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1960s Chicago Through the Lens of Conceptual Photographer Kenneth Josephson

“Chicago,” 1964.   Photos: Kenneth Josephson, Stephen Daiter Gallery

Kenneth Josephson’s 1960s photos capture a Chicago mood. “There was a thing in the air about taking chances,” recalls the artist, whose photographic exploration of the city earned him a place in the canon among such Midwestern greats as Harry Callahan and Robert Heinecken. A technical master who also loves a good snapshot, Josephson, 83, from his Wicker Park studio says, “I’m so lucky to have worked in Chicago. It’s a center for modern ideas and newness.” This month, Josephson celebrates the release of a richly illustrated monograph (University of Texas Press, $50) and a solo show at Stephen Daiter Gallery, 230 N Superior (through 6/4).

 

The 1961 film “Return to Peyton Place” on the marquee of the Woods theater in the Loop, alongside construction scaffolding, lent urban texture. “Chicago is the best city for architecture I’ve ever experienced,” says Josephson.

 

“The city has the feeling of being a stage,” says Josephson. “It is a gathering of actors.”

 

“I’ve always been fascinated by the light in Chicago,” says Josephson. “It has very deep shadows and highlights.”

 

“Often I photograph very quickly, and things just seem to come together,” recalls Josephson, who documented his 11-year-old son’s first catch on Lake Michigan one summer day.

 

Mounds of dirt at a construction site provided a temporary playground for some kids outside of Josephson’s college at the Institute of Design (now IIT).

 

“There was a lumber yard named Manhattan,” recalls Josephson. One day, an auto accident knocked down their fence and the workers rebuilt it hastily, creating what the artist recalls as “a wonderful kind of secret language.”

 

The light of oncoming trains shining in the busy rail yard made for an iconic image of Chicago noir.

 

Storage for natural gas on the West Side, off the Stevenson Expressway, provided Josephson with the perfect shape and values to practice “the zone system,” a technique developed by Ansel Adams to perfectly represent the full range of grays. “The process was exacting and painful,” recalls Josephson.

 

Josephson became well-known for overlaying vintage postcards of Chicago scenes atop his own newer photos. Here, the Greyhound terminal hadn’t changed much in the ten years since the postcard was produced.

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