In May 2007, in the middle of my four years living in the grand city of Chicago, my life course shifted a bit while walking through the Chicago History Museum in its new building at 1601 N. Clark Street. I spent a fair amount of time at this museum during my years in Chi-town. And, as I will do while living or traveling in any city in any country (Israel, France, Netherlands, England, Mexico, all around the United States, Canada), I will go out of my way to revel in black-and-white photography of cities and famous/infamous/ordinary people, architecture, sculpture, shapes and images, shadows and light. On this May day three years ago, I chanced upon an exhibit that honored a Chicago resident and internationally renowned photographer, character, and all around sweet guy — “The Essential Art Shay: Selected Photographs” showing the length and breadth of Art’s oeuvre.
I’ll share comments from my journal at the time, experiencing the exhibit.
“It’s midway through the exhibit. I’ve worked through the first several rooms — very Walker Evans, this Art Shay man-of-the-street documentary style. Art had a twinship and friendship with Nelson Algren that seems inevitable as one examines these images. Algren’s words (if you know them) and Shay’s pictures installed here (many of handsome Algren himself) combine seamlessly. Algren and Shay capturing the poor, the rich, the famous, the powerful — the people who live in and visit this fabulous city in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s …. ”
“There are some surprises. Simone de Beauvoir bareback (well bare from the back) as she stands primping in a bathroom mirror. An image of Elizabeth Taylor — 1960 or so — at a table at the Pump Room, Ambassador East — at the height of her luscious early middle age. Waiting to light a cigarette. In this picture of Elizabeth looking off to the side, perfectly composed .. we feel her life has been full, so full, of so many similar events. Calm, collected, poised.”
“And the Bowery bums and 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention street images. And then .. several ambling rooms in .. a room of entertainers and culture figures. From left to right around the room (with year and ICHi numbers) —
- Joseph McCarthy, 1950. 50576
- Richard Daley and President Truman, 1960. 50553
- President Eisenhower, 1954. 50554
- JFK and Native Americans, 1960. 50585
- Diana Ross and the Supremes, dressing room (looking sullen), 1963. 50581
- Marlon Brando and dog, 1950. 50580 [image used on cover of Album for an Age]
- Judy backstage at Arie Crown, 1962 [mislabeled 1963 on the tag]. 50579
- Marcel Marceau, 1978. 50562
- Liberace and Chicago Bears wives. [pretty hysterical if you consider subtext] 50571
- Mohammed Ali in trunks, 1964. 50570
- Ernest Hemingway, 1944. 50563
- Simone De Beauvoir, 1954. 50556. [clothed!]
- Saul Bellow, 1973. 50537
- James Jones, 1952. 50561
In extraordinary company, Garland shines with raw human energy and JOY. Between Marceau and Brando — mimic and consummate unique acting presence — she pops off the wall. The first time through this room, I stop and gasp. For this long time Garland fan and owner of countless biographies and related materials, this is a new image for me. I stand immobile in front of the image for a full five minutes.
The wall label as posted follows. I soon learn that this is a version of the text that appears in Art’s book Album for an Age: Unconventional Words and Pctures from the Twentieth Century (2000), accompanying this same image. Shay took the picture while working as a stringer for Time magazine. Another image from the stage at Chicago’s Arie Crown theatre November 7, 1962 appears in the November 16, 1962 Time issue article entitled “The New New Garland”:
“Judy Garland before a concert at the Crown Auditorium. Garland got herself together in no time, smiled though her skin was breaking, playfully kicked a leg into the air and asked, ‘Do you want to direct me in a scene or just let it happen?’ An echo, I guessed, of many another picture in her life. ‘When I’m finished singing, I’ll come down front and sign autographs. Should be good for Time.’ She knew her audience.”
For the next several months I was on a personal mission to find out how to obtain a copy of this image. At that point I would have been happy with a good xerox copy. Conversations and connections later (Chicago like any other place is a small town once you access a corner of it), I am introduced by email by a woman who knows Art well. Art and I meet several times, including at a reception at his wife Florence’s vintage book shop for Parisian gallery owners who have exhibited Art’s work. And we become friends. Adorable man. I purchase FOUR original prints from Art of this session, in a sequence, two leading up to the published image and one after, all signed and one specially inscribed.
These images move from Chicago to Philadelphia, and now occupy a place of honor in our new Manhattan home. Here is an intentionally-fuzzy photo of our newly installed friends — the previously published image is in the bottom left corner.
For more about Art Shay’s photographs refer to his representatives at Stephen Daiter Gallery in Chicago and web content based on their 2007 Art Shay exhibit timed to coincide with the Chicago History Museum show.
© Martha Wade Steketee (August 21, 2010)