice. “I knew little or nothing of Bronzeville and would end up going there to shoot several times. It was up to each of us to create our own stories of these neighborhoods.”
By summer 2017 the women’s work was completed, and that’s where a couple of guys came in.
“We did think about perhaps having a woman curate the show, but it wasn’t at all strange to consider men,” says Egerer. “I wanted the best I could find.”
She found Richard Cahan and Charles Osgood.
“There was not one objection,” says Egerer.
And that’s understandable since there are few people who know photography and the city better than these two.
Cahan is a former picture editor for the Chicago Sun-Times and was the director of CITY 2000, that amazing project that consisted of having some 200 photographers spend an entire year capturing in photos the city’s people and places. Created and funded by the late Gary Comer, the more than 500,000-image photo archive can be found at www.comerfamilyfoundation.org/culture/city2000.
Cahan has also written and published several stunning books about photography, many of them in collaboration with Michael Williams and most of them from his CityFiles Press (www.cityfilespress.com).
The latest are “Chicago: Classic Photographs” and “Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II.” Photos from that latter book form a powerful foundation of the “They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties” exhibition through Nov. 19 at the Alphawood Gallery at 2401 N. Halsted St. (www.alphawoodgallery.org)
“It was great that these women got out of the downtown area,” Cahan says. “I was impressed that they were so bold in going into unusual places, getting off the beaten track.”
Osgood, formerly of the Tribune, and I go way back, having met in 1987 when teaming up for a feature on the blues queen Koko Taylor. Later, and for nearly 15 years, we collaborated in words-and-photo fashion for the weekly Sidewalks column, a rewarding adventure that took us to every corner of the city and suburbs and later between the covers of two books. He has been having a fruitful freelance career (www.charlesosgood.photoshelter.com) since leaving the Tribune and was happy to help his old friend Egerer. “I did not know any of the photographers’ work,” he says. “But I found so much of it interesting, strong in emotional content.”
The “boys” selected 72 photos, six from each photographer, six from each neighborhood, and some were exhibited a couple of months ago at Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square.
This current show features 25 photos, and there are plans to exhibit the entire project in the spring. In the meantime you can get a look at some of the photos at the website and on the walls of Jackson Junge.
Jackson Junge is where I’ll be from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday looking and talking, as best I can, about the meaning of this so-called city of neighborhoods. (Other events at the gallery include a Historic Wicker Park Photo Walk, 2 p.m. Nov. 19, and a Discussion with the Women in Focus Photographers at 2 p.m. Dec. 3).
I am eager to see the photos, see what the city looks like through, as Egerer puts it, “the collective feminine eye.”