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The Charles W Cushman Collection of the Indiana University Archives


558 DeKoven St, Chicago IL (ca.1949)




I bumped into this collection of 1,241 color slide photo's from Chicago via a similar collection of Charles W Cushman's intriguing period snapshots of New York, ca.1940-1960. These works were meticulously documented in his shooting journals which have been acquired along with his equipment and collection by the Indiana University Archives. Cushman gives dates and locations down to the cross streets, and in some instances even the house numbers have been included. On the site some of the journals have even been scanned and presented for closer scrutiny. Over the years entire streets have completely vanished in Chicago. But here they are again, preserved in uneasy, overly washed colors that we can compare to Street view images on Google.
The photograph above of 558 DeKoven St, the building on the left was shot in 1949. The backyard of this obsequious paint caked space is where the great Chicago fire of 1871 started. That block and much of the surrounding area was completely razed in the 60's and 70's. Big boxes made of smaller boxes, surrounded by gas stations and ATM's currently reside there now. Manny's, the best deli in town for like, a gizillion unspecified number of pro-rated crap memory years also resides in that area.
In his archive Cushman captures some of the richest photo's of Maxwell Street and the old market culture that I've ever seen. They include the mythic gypsies rummaging old refrigerator sized boxes looking for under wear, big junk piles made from smaller junk piles, old doors disguised as shacks and all of the other broken stuff one might expect from a shambling mound of crusty brick and sausage grease. Some of which has transitioned symbolically to where the great fire began, 558 DeKoven St. on Sundays between 8am and 4pm, weekly.
Cushman wasn't Ansel Adams, or Robert Frank, he was an amateur by all accounts. But his dedication to shooting crumbling neighborhoods like Bronzeville and Maxwell St resulted in a richly textured collection that marks the wide breadth between Chicago's intention and it's failure in a most remarkable way. We need the reminder of those crumbling structures and the reality of the solidarity that those lost communities can impart. It seems cruel to ignore what so obviously is an evocative celebration of that which backs might bear but arms can't hold and eye's shouldn't miss. Particularly when our eyes are lost, our arms are full, and our backs feel bent to the point of break. Why any curator at any Chicago institution hasn't secured even the most meager of elements of the Cushman Collection for an exhibition here seems criminal.

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