Roosevelt University in Chicago, Schaumburg and Online - Logo

Chicago Reader in Black & White
June 4–August 28, 2015

Watch the documentary that accompanies the exhibit.
© Marc PoKempner
© Marc PoKempner
© Paul Natkin
© Paul Natkin
© Lloyd DeGrane
© Lloyd DeGrane
© Mike Tappin
© Mike Tappin
© Ron Gordan
© Ron Gordon
© Jon Randolph
© Jon Randolph
© John Sundolf
© John Sundlof
© Mike Tappin
© Mike Tappin

Press about the Exhibit
Chicago Reader—June 4—A Roosevelt University exhibit showcases a great, bygone era of Reader photography.

About the Exhibit
In the fall of 1971, we noticed a new publication in the bars and bookstores of Chicago. It was the Chicago Reader, one of the first—and ultimately one of the most successful—of a new genre that came to be known as the alternative weekly.

The Reader didn't look like one of a genre. It didn't look like anything. In some ways it was a newspaper: black and white, text on the cover, "quarterfolded" like a traditional broadsheet. But it was designed like a magazine with lots of white space, sophisticated typography, and large photographs and illustrations. It had a polished, prosperous look, though we learned it was anything but prosperous.

The Reader was published by a small band of friends just out of college. They had no professional publishing experience. They all had day jobs. They laid out the paper on their dining room table.

They had neither the time nor the inclination for staff meetings or story conferences. They wanted to the paper to be created by writers and artists.

We saw the way the Reader used photographs and gravitated toward it. We found an extraordinary amount of freedom to shoot what we wanted and to work as we pleased. Our photos were published in coherent, good-looking layouts. Cropping was for emergencies only.

The Reader was ad hoc. Often an "assignment" would come from a freelance writer working on a story the editors did not yet know about. When a call did come from the editors, it was likely for a tight deadline. Tomorrow, or even tonight. Faster than any lab would work. Before the advent of digital. We had to arrange our own shoots, develop the film, make the enlargements. We dried prints on the dashboards of our cars as we drove to the office.

But no one had told us what to shoot, or which shots to print, or even how many photos were wanted. The Reader paid by the print. The more pictures they used, the more we made. We were encouraged to come in with a number of images. We chose them for ourselves. If they were great, the layout could expand to accommodate them.

Some of us assigned ourselves—shot picture stories of our own devising on our own initiative. Subjects we wanted to shoot. Stories we wanted to tell. If we told them well, the Reader would find room.

Of course the paper's ad hoc operation had its disadvantages. If a writer's story fell through, no picture, no pay. If a precious ad came in at the last minute, a lavish layout might be reduced to a single headshot. Many a picture was ruined by the paper's cheap offset printing. The pay rates were lousy. We complained often.

It was the best work we ever did.

   

Curated by Tyra Robertson.

Above the Fold: 10 Decades of Chicago Photojournalism