I recall it was enough, in high school, to mention you were going to the “Southside” to cement your badass cred. It would suffice to say you had driven past a numbered street (most east-west streets south of Madison are numbered in Chicago, as opposed to their conventionally named counterparts on the north side) to get a wide-eyed stare of fear and respect. When I had gotten lost as a freshly-licensed sixteen year old and wound up in a fender bender on 111th street, my friends acted as if I had walked into Mordor and back out again.
When I began work at the company I’m still with, I wound up having to drive around the Southside as part of my job. As I got to see the vast swaths of industry, housing projects and rusting infrastructure, my interest in urban exploration was born. Not yet urbex, in the sense of exploring the abandoned, but just visiting the less traveled corners of the city. There was a fascination in coming across the loneliest intersection in Chicago, or a former Nike missile launch site. Early on, this particular vista made a big impression on me: the bend in the Calumet River around 130th and Cottage Grove, looping around a massive factory. I’ve never been able to get a shot which captures the impression this peninsula makes on a passing motorist. I think one would have to get closer, maybe shooting from a boat on the river. But here’s my last attempt from a recent visit, all gussied up in High Dynamic Range and melancholy colors. Perhaps you’ll give me points for style.
There are many fine urbexers out there who take an active interest in documenting the places they visit, either to highlight an aspect of local history or to help preserve them. While I may be sometimes intrigued by that aspect of urbex, I make no bones that my primary interest in this genre of photography is primarily aesthetic. Sometimes only knowing little about the place you’re seeing heightens the mystery, perhaps makes the story a photo tells a bit more universal. I tend to take a “non-attachment” to the sites we shoot; I find it’s a bit dishonest to bemoan their further decay when that is the very process that allowed us to shoot the pictures we did.
That said, I can’t help be a bit saddened when a site I cut my teeth on gets very rapidly demolished. The Riverdale granary was a massive edifice of metal, rust, concrete and ivy. As of our last visit, only the slim north building still stands. Soon, it too will be gone. It should be remembered that impermanence makes all things possible.
On Pullman’s quad, across from the Florence Hotel, is this striking romanesque church, fittingly named for the color of its walls.
This former hotel was once the only place in town where alcohol was available, but only to its guests. Pullman’s employees, however, were barred from the hotel or its bar and restaurant. The industrialist did not believe his workers should drink. As noted in the previous post, George Pullman was a touch paternalistic.
Some days it is just nice to know where you are.
A small cave-in
admits a cold cascade
Chicago, South Side
A rotted out section of floor gapes open
Factory under demolition
South Side Chicago
Abandoned chewing gum factory, Chicago.
Conveyor belts stretch out and double back on themselves in an abandoned chewing gum factory.
Means of escape are provided, should misadventure occur.
-slightly modified quote from Ernst Fischer
“Outside the ordered universe is that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.”
When JuniorBBQ met us for the first time in Detroit to explore the Packard plant, at one point she remarked, “You guys really like stairs!”. And I suppose it’s true. Staircases offer the kind of Escheresque perspectives and patterned geometries that make for dizzying photography. So here’s some stairs from myself and Moribund’s visit to a gum factory yesterday.
We spent most of the day inside this location, and, whatever photogenic virtues it may have, it has forever changed how I will smell wintergreen gum. More photos soon to come.
For those not from my fair city, Chicago has one spot, the spot from which everyone shoots photos of the skyline. There are almost always several people snapping away, with entire bridal parties stopping by on a regular basis to get the spectacular backdrop for their wedding photos. If you’ve seen postcards of Chicago or seen B-roll of our skyline, it was often shot here. So you’ll excuse the shot below as nothing new, just a “me too!” perhaps. But if we each have a guilty photography pleasure, the Idiot Photographer’s might be kittens, and mine is certainly cheesecake shots of this city’s skyline. Hopefully my guilty pleasure rubs off on you.
…and for the curious: it’s on Solidarity Drive, the road which runs out to the Adler planetarium.
I inevitably reach this point with any batch of photos, at which I have lost my ability to objectively judge the quality of what I’m posting. Shots long dismissed catch my eye; was I too hasty in judging them harshly? The pictures I was quite happy with initially now seem to be trite and cliche. When was I right? Or was I ever right? Bah! Whatever. I’m going to have a whiskey.
Meanwhile, here’s the best of the rest. If any of these tickle your art button, let me know.
Here’s what I do know: upcoming will be a rather lengthy series on the Great Ohio Endeavor, shots from which you’ve already seen from the Idiot Photographer.
A pair of heavy steel sliding doors led through to a relatively clean, carpeted space. It seems that, after Sears had left, a school had used a section of the massive complex as its campus.
Again, from the former headquarters of Sears, Roebuck and Co.
After being in want of material for a while, a photographic drought if you will, I am now beating back a flood. I am leaving the Idiot Photographer to lead the way into Cleveland, for as much as I have to share from this trip just ended, I have unfinished business in Chicago to wrap up. And so, we return to the former headquarters of Sears, Roebuck and Co. on the city’s west side.
The campus was not a typical abandonment, in that it wasn’t a case of a business going under. Sears was a thriving business, and moving to a gleaming new facility. Perhaps because it was an organized move there is little left in the buildings in the way of interesting furniture or equipment; instead, it is floors and floors of open halls and office space. There are interesting focal points, but they have to be found. But I’ll start with halls and open spaces. I was B&W heavy in this batch, the original colors being a bit garish for my taste.
I’ve posted a couple shots from here in the past couple weeks, but we’ve had to play coy until we could return and see more. Our first trip essentially wound up being an extensive scouting mission, with yesterday’s follow-up finally allowing us to see most of the campus. So let this post function as a belated introduction to the former headquarters of this retailer.
Once the largest retailer in the world, Sears’ great innovation was the mail-order catalog. It was a commercial revelation which helped make Chicago the thriving commercial center of the Midwest by the late 19th century. In 1905-06, Sears built this massive complex to house its offices and printers.
Today, only the eastern bank of buildings remains, with all but the tower (the original Sears Tower) remaining West of Homan Avenue.
More to come.