Photos Reveal Snapshots of City Neighborhoods in Late '70s

Photos by David Gremp (right) Woman, Uptown 1978/79  | Bowling Family, Scottsdale 1978/79Photos by David Gremp (right) Woman, Uptown 1978/79 | Bowling Family, Scottsdale 1978/79

In 1978, Chicago photographer David Gremp spent a year as an artist-in-residence for the Chicago Public Library documenting 14 libraries, their neighborhoods and their patrons. Gremp snapped hundreds of images, giving his subjects a simple directive: look straight into the camera.

The result was hundreds of arresting black-and-white photos that combine to create a time capsule of 1970s Chicago. Sixty of Gremp’s photos from the project are on display at the Harold Washington Library Center through May.

Many of the neighborhoods Gremp was assigned were undergoing a transition – like Lincoln Park, moving from a working-class Puerto Rican area to a wealthy white enclave; Pullman, slowly losing the sprawling factory that gave the neighborhood its name; and Uptown, a poverty-stricken community dealing with the effects of so-called “urban renewal” in the 1960s.

The photographer recalls walking around the neighborhoods with his camera and asking neighborhood residents, children and shopkeepers if he could take their photos. He’d choose a background, often wherever the subject was standing or sitting at the time, and ask them to look straight into the camera, leaving their expression and pose up to them.

  •  Bleacher Pyramid, Comiskey Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Bleacher Pyramid, Comiskey Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Bonnie’s Bar, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Bonnie’s Bar, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Bowling Family, Scottsdale 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Bowling Family, Scottsdale 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Boy at Library Desk, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Boy at Library Desk, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Boy in Mask, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Boy in Mask, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  •  Boy with Dog, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Boy with Dog, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Boys in Library, West Garfield Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Boys in Library, West Garfield Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Brothers, Austin 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Brothers, Austin 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Couple on Street, West Garfield Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Couple on Street, West Garfield Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Couple, Mendel High School 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Couple, Mendel High School 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Girl in Library, Washington Heights 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Girl in Library, Washington Heights 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Girls in Alley, West Garfield Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Girls in Alley, West Garfield Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Goldblatts, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Goldblatts, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Man in Shower, Comiskey Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Man in Shower, Comiskey Park 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  •  Man with Drum, etc., Comiskey Park (David Gremp)

    Man with Drum, etc., Comiskey Park (David Gremp)

  • Man with Produce Truck, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Man with Produce Truck, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Ronnie Woo Woo, Wrigley Field 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Ronnie Woo Woo, Wrigley Field 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Shop Owner, Pullman 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Shop Owner, Pullman 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  •  Shop Owner, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Shop Owner, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Shop owners, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Shop owners, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Two Sisters, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Two Sisters, 1978/79 (David Gremp)

  • Woman, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

    Woman, Uptown 1978/79 (David Gremp)

 

Remarkably, Gremp says that he can’t recall a single person he asked turning him down for a photo. He also hopes that visitors of the exhibit might recognize some of the subjects, since he did not keep records of the subjects’ names.

In 1980, 40 photos from the collection were exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center and others were sent to the branch libraries Gremp photographed. Gremp says that he only recently learned that some of the photos resurfaced and were displayed at the Bezazian Library in Uptown. But in the intervening years, the photographer’s name had been lost. It was only when a Bezazian employee recognized some of the photos at an exhibit at the Alibi Fine Arts Gallery that Gremp learned the photos had ever been on display in the libraries.

The program that sponsored his residence was inspired by New Deal programs such as the Works Progress Administration in which WPA photographers like Dorothea Lange and Russell Lee traversed the country documenting Americans during the Depression years. Like Lange’s and Lee’s work, Gremp’s photos are an intimate glimpse into the everyday lives of Chicago’s people and a record of how the city and its neighborhoods have changed – or haven’t changed – since they were taken.

The exhibit on the ninth floor of the Harold Washington Library Center runs through May 15. 


Related 'Chicago Tonight' stories

Museum of Contemporary Photography Exhibit Captures Changing Medium

March 28: To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Museum of Contemporary Photography combed its archives to find the pictures that best reflect the character of the museum. What they found were dramatic images from the 19th century to the 21st.


Photographs by Art Fox Capture Ill-Fated Flights of Migratory Birds

March 15: The long voyage of many migratory birds sometimes ends in Chicago. What one photographer is doing to raise awareness of window kill and light disorientation.


Neighborhood: 
randomness