Friday, July 19, 2013

Street Cred: Photos Of Uptown & Its Residents In The Mid-1970s

The Uptown Chicago History blog found a wonderful website this week:  Bob Rehak's street photography of Uptown in the mid-1970s. It is a grim world in those photos, with gang graffiti inside and outside of buildings, kids (and adults) who pose holding guns to each other, and terrible, depressing poverty as a constant theme.  Mr Rehak says on his site:
I chose this place to photograph because I was afraid of it. I was extremely shy and introverted at the time. The Uptown project was a self-assignment designed to help me come out of my shell. As I looked out the window of the el train every day, a plan gradually took shape. I vowed that one day I would get off at Wilson Avenue and force myself to ask the first person I saw if I could take his or her picture.

Eventually, I gathered the courage and, much to my surprise, the first person didn’t beat me over the head or try to steal my camera. He started talking to me as if I were a long-lost friend. It was a life-changing experience. The same thing happened with the next person and the next and the next.

These people had been ignored by society for so long that they felt flattered by the attention I was giving them. Even the gang members saw me as someone who could make them “famous.” After the Chicago Tribune published many of my images, people on the streets began calling me “the guy with the eye,” a reference to the bug-eyed look of the Rollei SL66 that I used to take many of the photos.

I learned many lessons during the four years I photographed in Uptown. The experience changed me immensely. I saw firsthand how poverty and violence perpetuated themselves from generation to generation.

There’s a story behind every one of these photos. When you click on an image, the image will enlarge and a brief story will appear next to it.
We aren't posting any of Mr. Rehak's photos here because of his copyright protections, but you can see a couple of them on the Uptown Chicago History site.  You can see many more, with the stories they tell, on Mr. Rehak's site.  It's an absolutely fascinating portrait of our neighborhood in its most downtrodden days, but -- like now -- the people he photographed cover a lively mix of ages and ethnicities, hope and despair, and most of all, love and camaraderie between the subjects.

As a testament as to how much Uptown itself has changed, there's hardly a location we can identify, except for the Wilson Men's Club and the walls of the Wilson el in the photo entitled "Tipping the Scales."  Can anyone identify any other places in the photos?


  1. Hi. This is Bob Rehak. I'm the guy who took the photos referenced here. My intention was to create a portrait of the neighborhood through the people that lived there. Most, but not all of the images were taken within a relatively small area of several blocks near the Wilson el stop. It was a long time ago, but if I remember correctly, Wilson, Broadway, Winthrop, Ainslie, and Kenmore were the streets where I found most of people pictured here. Thanks for the kind words.

  2. First off much love and respect to Bob Rehak your photos of Uptown are amazing. Your decision to interact and capture the lives of Uptown residents during a time of uncertainty is even more commendable. From your photos I see struggle, poverty, and danger. But if you can look past the obvious then that you'll also see happiness and love. Your photos accurately portray both sides of the Uptown coin. An importance lost in todays one sided view of this great neighborhood.

  3. great work. this photo series shows a very interesting time period of uptown, bringing a human dimension to the story of uptown.

  4. Bob, I invite you to come back and photograph in the same area. See how it has/has not changed. Would be a fascinating comparison. I bet one of the many arts groups now in Uptown would even host an exhibition...

  5. Bob I was wondering where you could look at photos that didn't make the book. You took some of girls on sunnyside. They were of two of my sisters thar pass away

  6. Geraldine Hill, you can contact Bob Rehak through his website. I hope you find what you're looking for. Best wishes.