Chicago

Posted by Ellen

At Macy's in Chicago, upstairs and downstairs, the season is upon us.

Posted by Ellen

It's now been about two years since Vivian Maier's photographic oeuvre was discovered among the contents of a storage locker that was auctioned off in Chicago. Hundreds of the pictures have now been published in a book and shown in galleries in New York and Chicago. Dozens are posted on a website, VivianMaier.com. She is the subject of a documentary film project. Hundreds of rolls of film she shot have yet to be developed, and perhaps a hundred thousand of her negatives have yet to be printed.

For fifty years, Maier worked as a nanny, first in New York and then in Chicago. Whenever she got a day off, she took her camera out on the street and shot pictures of the people she encountered. She spent all her earnings on cameras and film, and occasionally on travel to places she wanted to photograph. She became technically skillful, with a sophisticated eye for composition and drama. But she never showed her photographs to anyone.

In her later years, she fell on very hard times and became homeless. Shortly before her death in 2011, she was rescued by three Chicagoans who'd grown up under her care; by then, however, her financial struggles had forced her to sell off one of four storage lockers containing her life's work. The purchaser of the locker was a real estate developer named John Maloof, who'd thought he was buying old snapshots of his neighborhood. When he began to realize what he'd stumbled across, he set aside his regular work and devoted all his time to trying to track down the photographer.

Maier, born in 1926, was still alive in 2010 when Maloof began his search but had died before he could find her. We can't know what she would have thought of the whole world now having a look at the pictures she kept secret for so long. But at least we can look.

Posted by Ellen

That would be the band! The scene of this marching is the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, but bands are everywhere in the fall, parading down the street and then stepping out spectacularly onto the fields of glory. The inimitable Professor Harold Hill of Gary, Indiana, whose Think Method of musical instruction worked well enough till his encounter in Iowa with Marian the librarian, probably said it best: "I always think there's a band, son."

Posted by Ellen

A peregrine falcon takes in a February sunrise from the railing of an apartment balcony in Chicago.

Posted by Ellen

They called themselves the Society of St. Michael the Archangel, a name they took from their parish church back home in Albidona, a small town on the southern coast of Italy, about midway between the heel and toe of the "boot."

But in 1926, when this picture was taken, they were all living in Chicago, surrounded by native-born Americans and immigrants from all over Italy and the world. In America, the immigrants from Albidona naturally turned to one another for social life and mutual aid, a hometown bond they formalized with the establishment of the Society of St. Michael the Archangel. Similar benevolent and social organizations based on hometown roots were formed by immigrants in communities all over America, supporting one another socially, culturally, and oftimes financially.

These societies faded in importance as their members established themselves in their new country. Today, however, new groups of immigrants, such as the Sudanese refugees in Maine, are again creating formal organizations for exactly the same purposes. As ever, they function as social centers but also as banks, raising money both to lend to members in need and to send back home for communities in distress.

The gentleman in the middle of the front row with the gavel, presumably the president of the Society of St. Michael in 1926, has been identified as Leonardo Adduci, whose great-grandson shares the photo.

Posted by Ellen

Visitors enjoy their reflections in the bean, in downtown Chicago's Millennium Park, near the waterfront. The couple pictured here can also be seen at lower right in the picture below, when they were first approaching the shiny thing and had not yet found themselves in it. But they're already there, if you look closely, along with the skyscrapers in the background and an ice skating rink in the middle distance.

Posted by Ellen

The Windy City has a new statue: a cast-aluminum Marilyn Monroe, 26 feet tall, in her Seven-Year Itch subway-grating pose, skirts afly. God and everybody can see her underpants, and tourists on Michigan Avenue can look up at her from between her legs. She'll be there through next spring, we're told, though the installation is called "Forever Marilyn."

Meanwhile, across the sea, in the Norwegian cruise ship port of Haugesund, a bronze more-or-less-lifesized Marilyn Monroe sits harborside, dressed in what appears to be a very short, very wet little cocktail dress with the straps slipping down off her shoulders. Like her Chicago cousin, she is wearing glimpsable underpants, and she's got one shoe on, one shoe off.

The town of Haugesund claims Marilyn on the theory that native son Martin Mortensen was her father. He had emigrated to America in the early twentieth century and married Marilyn's mother. But the couple divorced in 1924, two years before the birth of baby Norma Jean Mortensen, and he had abandoned the family years before that. It seems to be widely believed–except, of course, in Haugesund–that Marilyn / Norma Jean was fathered by somebody else.

On the mythological level, however, the Norwegian connection works. The overall character of Marilyn's short, sad life seems to reprise her mother's story, which ended in a state mental institution, to which she was committed when Marilyn was a baby. Maybe her mother, in her last troubled years, had attempted to reconcile with Martin Mortensen, just as Marilyn in her last days had been planning to re-wed Joe DiMaggio.

A couple things are clear. One, she wasn't really a blonde. And two, American exceptionalism does not require Marilyn Monroe's underpants in the public square. Both statues, but especially the oversized Chicago version, are creepy. At least the Norwegian Marilyn is sad and bedraggled, much as we remember the real star. But the Chicago Marilyn is comic-book iconography, the sexuality so outsized and the sexism so aggressive that the painted smile doesn't hide a thing.

Creeps me out. Obviously, I'm an old fuddy-duddy.

Posted by Ellen

 

Today's picture is a second offering from Krzycho, this one featuring trains on their way out of Chicago.

Posted by Ellen

 

Today and tomorrow our focus is on beautiful Chicago, in scenes captured by the Polish photographer Krzycho. Here, a few blocks north of downtown, the morning sun is coming up over Lake Michigan, behind the skyscrapers, which seem quite artfully arranged.

Krzycho lives and shoots in Chicago but comes originally from Zamość in southeastern Poland. Clearly, he (or she?) is smitten by the windy city.

Posted by Ellen

On a clear night, Chicagoland looks pretty spectacular from the air.