Category Archives: Photography

Michael Abramson: Pulse of the Night.

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all photos by Michael L. Abramson

What goes on at small clubs is ephemeral by nature: society created and dismantled night after night. A delicate hierarchy composed of drifters, dreamers, and those simply longing to escape. In the mid 1970s, a young white student, Michael Abramson, worked his way into the world of largely black South Side Chicago clubs. He brought his camera along for the ride, capturing images that otherwise would’ve vanished like smoke from a languishing cigarette.

The photos were taken at famous spots, such as Perv’s House (owned by Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers fame), the Patio Lounge, and Pepper’s Hideout. These clubs hosted live music that was a heady mix of blues, funk, and soul by artists like Bobby Rush, Hi-Fi White, Little Mac Simmons, and much more. The current South Side Chicago club scene (in terms of live, homegrown entertainment) is a shell of its former self. That fact makes these photos that much more valuable.

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Currently, dozens of Abramson’s photos from this period are on display through Columbia College’s Museum of Contemporary Photography. According to the Museum, “this work earned Abramson a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978 and launched his successful career as a portraiture photographer and photojournalist. Abramson’s photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the California Museum of Photography.”

These photos of grit and gold lamé, born amidst midnight debauchery, are displayed between reference materials at the Columbia College Library. The juxtaposition is not lost on me. Despite their stoic surroundings, they simply hum with electricity.

LadyFanPervs10776The Michael L. Abramson: Pulse of the Night exhibition is located on the second floor of the Columbia College Chicago Library, 624 S. Michigan Avenue. It is on display until December 19th, 2014.

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Early Warning: David Boykin Expanse, DJ Ayana, and the Photography of Wilbur Holmes

Surplus of Options presents another night of sounds and sights.

HEAR:

David Boykin’s Expanse
David Boykin (reeds, v)
Jim Baker (p)
Josh Abrams (b)
Marcus Evans (d)

&
DJ Ayana Contreras
laying down solid tracks throughout the night.

SEE:

The found photography of Wilbur P. Holmes. These are the personal works of an artist who freelanced for Jet Magazine. Photos are circa 1960’s-70’s.

$10 suggested donation
20% off all antiques & art
free snacks & drinks

Saturday April 21st, 8pm til 1am

Surplus of Options

3644 North Lincoln Ave.

Chicago

for more on Wilbur Holmes, click here.


See Potential: helping us all envision the rebirth of abandoned buildings on the South Side.

See Potential in what’s around us. That’s the goal of photographer Emily Schiffer’s See Potential initiative: affixing huge weatherproof photographic works to undervalued community assets. It’s a great idea that can help harness the public imagination for the greater good. It’s the sort of greater good that Schiffer always hoped her art would serve. She related to Benevolent Media:

“It’s very clear that publishing an image in a magazine or having a gallery show or having a book isn’t actually going to change anything… I’m always jealous of people who do pottery, for example, because their art has some sort of practical use.

For instance, Gladys’ Luncheonette (a Soul Restaurant that served Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood for decades, but recently closed) is re-imagined through imagery as a healthy corner store offering cooking classes. For members of the neighborhood, this is definitely a soft sell; but Schiffer, alongside Orrin Williams and Judith Helfand, is also trying to sell the viability of community development to outside investors (as well as the City of Chicago itself).

The works will illustrate the Center for Urban Transformation’s revitalization plans for shared community spaces such as:

– Locally owned corner stores that will sell nutritious food and provide on-site, healthy cooking classes.

– Year-round, indoor growing sites using aquaponics technology will train and employ community members and supply food to local healthy corner stores.

– Cooking schools or community centers refashioned from blighted homes that will provide holistic living practices through diverse forms of community outreach and education.

– Community gardens created in empty lots.

According to their Kickstarter proposal:

“Each photographic installation will include a text panel encouraging onlookers to send a text message in support of that specific site transformation.  Using a custom-designed SMS text messaging infrastructure and GPS technology, [they] will collect all messages and record the location from which each text was sent.  By pinpointing the different locations and by tracking the amount of public support at each site, we will be able to present a series of interactive, web-based maps to potential funders, policy makers, and city officials.”

This is just the sort of paradigm shift that Darkjive is all about, something I term as Lack versus Fat (outlined fully here). Using the analogy of the coffee can full of grease that my grandmother kept on her stovetop, the grease (and the can itself) could, at first, be considered waste material. But upon reevaluation, it can also be considered a resource that can contribute to the kind of meal that sustains life. The same can be said for abandoned buildings, or so many things in our communities that can be seen as deficits.

for more on the project (which was recently successfully funded via Kickstarter) click here.


Dorothy Donegan: Chicago’s own Jazz Cover Girl

Darkjive focuses mainly on soul music born and bred here in Chicago during the golden era of Chicago Soul: the 1960s through the late 1970s. Anyone who knows me, however, knows I am passionate about a variety of music that has come out of our city: especially soul, blues, and jazz.

That said, recently an old cover of local titan-of-print Ebony Magazine (from July of 1946!) caught my eye for both the byline and the cover girl:

The cover featured local jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan, and the byline read: “Is Jazz Going Highbrow?”

A graduate of DuSable High School, Donegan studied music with Walter Dyett, as did so much of our homegrown talent (like Nat King Cole). She was noted for her abundance of sass and personality (which was apparent in her stage show, but never really translated to record sales). That personality helped win her a following in Chicago’s South Side club scene which featured spots like the Crown Propeller Lounge where a contortionist named Atlantis (though some say she was called Aquanetta) performed in a fish tank (pictured at left in 1954 with King Kolax… underwater).

That abundance of personality proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff once wrote:

“Her flamboyance helped her find work in a field that was largely hostile to women. To a certain extent, it was also her downfall; her concerts were often criticized for having an excess of personality.”

Dorothy Donegan won an American Jazz Master fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1992. She was 70 years old.

Very sassy, indeed.

Below, Dorothy Donegan performing in 1945. Jive and jitterbug on!


John H. White: Five Minutes of Light


Chicago-based photographer John H. White (whose work has been highlighted here many times) was awarded the Pulitzer for general excellence in photography in 1982. This general excellence award is no longer awarded. This is the story of the photo (above) that won him his award.

Mr. White was assigned to go to a local dance school to take some pictures on a cloudy day. He didn’t want to use unnatural light (such as a flash) for his photos, so White prayed to God that he would have an afternoon of light. He didn’t get it. Next, he prayed for 15 minutes of light. Still nothing.john_white

“How about 5 minutes of light, God?” he asked. And then, suddenly, a ray of light that came piercing through one of the studio’s windows and he took his pictures.

“I asked for five minutes of light and He gave me a Pulitzer Prize.”

In celebration, it’s Chicago’s Staple Singers with “Uncloudy Day” from 1959.  Released on local Vee Jay Records, it features haunting echoey guitar licks, other-worldly harmonies, and beautifully sparse acoustic production.  The song also forged a brand of socially-conscious gospel that The Staples would eventually be known the world over for.


Let’s Clean up the Ghetto.

 

it’s about time.


Light on the South Side Book Release

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In the mid-’70s, photographer Michael Abramson set his viewfinder on the South Side of Chicago, specifically the many clubs and lounges that served as Hothouses of street fashion (among them, the legendary High Chaparral and the Showcase Lounge). They reflected where blues, soul and disco collided:  a dream of grit and gold lamé.  The resulting photos have been compiled into the book A Light on the South Side.

The Numero Group presents:
A Light On The South Side
Release party, Discussion, and Social
Sunday, November 1st 2pm – 6pm
Chicago Cultural Center
Discussion with Michael Abramson and Rick Kogan in the Claudia Cassidy Theater
Reception in the G.A.R. Rotunda

Following the talk there will be a book signing and reception where Intelligentsia Coffee will be serving a special Numero-inspired creation, the 24-Carat Blend, and the Numero staff will be playing South Side classics in the G.A.R. Rotunda.


Arise Up!

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Picture world renowned photographers flown into Nigeria, photo shoots featuring African supermodels all over the world.  I’m not talking about the now fabled All-Black Italian Vogue.
“Arise” is that magazine: published in London by THISDAY, it’s a survey of Contemporary African Fashion & Pop Culture.  A window into a world we don’t see in full color, glossy glory nearly enough. 

What I have seen of the magazine excites me; but there is a bit of controversy.  The magazine has been criticized because an African Lifestyle Magazine doesn’t aid the continent in its upliftment.  I disagree, if only because magazines give us something to dream about, views of a life we can all aspire to (if we so choose), or maybe even a degree of escapism.  All the better if those people look like us, and the aesthetic is one that we can relate to.  Arise Magazine, to me, serves to bring balance to the butter cookie-cutter world of fashion and lifestyle magazines.  I like gingerbread, myself.  

Also, some folks feel as though the cover price (something like $12 per issue in the US, and 59 British Pounds, or about $90 per year) is overly prohibitive, effectively pricing out many (including me, honestly).  But I can dream…

Here’s some KNOCKOUT sample images:

Supermodels Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek & Liya Kebebe dressed by Nigerian designers, Deola Sagoe, Fati Asibelua of MOMO Couture, Lanre DaSilva Ajayi of LDA.

Alek Wek In Deola Sagoe

Naomi

Naomi Campbell in Deola Sagoe

Liya

Liya in Deola Sagoe

for more about Arise, click here


Light: On the South Side…Grit and Gold Lamé

I, for one, have stared for more than a moment at the forgotten, peeled paint on the side of the 408 Club building over on 79th Street (just East of King Drive).  In mid-seventies hipster font, the ad reads “Sheba Disco”, apparently some sort of disco club.  I’ve wondered what manner of elephant bells and Quiana was to be found there in its heyday. 

In the mid-’70s, photographer Michael Abramson set his viewfinder on the South Side of Chicago, specifically the many clubs and lounges that served as Hothouses of street fashion (among them, the legendary High Chaparral and the Showcase Lounge). They reflected where blues, soul and disco collided:  a dream of grit and gold lamé.   

Those photos have been compiled in Light: On the South Side, which is set for a November release by local label Numero Group.  The package also includes a 17-track vinyl-only comp entitled Pepper’s Jukebox, featuring various local juke joint luminaries including Bobby Rush and Little Mack. Cratediggers, this one also includes the one-time cockroach of Chicago 45rpm collecting: “I’m a Streaker, Baby” by Arlean Brown.  Remember that one?  Couldn’t even give that one away, it was so plentiful.  Anyway, check out the photo gallery, above (from the forthcoming book).  Be inspired.  Jive on.

 photo by Michael Abramson224_x600_cl_light18


Sweet Flypaper of Life: 1950s Harlem in Black & White

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Picture it.  I’m in high school, late for the morning bus, desperate for something to read during my lengthy commute.  On my Grandmother’s disheveled porch, I find a slightly sunfaded paperback.  The book is Sweet Flypaper of Life, with text by Langston Hughes and photography by Roy DeCarava (1955).  I toss it in my backpack, completely unaware that:

1. My life would never be the same… I would see the world differently from that day on.

2. That paperback was (at the time) thirty years old and worth nearly 100 bucks.  I would only discover its value when I attempted in college to upgrade for a hardcover.  Apparently, it’s an exceptionally rare book.  And I threw it in my backpack.  Did I mention it rained that day?

About the book:

Essentially, the Sweet Flypaper is written from the point of view of an older woman in Harlem who is a fixture in her community.  She introduces us to each person in her world.  We’re let in on their struggles as well as the hard-fought victories in their lives.  The Langston Hughes’ text is accompanied by a memorable photo essay by Roy DeCarava.

DE_Carava_the_sweet_1How I love this book.  It captures a time on the cusp of the Civil Rights Era: a time steeped in the Electrified Delta Blues, in Joe Louis Fights, in Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn, in Miller High Life, in Dixie Peach pomade.  It captures something so timeless that it stays with you…. always.  I recommend you discover a copy of your own, but until you do, enjoy the pages I reproduced here for you. Jive on!

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