Life Through a Leica

For nearly 70 years, Art Shay kept two things by his side: The love of his life, Florence, and a camera.

Over his long career, the renowned photojournalist Art Shay, 91, has taken thousands of photographs of kings, presidents, Hollywood celebs, and sports stars—chronicling people’s lives and news stories all over the world for such magazines as Time, Life, and Chicago.

But his favorite subject of all was his wife of 67 years, Florence. Sometimes Florence would be the focal point of his photos—front and center, smiling, dancing, or reading. (She ran Titles, a rare-book store in Highland Park.) Other times she’d show up, Waldo-like, somewhere in the shot. Recently, when Shay was culling through his vast collection of prints and negatives, searching for photographs of Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to Deerfield in 1961 in support of the fair-housing protests, he found one negative with a smiling Florence in the background over the former First Lady’s shoulder. “I knew she was there, but I didn’t know she was in the picture,” he says.

Beginning on January 20 at the library at Columbia College, that shot and dozens more will be on display as part of My Florence, Shay’s homage to his wife, who died of ovarian cancer in August 2012. (The 17 photos included here are part of the show, which is being presented by Columbia’s Museum of Contemporary Photography.) The exhibition, says the writer Thomas Dyja in his commentary for the show, “is about more than Florence Shay. In documenting his wife’s existence, an accretion of moments—a few remembered, many lost—Art Shay, in sharing his bittersweet loss, somehow enhances our own existence.”

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