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Amid the Ruins: Photoblogs of Yesterday’s Chicago

(Photo Credit: Devyn Caldwell.)

This content originally appeared on my former Chicagosphere online-media blog, hosted on the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow network.

We live in a photogenic city here in the nation’s architecture capital. But there’s a subset of Chicago bloggers who prefer to snap shots of a seldom-seen Windy City. These photobloggers concentrate on the urban ruins, forgotten buildings, and unsung spaces well off of most people’s radar screens. Here are six local photoblogs that take a look at things from a decidedly different perspective.


City of Destiny
“Katherine of Chicago” takes us on a tour of Chicagoland’s abandoned factories, schools, and other structures, traipsing through off-limits, long-deserted areas to come back with interesting images of urban neglect seldom seen by anyone but squatters and demolition teams. For a good example of her work, check out her visit to this unnamed abandoned factory, and don’t miss her flickr page for more urban ruins in Chicago and beyond.

(Photo Credit: Katherine of Chicago.)

2588672823_e76746d7b2-robertpowers.jpgA Chicago Sojourn
Robert Powers finds the beauty in the built elements of Chicago others take for mundane: the building finery we miss by never looking up; the streetscape details we ignore by rarely looking left or right. See his historical photo essay on downtown Chicago’s Mather Tower, his tour of three South Side commercial streets, and his photo essay of the South Side’s St. Gall Catholic Church (pictured) to see exactly what I mean.
(Photo Credit: Robert Powers.)

CarCastle1-didiBright Lights Dim Beauty
Blogger “Didi” juxtaposes old photos and advertisements for long-gone Chicago businesses with images of the (generally less impressive) way things are now. Sure, many of the photos presented here were taken by others in earlier times.But seeing them all together in one place paints a powerful picture of a Chicago that is no more. See Didi’s look at the history of Pizzeria Uno, Due, and Su Casa, or visit the ghost of the Logan Square Woolworth’s.

(Photo Credit: Didi.)

This is a great example of a buried lead: Noah Vaughn’s Dumpsite is the best urban-ruins photoblog in Chicago. No finer point to be put on that. Explore, for example: the post-Batman-blown-up Brach’s Candy factory; a snowy visit to Cicero’s abandoned Sportsman’s Park racetrack; the death of Harry’s Hot Dogs; that perilous, almost-demolished Westinghouse Career Academy tower; or this post-fire walk through the ruins of the old Washburne Trade High School. And if that’s not enough, Vaughn throws his B-side shots in a second blog, Rubbish Goes Here, equally as engrossing as his main site. (Photo Credit: Noah Vaughn.)

couchplace-devyncaldwellLooper (v.1) and Looper (v.2)
You might wonder why I’d include two revisions of a now-defunct photoblog from a blogger who skipped town to resettle in New York in mid-2007. Because while he was here, Devyn Caldwell (now photoblogging at captured some of the best shots of downtown Chicago since the mid-century work of the legendary Charles Cushman. Do explore the Looper sites, the body of work is outstanding.

Of most interest to today’s theme, however, is Caldwell’s comprehensive, months-long photo tour of Unknown Loop Streets, for a surprising look at those unfamiliar named alleys that have puzzled you every time you’ve looked at a Google map of the Loop.

(Photo Credit: Devyn Caldwell.)

Chuck’s Photo Spot
Finally, more of an honorable mention, Chuck Janda hasn’t updated his photoblog in some time. But if you can deal with smallish photos and clunky slideshow plugins, his Photo Spot offers a treasure trove of images of abandoned businesses and railway infrastructure from across Chicagoland.

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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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