Saturday, January 31, 2009

Transparent Chicago

Dear Michael Wolf,

Chicago Cityscape, courtesy Michael WolfI am thrilled with your photography of the fine city I call home. Thank you for lending your expertise to your art, and sharing it with the city at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

A curious thing occurred to me, though, as I looked at your work. Several years ago, while still living in the 'burbs, I longed for the city because of the fact that it's much harder to be isolated in the midst of a huge mass of people. Community--or at least a forced proximity to the lives of other people--seemed a foregone conclusion to the premise of city living, and that appealed to me.

Lonely Dinner
But your work shows that this is not the case; it is still possible, albeit more difficult, to find isolation in the midst of city living. Indeed, Thoreau put it well: "City life is millions of people being lonesome together." Your thousand-word-photo puts it more succinctly though, juxtaposing the density of humanity with its isolation.

Flat CityI cannot understand the flatness you use in so much of your urban photography. It seems to be at odds with the personality, meaning, action, emotion, and purpose that are constantly peppering your photographs. Perhaps it is because you are trying to highlight the repetition of the city--the similarity between each of us that emerges when we're standing next to each other.

But that repetition and flatness doesn't hold true in my mind. Take, for instance, the photo I refer to as 'The Girl and the Foot.' There is emotion here--the girl is seeking something, and the man she cannot see seems to be hard at work behind the curtains.

The Girl and the Foot

And it's not as though you are forced to use this flat perspective in your photography. Others have photographed the city without it, and have done so to great effect. So you certainly could have described Chicago without this flatness.

Worry WomanIndeed, it is this emotion-on-display that seems to be the highlight of your work. Sometimes when we are in our homes we assume a barrier between us and the rest of the world, ignoring our own exhibitionism. Yet our lives are out there for anyone to see, if only they would look. Is that the true isolation then, that we are offering ourselves, but nobody else is looking?

Nighttime OfficeThank you for creating this work that highlights the contradictions between our co-location and human isolation; our emotional pleas for attention and our unwillingness to offer sympathy; the flatness and fullness of city life. I hope that your exploration of other American cities will help you further explore and expose the personal lives we have each made apparent in Chicago, our Transparent City.



brd said...

Love this! The Michael Wolf stuff is wonderful. Chicago is a great city to live in and to photograph.

The video reminds me of the company I used to work for--iPIX--that did images with 180 degree fisheye lens. Click here to see a virtual iPIX tour of the Field museum.

UkieVillain, you have an "in" with another Chicago photographer, don't you? We'd love to see some of her images here also!!!!

cadh 8 said...

My husbands cousins live in Chicago. They live down in one of the high rises near Navy Pier. It is a beautiful area of town with gorgeous views...well at least until the high rise next door got finished. I don't mean to say that the neighboring high rise blocked their beautiful views of the city and lake. It didn't. What I mean to say is that the windowed high rise next door had apparently put large windows in the that in no way were tinted enough to block what was going on inside. At night, when people lit up their homes and bathrooms, my husband's cousin's family as well as everyone in their building could see the doings next door. The people next door may have felt isolated, but they were closer to their neighbors then they new.
Someone finally told the neighboring building and all kinds of curtains, blinds and tinting went up. But not before the cousins got some good dinner time stories to tell. :)

Chicago is a great town!

brd said...

These photos really reveal the transparency of windows in the city as your story, Cadh8, underscores. A window and a high definition camera is all that one needs.

TheUkieVillain said...

Yeah, my other photographer 'friend' (to put it lightly) hasn't done much with her photography of late. When she has some more recent work, I will surely post it.