Esthetic Lens is happy to announce a new monthly photography series that will be published throughout this year. In January of 2020, photographer Ryan Bakerink started his project, Chicago 2020. He was about to enter his 20th year of living in Chicago, having moved to the city at the age of 20. He’s been to 6 continents, and 40 countries, but had never focused his photographic work on the expansive city that he lives in.
I often ask myself, why did I move to Chicago from a town of 500 people? I’ve never been able to put my finger on it. The year 2020 seemed to be a perfect and personally symbolic time for me to set out on a year-long project to document the city on the lake.
Chicago has shaped who I am as a person and as an artist. My goal was to embark on a journey of self-exploration and discovery by making photographs in all 77 of the city’s neighborhoods. I wanted to approach this project the same way I do when I travel and photograph; to seek out authentic character, and try to understand my relationship to a place.
Having a specific start and end date was an essential and interesting way to frame this project for myself. Knowing that the clock started ticking on January 1st, 2020 offered me the right amount of urgency and presented me with a framework for a discipline in creating the work.
I set out with only a few rules for this project:
- All the images are to be created in the year 2020
- Create work in all 77 neighborhoods
- No traditional postcard images
- If I have seen the image before, I don’t take it
- I adapt to whatever happens throughout the year
It is important to note with points 3 and 4, the only exception I made was my first two shots. I felt it would be important to have the first image be of the sun rising over Lake Michigan on January 1st and the second image be of the great “Welcome to Chicago” mural in Logan Square. These two images offered me, a symbolic entry point to the project.
My goal was to dive deep into each neighborhood; I created a schedule of every major event in Chicago along with every local festival. I started with street festivals, music festivals, exhibits, parties, and any other event I could find; they were all on my calendar. I began reaching out to youth groups, schools, minority groups, in hopes of incorporating as much diversity into the work as possible. I imagined for myself a project of honesty, heart, and depth, however, by March the world changed, as did the direction of the project. I truly feel that what I eventually produced was authentic to Chicago in the year 2020. It is a time capsule of a city during a very tumultuous time. It is not the body of work I initially intended on making, but, 2020 was not a year that any of us could have ever anticipated.
I began photographing in the far south-east neighborhood of Hegewisch, it is the only neighborhood in Chicago with a trailer park in it, and wetlands surround it. For the majority of the rest of January, I focused on the southern neighborhoods known for their role in the big industrial manufacturing boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s. This included Pullman, West Pullman, Roseland, Burnside, as well as my neighborhood, Uptown.
The year started as any year does in Chicago, with gloomy weather, and nothing exciting happening. In just a few short months, the feeling of gloom would be unavoidable. By mid-March, the world would shut down and the city would be a ghost town.
Ryan Bakerink is a photographer in Chicago, IL, his work focuses on social issues, counterculture, travel, music, and portraiture. Ryan’s work can regularly be seen throughout the music industry, has been widely exhibited, and was recently featured on CBS Sunday Morning with Jane Pauly.
His Chicago2020 site can be found here.