Known worldwide as “the city that works,” Chicago has the architecture to back up its reputation: muscular office buildings, soaring skyscrapers, and bridges and train tracks that shuttle workers to and from the Loop. Yet Chicago’s residents play just as hard as they work—and when weather permits, they can be found playing on their city’s glorious twenty-six-mile stretch of lakefront.
In their combined book, husband-and-wife team Paula Chamlee and Michael A. Smith reveal their different takes on one of America’s most captivating cities through the two elements that make Chicago so unique: its stellar architecture and its unmatched lakefront of public parks and beaches.
Individually, Chamlee and Smith have received acclaim for their striking images of places as diverse as Tuscany, Iceland, the American West, the markets of San Francisco, and a farm in Texas. Commissioned to photograph Chicago, Chamlee and Smith trained their lenses in different directions. Chamlee explored the less tamed beauty of the lakefront while Smith photographed the manmade grandeur of the Loop’s architecture. This combined book of their pictures, a first for Chamlee and Smith, unites these two visions of the Chicago landscape to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Tuned into the rhythms of Chicago buildings, Smith’s photographs in Chicago: Loop, made with an 8×20-inch view camera, offer up a horizontal view of this most vertical city. While panoramic in format, most of the photographs do not, in fact, capture wide views. Rather, these “anti-panorama panoramas” hone in on architectural patterns that formed, somewhat haphazardly, as Chicago’s downtown has grown through the decades. The result is a series of photographs that allow even Chicago natives to view the Loop, so iconic and familiar, through new eyes.
In Chicago: Lake, Chamlee returns to her roots as a painter by combining her photographs of the lakefront with her drawings, assemblages, ephemeral constructions, and writing. In her photographs and artwork, Chamlee creates a multi-layered experience that reflects the nearly seamless interplay between manmade structures and nature that flows along Chicago’s shoreline. Chicago: Lake documents the beauty—both humble and dramatic—that emerges when a teeming city revels in the good fortune of its natural environment.
Together, the distinctive visions of Chicago: Lake and Chicago: Loop unite in a book to be cherished both by admirers of fine photography and by lovers of a great American city.
Michael A. Smith, born in Philadelphia in 1942, has been working in photography since 1966. Less than a year later, in 1967, he began photographing exclusively with an 8×10-inch view camera, committing himself to the contact print. Later he added both an 8×20 and an 18×22-inch view camera.
During his second year as a photographer, he began teaching his own seminars and workshops, but after seven and a half years, he stopped teaching to dedicate himself solely to the making of his photographs.
His photographic journeys during the past five decades have taken him to every state in the continental United States, western Canada, Mexico, and Europe. The results of these remarkable odysseys are included in the permanent collections of over 125 museums in the United States, Europe, and Asia, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Art Institute of Chicago, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
His commitment to the medium has resulted in over 200 exhibitions. In addition, he has twice received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he has been the recipient of major commissions to photograph five American cities. In 1981, Smith’s first book, the two-volume monograph, Landscapes 1975–1979, was awarded Le Grand Prix du Livre at the Rencontres Internationale de la Photographie in Arles, France. At that time, the Swiss publication Print Letter commented, “For the first time in the 11 years of the Rencontres, a deserving book has won the book prize.”
Paula Chamlee returned to college in the 1980s majoring in the visual arts to finish a degree she had begun in the 1960s in the performing arts. She earned a B.F.A. in painting in 1988. During that year, she discovered photography and quickly found direct involvement with the world outside the studio to be irresistible. Since 1988 she has traveled extensively, making photographs both in the United States and abroad. Chamlee has been the recipient of several grants, including a major grant from the Leeway Foundation for “Excellence in Photography.” Her photographs are in numerous collections, both public and private in the United States and abroad. She is collected in nearly forty museums in the United States, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, and Library of Congress. She has taught workshops in photography in the United States, Austria, Germany, Tuscany, England, France, Iceland, and Australia. Her seventh monograph was published in the fall of 2015.