Esthetic Lens is happy to bring you the June 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. Ryan has traveled and photographed on six continents, in forty countries, but had never focused his photographic work on the expansive city that he lives in. In June of 2020, protests spread throughout the city, and strong voices carried the message of inequality in America.
June of 2020, picked up right where May left off. In the wake of the protests on May 30th, 2020, Chicago’s downtown area was blocked off; protesters began gathering in different neighborhoods throughout the city. On June 1st, I woke up to texts from a friend telling me to get to Wicker Park immediately to photograph the aftermath of the looting that happened the night before. The popular stretch of bars and department stores on Milwaukee Ave between Armitage and Chicago avenue was in disarray. I made it to the area as businesses were being boarded up. Some stores had prepared for the potential protests by posting signs of empathy and pleas for salvation such as “we stand with you,” “independently owned,” and “minority-owned.” Some of these stores reminded intact, many did not. I spent the day scouring the city, photographing the aftermath of the second day of protests.
Driving back to my home in Uptown, I found a car precariously stuck in the median along Ashland Ave on the near-west side. As I photographed it, passing cars honked as their drivers laughed. This was a much-needed moment of comic relief.
As I returned home, I heard helicopters above, I looked up and saw a few hovering above an intersection a few blocks away. Not knowing what to expect, I grabbed my camera gear and followed the helicopters to a massive gathering outside of a Target at Broadway and Wilson. Uptown was the next neighborhood to host the third straight day of protests. Thousands gathered around an impromptu open mic where many shared their personal stories. This was a moment to listen and observe; I put my camera away and sat quietly as I listened and felt the impact of so many personal stories. Once the speeches concluded, I began photographing as the peaceful demonstration marched through Uptown to Lakeview.
The first day I took a break from this project was on Tuesday, June 2nd, my birthday. After three very long and emotional days, I was completely exhausted. I received texts and watched live feeds of protests happening across the city, I couldn’t physically get myself together to go photograph them. This was the fourth straight day of demonstrations; the gatherings were happening so quickly. and in so many different neighborhoods, it was difficult to get to any specific protest in time.
By June 7th, the stretch of Milwaukee avenue that was ravaged the week prior became a canvas for artists to create murals of protest and support. I spent the following days photographing signs of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. These messages became unavoidable, not just over the next few days but all year long. Chicagoans showed up in massive numbers to support the Black Lives Matter movement during a pandemic. Those who attended the demonstrations were aware of what they were risking but felt that the movement was worth the risk. Every protestor wore a mask and tried to avoid touching others. I had never seen more respect for one another in my life.
On June 14th, a group of high school students organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Hyde Park, supported by teachers from across the city. Later that same day in Boystown, Drag March for a Change replaced the usual Pride Parade with a rally demanding racial equality in LGBTQ+ spaces, specifically in the Drag and Trans communities. The event was attended by tens of thousands of participants.
On the heels of days and days of regular protests, June 19th saw the honoring of Juneteenth, which was also in correlation with other Million Man Marches across the country. Thousands attended this rally. I joined as many rallies and protests as I could, not just to photograph, but to listen and to learn.
This project was intended to be a journey of self-exploration, and it was clear to me that I was indeed on that journey…in more ways than I had ever anticipated.
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.