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.”


7 months ago
Posted by OutofChicago

I live right around the corner from you in Deerfield, but the images captured here feel a world away. I hope to capture memories like you have with my wife over the coming decades. Thanks for the inspiration.

7 months ago
Posted by Greenstreeter

Art & Florence are Chicago Treasures. What a magnificent and richly lived life. We are so blessed to have witnessed this. Bravo Chicago magazine for running this piece. It's timeless.

7 months ago
Posted by Dick Bublitz

We moved to Deerfield in 1965 across the street from the Shay's. Our son, Randy, was and is a good friend of Steve's. As we moved to Southern California in 1970, much of this is new to us. Having just celebrated out 60th wedding anniversary, we are touched by this tribute to a long ago neighbor.

7 months ago
Posted by pammy

Thank you for sharing this on Facebook. I won't be in Chicago anytime soon, so you gave me an opportunity to see your parents from a different perspective. To me they were just Dickie's parents! The photos and stories are beautiful. I remember your mom clearly but my perspective was that of a young teenager, only interested in boys : ). What a beautiful tribute to your family. Hope you are well Dickie..someday our paths will cross again....Pam

7 months ago
Posted by Miche

Thank you for sharing these photos. This must be what true love looks like.

7 months ago
Posted by Shoots Film and Leaves

My favorite book of all time is Lee Friedlander's book Maria. Lee is Maria's husband and the photographs are a great record of their relationship over time. Thank You for the great photographs, Art. What a beautiful name You have.

7 months ago
Posted by jodyj

So blessed to have shared some exquisitely special years amongst this wonderful family. Florence and Art were the best parents at a time when it must've been so difficult to parent.,, I never saw Flo without that most glorious smile on her face. Love you all, still! Jody

7 months ago
Posted by JoanJ

What a lovely tribute to a special woman by a wonderful man. This brings a tear to my eye, I wish I had an archive of pics I've taken of my guy. Its good to see someone pay homage to a marriage and a family. Thank you, Art. (And Chicago Mag)

7 months ago
Posted by pia

Thank you for sharing these wonderful images of Florence. She was a lady of indomitable spirit and a zest for life that few of us have. As a woman, I appreciated and admired her outspokenness, and her pithy comments on our "chatline"- she was always polite but had a way of saying something that made you roar with laughter, or smile with satisfaction. She also showed her love for her family, and especially for her husband Art Shay (that is how she would refer to him); she often prefaced these by "the accomplished professional photographer Art Shay" and showed how proud she was of him.


7 months ago
Posted by Drich211254

Oh, how I miss Florence. Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos. I'm Florence's UPS driver,Duane. I only knew her since 1999, but she left such a lasting memory. I will always rember her smile. :)

7 months ago
Posted by fblasco

For me, these photographs pose questions and dialog. Each photograph has a lot of information. Well done!

6 months ago
Posted by Badger74

So many emotions in these photos. My mother was a friend of Florence's; they worked on many Deerfield things together. I went to high school with Harmon, who was brilliantly off the wall. We did a sketch in French class, complete with bawdy bilingual puns. Thanks for the memories.

5 months ago
Posted by cwrmom

I loved her dearly; miss her terribly. What a wonderful tribute to her, Art, to your beautiful family and to your wonder-filled life together. How fortunate was I to know and love her!
Cathy Weingart-Ryan

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