Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pie Town to Chi-town

The history of photography is full of great pairings of a photographer and a city. Eugene Atget spent most of his adult life photographing Paris and its surroundings. In America in the 1930's WPA photographers produced some great pictures of cities, often spending relatively short amounts of time in each place. If Walker Evans is the best known of that group Russell Lee's pictures of the small New Mexico town, Pie Town, are among my favorites.

We in the midwest have a unique example of a city/photographer combination in the Chicago pictures of Art Sinsabaugh. Sinsabaugh came to Chicago in 1946 to study at the Institute of Design (founded in 1937 by former Bauhaus teacher Laszlo Moholy-Nage). In the early 1960's, while teaching at the University of Illinois,Champaign, he started on his Chicago Landscape Group using a newly acquired banquet camera. A huge camera that produced a 12x20 inch negative and made prints with extraordinary clarity and richness.

The project was a collaboration with the Chicago Planning department - and what a partnership it was...

"I loved working in Chicago. We essentially made a trade. City Planning gave me the official authority to gain access to buildings, stop traffic, raise bridges, use city boats and helicopters, in exchange for prints, and a small amount of money. I felt as if the whole city were mine."

Sinsabaugh has connections to Kansas City and even to the Path. As a graduate student at U of I in the 80's I was lucky enough to spend a year studying with him and he was a major influence on me. The closer connection to the path is that the definitive book on Art's photography was written by someone who works on the path--Keith Davis, now curator of photography at the Nelson. Part of my excitement about the Nelson opening this week will be the chance to see the much expanded collection of American photography at the museum. Congratulations Keith!

P.S. The New Yorker web site has an amazing set of photographs of the new Steven Holl addition to the Nelson by David Allee.

No comments: