Esthetic Lens is happy to bring you the March installment of Ryan Bakerink’s monthly photography series, Chicago 2020. The genesis of the project came about as Bakerink entered his twentieth year of living in Chicago, having moved to the city at the age of twenty. He’s traveled and photographed on six continents, and in forty countries, but had never focused his photographic work on the expansive city that he lives in. As you can imagine, March of 2020 held a whole handful of unexpected twists…
On January 7, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel notice for Americans going to Wuhan, China, due to a cluster of pneumonia cases associated with a seafood and poultry market in the city. This virus, COVID-19, or the Coronavirus reached the United States on January 20, 2020. On January 24th, Illinois health officials announced the first confirmed case of the Coronavirus in Illinois; the second confirmed case in the United States. On February 29th, a third Illinois resident tested positive for the virus in the Chicagoland area; a quiet panic took hold. In March 2020, cases of the Coronavirus began to escalate rapidly.
As the unusually warm Chicago winter continued, I was able to shoot portraits early in the month. However, obstacles soon unfolded that prevented any further opportunities to make portraits in the original way I had intended. By March 11th, The World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic; in Illinois, it had reached twenty-five confirmed Corona Virus cases. On March 12th, seven new cases of the Coronavirus were reported by officials, including the first child to test positive in Illinois. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, canceled the city’s annual Chicago River dyeing on March 14th, and the Southside Irish parade on March 15th, in response to the Coronavirus. On March 17th, the number of cases rose to one hundred sixty and officials announced the first death related to COVID-19, a woman in her sixties from Chicago.
In an unforgettable week beginning on March 13th, Breonna Taylor is shot and killed in her Louisville, KY home by police serving a narcotics warrant in search of a suspected drug dealer. This tragic incident later becomes a significant part of the year’s social injustice uprising.
In place of what would have been images of Chicago’s world-famous St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, I turned my camera to the neighborhoods of East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park on March 14th and New City on March 15th. East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park are part of Chicago’s westside and sandwich the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest greenhouse conservatories in the United States. Heading West on Madison street, one will come across a mixture of businesses with a unique character reflecting both neighborhoods.
New City is commonly referred to as Back of the Yards although, Back of the Yards is one of two smaller communities that make up New City, the other being Canaryville. Back of the Yards is an industrial and residential neighborhood named because of its proximity to the former Union Stock Yards, which employed thousands of European immigrants in the early 20th century. The Canaryville neighborhood is one of the oldest communities in Chicago; historically, it had been an Irish-American neighborhood. The Irish were the first significant group of Europeans to immigrate to Chicago in the 19th century; New City is currently a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. New City became one of my favorite neighborhoods to explore; like Bridgeport and the Lower West Side, it is rich in character and history.
On March 16th, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 2,997.10, the largest single-day point drop ever, amid the coronavirus outbreak.
By March 20th, Illinois reported its fifth Covid-19 death; the total confirmed cases reached 585,411 in the Chicagoland area. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order taking effect 5 pm, Saturday, March 21st, through April 7th for all of Illinois. The drastic order was intended to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. Not knowing what to expect on March 21, I set out on a marathon day of shooting, in the Clearing and Garfield Ridge neighborhoods.
Clearing and Garfield Ridge are blue-collar neighborhoods that surround Midway Airport. The history of Clearing is shrouded in mystery. It is an anomalous subdivision that began showing up on maps of the city as early as 1870. The local author and historian Robert Hill referred to it as the “Lost Village”. The neighborhood is named as such because the farm goods from the site were “cleared” (delivered) through the airport and railroad yards. The southern half of Midway Airport is in Clearing. Named after Garfield Boulevard, and a nearby glacial ridge; Garfield Ridge was burdened by low-quality land and was historically used as a transportation corridor rather than a place of residence. Annexed to Chicago piecemeal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area’s population surged during the 1920s after Midway International Airport was constructed, but later declined when O’Hare International Airport was built.
With a 5 pm curfew and much of our future unknown, I tried to stay calm and focused on shooting all day for this project. Without a plane taking off or landing, Midway airport was quiet and the anxiety was unavoidable. The streets were empty; businesses began putting up signs announcing that they were closing due to the pandemic. While I was out shooting, my worried mind asked all sorts of questions. What would happen if I wasn’t home by 5 pm, would I get arrested? Would there be a warning? Will Lori [Lightfoot] be watching? What If I do not have enough food, or even worse, do I have enough alcohol?
I made it home right at 5:15 pm; thankfully, Mayor Lightfoot was not watching me, or if she was, she gave me a break. In less than a month, our country went from normal, to a new, pandemic reality. The American way of life was locked down and locked in. Shelter in Place began on March 22nd; I continued to abide by the order through the end of March…the alcohol helped.
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.