Photo Essay

Forgotten Alleys of Chicago

Forgotten Alleys of Chicago

A strange thing has been happening in Chicago over the past couple of decades: the front of our buildings have been receiving an architectural facelift, while the urban backside is mostly forgotten, untouched, and ignored.

Two years ago I started James Spicer's Chicago Alley Project, wandering the back alleys of the Windy City, taking enough photos to have at least a hundred keepers a month to release. Since then I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of these alleys that I grew up playing in, and I am continually amazed at some of the sights I find as I get lost. Some garages are so old that they appear to have once been horse stables, with hand opened barn doors still barely intact. Some alleys are still paved with bricks from the days of Al Capone, or lined with mud from the days of Dubois. Mismatched new condos are sprinkled between old shacks that wouldn't even qualify as Third World. In a Swedish neighborhood I even found a full decaying boat that appeared to be a relic from the Vikings.

Considering that Chicago is one of the crime capitals of the world, this project does come with some risks. The danger gives me a sense of photojournalistic adventure, like going on a safari, or covering a war. Each time I go out I know that I might not make it back with my camera or my neck. But I'll trust in my streetwise intuition, keep my fingers crossed, and keep weaving through an endless maze of asphalt, barbed wire, telephone poles, and trash.

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