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Out in the Cold: Winter through the lens of the Chicago Photography Collective

Endurance in unforgiving conditions. That is the way of nature — and the way of Chicago — in winter.

Members of the Chicago Photography Collective delved into the season of extremity in their most recent exhibit Out in the Cold, which finished its run Jan. 28 in the Loop. Images from different genres — from street to abstract photography — portray urban and natural worlds that are equal parts beautiful, austere, defiant and tragic.

The collective

The Chicago Photography Collective hosts exhibits of its members' work at a gallery at 108 N. State St., just inside the Block 37 building entrance. Jan. 21, 2012. (Photo Credit: Colleen Kujawa)

The Chicago Photography Collective consists of 30 professional photographers whose mission is to “become a driving force for photography in Chicago,” member Damon Shell said during an interview at the collective’s gallery. Shell, a photographer for 20 years, has been active with the collective for about seven months. He also is one of the coordinators for the collective’s exhibits, which appear in a borrowed gallery space in the Block 37 building, 108 N. State St., as part of the Pop-Up Art Loop  initiative. The collective has been displaying photography there for about seven to eight months, Shell said.

The exhibits typically are composed of an even mix of archival prints and new photographs, he said, although the bulk of the images in Out in the Cold came from members’ archives.

The exhibit: Out in the Cold 

Metra commuter trains resting in a train yard coated with snow the consistency of confectioner’s sugar populate Beth Rooney’s “Metra,” which serves as the poster image for Out in the Cold.

Beth Rooney, "Metra," Chicago Photography Collective, Chicago

“I love the way the snow makes the world look so desolate,” Rooney said. “The Metra train yard is so wonderfully appealing in any weather, though.”

The slivers of color in the stripes on the trains in “Metra” contrast with a long stretch of ashen sky and a wan sun. Color also emerges in Rooney’s other exhibited print, “Chicago River,” which presents a mosaic of thin ice floating on a green-hued river.

A burst of color perforates the vast whiteness of winter in Damon Shell’s “P1012259.” The red from an exposed sideview mirror and door frame helps reveal a car swallowed by snow. There’s also a moment of surprise — and humor — in Shell’s “P1012279,” in which a few handmade marks in the snow add a nose and smiling mouth to the “arching eyebrows” of a submerged car’s protracted windshield wipers.

Damon Shell, "P1012259," Chicago Photography Collective, Chicago

“My images for this show abstract and isolate vehicles buried in the snow to give a sense of surreal calm and beauty amid the difficult task of digging ourselves out of the mess,” Shell said.

“As difficult as the winters can be here, and in other northern cities, there is a great deal of beauty and calm in it,” he added.

Ron Gordon, Alan Teller, Robert Natkin and Ron Seymour bring their focus to bear on nature with their images. Gordon finds the natural within the urban with his visit to the 31st Street beach. He dissects time and a sense of place through triptychs in “31st Street Beach #4″ and “31st Street Beach #1.”

Ron Gordon, "31st Street Beach #1," 2005, Chicago Photography Collective, Chicago




“I was out looking for ice on the water but came across the formations on the breakwater and found them fascinating,” Gordon said. “My photos represented taking things apart and then trying to put them back together again.”

A conservation area, a patch of woods and a local marsh serve as the settings for Teller’s graphically puzzling images.

Sheets of ice look like slabs of stone in Teller’s “Ice Siskind,” an homage to American photographer Aaron Siskind, which he shot at Hegewisch Marsh. “Fallen Man,” which he also captured at the marsh, struck him because of how similar the pattern in the ice is to “the way police draw the outline of a murder victim,” he said. “I play with angle and depth. It’s hard to tell if this is an aerial photo (like the Plains of Nazca) or if I’m just a few feet off the ground.”

Alan Teller, "Ice Siskind," 2008, Hegewisch Marsh, Chicago Photography Collective, Chicago

There’s a lonesomeness about the weather-worn abandoned boat in Natkin’s “Boat” and the brooding eye of a snow-encrusted buffalo in Seymour’s “Cold Day.”

The quietude of the season also arises in Marcia Palazzolo’s “Path in the Snow” and “Big Snow,” which offer glimpses of a park during the day and a neighborhood block at night, respectively, after they’ve been blanketed by snow. The absence of the human figure and the diffuseness of light lend a solitary, meditative air to both.

Palazzolo has her camera’s eye directed toward fine art, said her husband, Tom, who also exhibited his work in Out in the Cold.

“She is more of an experimenter. … She’s looking for beauty. I want the truth, a moment in time or sometimes a narrative,” he said.

Tom Palazzolo, "Taco Stand," 2000, Maxwell Street, Chicago Photography Collective, Chicago

Tom Palazzolo is a street photographer, what he calls “a grabber.” The quickness of human beings to adapt to winter’s severity is dramatized in his photo, “Taco Stand.” A makeshift barrier formed by sheets of plastic wrap shield two workers from the wind at an outdoor taco stand on Maxwell Street.

“The streaks and highlights on the stretched material enhanced the picture’s feeling of bitter cold,” he said.

The people in Ken Ilio and Jeff Phillips’ images aren’t content with simply adapting to winter. They defy the limits of human tolerance. In Phillips’ “Polar Bear Plunge #1″ and “Polar Bear Plunge #2,” participants muster devil-may-care courage to take an annual plunge into frigid Lake Michigan waters. A man in a superhero costume in “Polar Bear Plunge #1″ stands gasping for air after his immersion, his soaked garb clinging to his body, but with his triumphant spirit seemingly still intact.

Ken Ilio, "The Polar Bear Emerges," Jan. 1, 2010, North Avenue Beach, Chicago Photography Collective, Chicago

A well-chiseled, bare-chested man — the “bear” of the title — surfaces from the watery depths in Ilio’s “The Polar Bear Emerges.” His arm digs not into the froth of warm summer waters, but the slush of an ice-rimmed Lake Michigan.

Bundled-up residents aren’t backing down in Michael Jackson’s “Snow Shovellers Unite!” The photograph brings to life a scene all too familiar in the Midwest: A neighborhood block abuzz with cleanup efforts after a snowstorm.

But there is a harsher reality to be confronted in Marc PoKempner and Matt Tuteur’s images. Three people in an abandoned warehouse in PoKempner’s “Winter Camping” use a piece of fencing propped up on cinder blocks as a grill for a cooking fire. A dog listlessly rummages in a yard outside tenement buildings surrounded by debris in “Tenement Dog.” The conditions in “Tenement Dog” beg the question as to whether anyone could actually live in the buildings, but sheets hung out to dry on a balcony put that doubt to rest.

Marc PoKempner, "Tenement Dog," 1974, Chicago Photography Collective, Chicago

Tuteur also adds to the social conscience with a spotlight on homelessness. The images of four women, their faces tightly framed, humanize a problem that is especially life-threatening in winter. Tuteur photographed the women in late December, and, according to a placard, they are “out in the cold” right now.

“They represent the underprivileged and forgotten people of one of the greatest and coldest cities in the United States,” Tuteur writes in the placard.

Great and cold, it endures.

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4 Responses to " Out in the Cold: Winter through the lens of the Chicago Photography Collective "

  1. Thanks for the notice! Tough job giving an overview of our very diverse and wide – ranging show. Your attention is greatly appreciated!

    • Colleen Kujawa says:

      A pleasure. It boosted my appreciation for photography, and I learned a lot about the dedication of professional artists. I’m glad your organization is intent on nurturing the craft in the city.

  2. [...] more about the Chicago Photography Collective in areport on the group’s January exhibit, Out in the [...]

  3. Truly enjoyed this post post. Wonderful.

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