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A Hasty “Time Out” for Chicago Architecture

(Photo: Fabulous winning image from Time Out’s local photo contest. But without seeing buildings, can you tell this is Chicago? Credit: Will Okun/Time Out Chicago.)

Two weeks ago, my favorite local listings mag, Time Out Chicago, stumbled in its photographic coverage of Hogtown. Issue No. 78, aka the “Photo Issue”, published the winners of a Chicago photo contest (“Hit us with your best shot”) in which TOC had asked readers to submit photos that best represented the Third Coast metropolis. There were no restrictions placed on subject matter, the images simply needed to evoke Chicago. However, in choosing the winners, TOC made an editorial decision, disclosed in the Photo Issue, to exclude from consideration any images that did not contain people in them.

Yet in the same issue, TOC published a series of commissioned photos of Chicago taken by professional photographers (“Chicago through the lens”) that largely depicted Chicago’s built environment, but otherwise were markedly bereft of people. These photos were also identified by TOC as representing the best of Chicago, creating a curious–and somewhat hypocritical–editorial disconnect on the part of the TOC editors.

I inquired about this seeming contradiction in a letter to the editors printed in this week’s issue (TOC No. 80). In my letter, I asked TOC which set of photos truly represents Chicago: the winning shots of people or the hired shots of buildings? To my mind, Hogtown is both of those things. Beyond our sophisticated and diverse populace, Chicago is also the acknowleged architectural capital of the United States. The black capital of the Midwest, half a million Mexicans, neighborhoods any self-respecting yuppie would mortgage their grandmother to live in, the largest Polish city outside Poland? Guilty as charged. Home to the best buildings designed by Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Bertrand Goldberg, Lucien Lagrange? That’s us, as well. How can you have one without the other?

In attempting to separate these two seminal and intertwined facets of Chicago, TOC’s editors chose to ignore half the picture of this great city (and, judging by the runners-up posted online, some great architectural shots). An unfortunate, but correctable oversight for the otherwise usually on-the-mark magazine. Hopefully, the next time TOC runs a photo competition, they’ll make it one that all Chicagoans–and Chicago icons–have a shot at winning, without setting any arbitrary, postflight editorial restrictions.

Proud Chicagoans in front of proud Chicago buildings. That’s my idea of Chicago. After all, without our skyline, we’d just be a bigger, less cheese-happy Milwaukee. And I swear I don’t say that just because I’m in love with with one of the best contemporary architectural photographers working in Chicago today.

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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