I remain convinced that the most interesting light bathes the city of Chicago. The streets and underpasses and El tracks are where I fell in love with making photographs, and being back there this week simply confirms my feelings.

I was a journalism undergrad when I took Tom Petrillo’s black and white photography class at Northwestern. He wanted us to go into the world, explore, and learn how to see. I went to Chicago time and again, a dozen rolls of Tri-X in my coat pocket and my trusty Leica M4P around my neck. I would ride the El for hours, documenting the publicly private lives on the train. I would photograph the teeming streets, the rusty metal, the towers of glass. 

Back then, my photography was pure. I wanted to interpret the world through images, and I’d spend countless hours on the streets and in the darkroom trying to show the Chicago I saw. Like all art, even the best results fail to express the range of feelings that went into it, but Chicago was always my favorite place to photograph. 

This week I showed my family a little bit of Chicago. We had pizza at Lou Malnati’s and Italian Beef and Chicago dogs at Portillo's. We walked the streets. They saw where I spent my undergraduate years and hung out on the observation deck of the Sears (okay, Willis) Tower. And they waited for me, as some geometry or shadow would catch my eye and I’d spend a few minutes trying to put the image together in my viewfinder. 

I hadn’t shot in Chicago for years, and this time instead of my Leica and Tri-X I had a modern iteration—A Fuji XPro 2. It only took a few minutes on Clark Street, under the creaking El platforms, for me to remember why I love this city, the unusual soft and hard light that bounces off the skyscrapers and dances through the alleys. I still see the city mostly in black and white, in the gritty dark spaces, the shadows, the steel, and the persistent energy of its people. 

It’s good sometimes to remind ourselves why we photograph anything. Why we have this desire to see the world in a different way. What makes us unique is our vision of the world, and that's worth remembering as we gear up for wedding season in WIsconsin!

 

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