Charles Cushman and ‘The Day in Its Color’

COLOR THEORY: A new book on the Chicago street photographer gorgeously resurrects a lost time


Confectionary cart, Lexington and DeKalb Streets, Chicago, 1949. For more photos by Cushman, launch the gallery »
 

'The Day in Its Color' by Eric Sandweiss

A Hoosier native and longtime Chicago resident, Charles Cushman (1896–1972) worked at various jobs—editor, statistician, bureaucrat—but his consuming preoccupation was photography. He took his first picture using Kodachrome slide film on September 3, 1938. The subject was his red Ford coupe, with San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. A shadowy figure in the car’s front seat is likely his wife, Jean. For the next 31 years, Cushman chronicled his cross-country journeys with a Contax IIA 35-millimeter camera, amassing a meticulously cataloged collection of 14,500 images. After his death, the slides eventually found their way to Indiana University, his alma mater. Eric Sandweiss’s The Day in Its Color (out March 1 from Oxford University Press, $39.95) collects a small fraction of those photos, many taken in Chicago. The images—landscapes, street scenes, the occasional bathing beauty—gorgeously resurrect a lost time. But despite the author’s best efforts, Cushman remains an enigma, as does Jean. In 1943, she shot her husband inside their Hyde Park home before turning the gun on herself. Miraculously, they both survived and remained married. But none of the book’s pictures, including the haunting portraits of Jean, answer that necessary question: Why?

RELATED: Great Chicago street photographers, past and present | The Life and Work of Street Photographer Vivian Maier | Reel Chicago Rescues Long-Forgotten Films

 

Photograph: (top) Charles Cushman Photograph Collection, Indiana University Archives

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