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.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.
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.
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?