Esthetic Lens is happy to bring you the July 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 July of 2020, summer had to be renegotiated. Protests continued to happen throughout the city; statues were removed in the dead of night and baseball attempted a truncated season.
Chicagoans live for summer, and summer 2020 was canceled. By July, our lives had completely shifted to a cyber-reality. All birthday parties were held via zoom; concerts were streaming live on Facebook or Instagram, even graduations were virtual. I joined virtual reality gallery exhibitions, online artist talks, and listened to every podcast I could possibly think of.
July 3rd, 2020 saw the final day of the legendary Vienna Beef factory in Logan Square.
When I moved to Chicago, I spent the first six years living in the Pilsen neighborhood. During this time span, I celebrated a number of 4th of July holidays in this largely Hispanic neighborhood. Pilsen is, to this day still one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. I intentionally waited until the 4th of July to photograph there as I have fond memories of how patriotic the Hispanic community living there is. Pilsen did not disappoint, by the crack of dawn fireworks were screeching across the sky, American flags blanketed the neighborhood, and symbols of patriotism shined. One of my favorite shots from the project is of a traditional Chicago lawn, where a bald eagle is spread across a cement wall, the sun shining through the trees, and caution tape hangs across the patio.
Later that day, a black lives matter rally was hosted by an organization of skateboarders called “No Breaks.” As one sign said, “This is [protesting] the most patriotic thing anyone is doing today.”
On July 12th, I made my way to Hyde Park early in the morning. Access to the lakeshore was off-limits for most of the year in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus by preventing people from gathering. While I was scouting earlier that week, I found a location in Hyde Park where I could get past the fence that was blocking access to the lake. As luck would have it, I watched an impressive storm make its way across the lake and towards the city. With my camera in place, it was as if Mother Nature was putting on a show for me and only me.
The MLB announced its shortened, 60-game season. Pre-season games were held at Wrigley Field, on July 19th, and Guaranteed Rate Field, on July 20th. No fans were in attendance, and almost no fans were anywhere near the stadiums. Each game hosted the other hometown team.
In July, political unrest and social injustice continued to flare. The next target was the 15th-century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus – a symbol of hope for generations of Italian Americans but loathed by some who saw the statues of him as monuments celebrating white supremacy. The Grant Park statue of Columbus had been a regular target of vandals after George Floyd’s death. The situation escalated in July when hundreds of protesters converged at the park, some of them tried to tear it down. Police in riot gear were dispatched to protect the statue and disperse the crowds. Mayor Lori Lightfoot originally argued against taking down the statues, but then – citing concerns over demonstrations becoming “unsafe for both protesters and police” – did exactly that. Under the cover of night, all three of the city’s Columbus statues were eventually removed.
On July 25th, 2020, a massive Black Lives Matter protest was set to gather in downtown Chicago. Although it was among the larger protests of the summer, it was mainly peaceful. The balancing act of attending and photographing protests, negotiating a pandemic, all the while maintaining enough energy to continue this project became my own personal “new normal”.
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.