The photos of our lives
08/26/2009 10:00 PM
Two bulldogs in front of a garage on 8th Street. A dim-lit swimming
pool in green surrounded by red brick. A bird’s-eye view slice of
Printers Row from a nearby rooftop.
These were the winning images in the annual South Loop Neighbors photo contest, as announced last Friday at a well-attended reception at Chicago Community Bank, where the photos, along with 17 other finalists, will hang until the end of August.
After that, they will tour the South Loop — from Epic Burger on State through September, to Café Medittera on Dearborn through October — and then on to Harold Washington Library for November and December.
Did I mention there are sets of note cards South Loop Neighbors has for sale with the bulldog photo, the slice of Printers Row photo and two other photos from the show? And did I also mention — herein is my journalist’s ethical disclaimer that accompanies this column — that I am a board member of South Loop Neighbors?
Through the lens of recent South Loop history, the annual photo show has come a long way. In the early years, there were just a few entries, and a few finalists hanging at the bank. Historic Printers Row Neighbors, the forerunner of SLN, would offer a little potluck (a big hit was Gail Merritt’s homemade ginger ale) to satisfy a few neighborhood residents who came out to see the photos.
The photos that I can remember often serve as my personal tableau of recent Printers Row/Dearborn Park/South Loop history. A few years ago, one of the winners did a stark photo of a construction crane sticking up above the neighborhood — which that year said it all. That was the hallmark of South Loop life at that time, just as a photo of the hippies/beatniks/Bohemians congregating at the old Gourmand (now Café Medittera) on Dearborn may have said it all in other ways. A shot of the Victorian houses along Plymouth was a photo that was ultimately included in a SLN membership brochure filled me with pride.
Had the show started a century ago, brothels and gambling dens, crooked politicians and the waning years of Prairie Avenue would have been the photo order of the day. Thirty years ago, it would have been “transition,” as Printers Row and Dearborn Park changed from a railroad track-lined former industrial park full of warehouses, printing companies and railway offices to a comfortable middle-class residential area.
Through the years, the neighborhood photo contest and show has told the story of our lives here in the South Loop. Unfortunately, many of the images have been “lost,” returned to the photographers without making copies for the organization. In recent years, we have been smarter about scanning and filing and someday future residents of the neighborhood will have documentation of where we have been and where we went and maybe even a little insight into how we got there. Things like the note cards and the traveling photo show will entomb the images in the minds and hearts of many.
The competition is often stiff. Neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, mother against son, the photographers — professional and amateur alike — snap the pictures and hope to be in the show, and perhaps win one of the cash prizes raised from generous sponsors, small entry fees and organization funds.
The chairs of the shows have had very different personalities through the years —Ronnie Jarett (the originator), Carole Hanzyk, Mary Ivory and Greg Borzo. The reception committees headed by some of the aforementioned, along with Janice Koerber, with help from Greg Sorrentino and Marilyn Peterson and me, have made their historic marks on things, too.
There are so many others who’ve work on the show over the years that I am not mentioning, like Mike Kelly, Dennis McClendon, Kathy Moyer, Leslie Sturino, Helen Kaplow and of course, our own personal neighborhood banker Roy Svenson (where would the show be without him?). And so many more that I am having trouble dredging up. If you let me know that I left you out I will make it up to you in some fashion, I promise.
Then there’s always the interesting combination of who does the matting, the framing, the hanging (some years it’s practically been a full-time job at the bank to pick up the photos from the floor and re-hang them on the wall) and of course, the judging — a coin toss cross section of professional artists, photographers and photo gallery and/or museum personnel. Whoever is chosen to judge — South Loop artist and art teacher Susan Rice for example — often seals the fate of the entrants.
And there’s the entrants themselves. And what they see in their minds’ eye that transfers from there onto a lens and onto a sheet of photo paper. They deserve the greatest reverence, because of the photos they pursue and because they care. Whatever they see will ultimately seal the memory and perspective of future generations.