New Book: The Loop

I’ve finished the photos and sequencing for book number 24: The Loop. This is a photography book that features 170 monochrome photos of various locations around the downtown Chicago neighborhood known as “the loop,” named so because of the elevated train lines that circle around several blocks just south of the Chicago River. The photos were assembled from five or six sessions in April and May and everything went very smoothly.

I wanted to revisited downtown Chicago once again, as well as assemble another black-and-white album, so this was a good opportunity. The look of this album is different. Blacklight and Farewell, Chicago Tribune aimed for a classic film noir look, but this time I wanted something different. After some experimentation, I found something that works: high exposure, high contrast, heavy color saturation that balances things out when converted to silvertone monochrome. The images have a dreamlike quality similar to the flashback scenes in Isao Takahata’s 1991 masterpiece, Omohide Poro Poro, but also a cold industrial feel to textures and details. Finally, I added in a fading filter effect along the edges of the frame to give a vintage look. I wanted these photos to look like they were taken in the 1920s.

As always, there are sights that you want to capture in a project like this, such as the elevated train tracks and the iconic skyscrapers, but there’s also a concerted effort to avoid cliches. Only a single photo shows the city’s iconic “bean” sculpture, which is nestled in the background. I preferred to shoot along State Street instead of the more popular Michigan Avenue. Some streets and locations are a little off the beaten path, which is always more interesting than the tourist traps. Of course, the large Picasso sculpture has to be shot, and I was supremely lucky to find a massive swarm of pigeons on the day I was shooting there, thanks to one person who was feeding the birds.

Everything is sequenced out of order, which adds to this sense of being lost in a vast urban jungle. I’ve lived in Chicago for over three years now and still find myself feeling disoriented now and then, and I wanted to convey that sense of confusion and adventure. It’s a fun area to wander around and explore and kill a few hours. The final six shots of the subway ride home came from the third session, I believe, and I always wanted those to close out the book. There always has to be at least some form of narrative flow, a sense of a story that begins and ends, although I wasn’t nearly as obsessed over this as I was when making Lost in the Long COVID Summer.

I think my skills as a photographer have improved nicely over the years. The compositions are just the way I want them, complex and packed with lots of geometric angles inspired by classic cinema and early 20th Century art and a general disdain for 1) linear perspective and 2) the “rule of thirds.” There are some shots that use mirrors or glass to create a surreal multiple-exposure look. And I made sure to include more shots of people on the streets. You’d think America’s third-largest city would have crowded downtown streets, but I find that Chicago is very often sparsely populated, especially when dealing such a cold spring as this year’s, where temperatures hover in the upper 30s long past their due date.

A sampling of photos appears after the jump. The book now moves along to the Scribus book layout phase, the long and grinding part of the job that’s never much fun. But it was a lot of fun creating these photos. I can’t wait for you to see them.

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