Esthetic Lens is happy to bring you the August 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 August of 2020, the protests had subsided somewhat, but a tornado tore through the north side neighborhoods leaving a lot of damage in its wake.
August of 2020, a city that is constantly reborn was on pause; in a city full of life, there was no life to be found. Movie posters for the same bad Jim Carrey movie with coming February 24th, 2020 remained on display at bus stops; graffiti found across the city served as the fingerprints of ghosts.
This project was not only the therapy I needed to get me through this roller coaster of a year, it also contributed to my anxiety throughout the year. I thought about the work constantly, so much so that I could not sleep at least twice a week. During the summer, I had a rule, if I couldn’t fall asleep by 12:30 or 1 am, I would get up and shoot throughout the night. I found some peace driving around through the warm summer city nights and into the morning.
For the first time in 20 years, Chicago was new to me again albeit in a completely opposite way from when I moved to the city. I was not dodging bike messengers downtown; drunk baseball fans were not peeing in my yard; the nights were quiet. My nights driving around the city allowed me to reflect on my time here; from swimming in the lake at 4 am on a warm summer night to belt sander races being held in my neighbor’s lawn in Pilsen. I started to recall forgotten childhood memories… When I was asked to create a Diorama in 5th grade of any state in the U.S., why did I choose Illinois? Wouldn’t a 5th grader prefer a state that packs a better punch? Maybe California, Hawaii, Alaska, Florida? Why did I have SO MANY Chicago White Sox and Cubs shirts? Why were my parents’ life-long Chicago Bears fans and my brother a life-long Chicago Bulls fan? Why was my favorite band Chicago’s beloved Smashing Pumpkins? Maybe Chicago had a hold on me this whole time? I asked myself, “Is this fate or just a series of coincidences?”
“I’d rather be a lamppost in Chicago than a millionaire in any other city.”–
William A. Hulbert
On August 10th, I boarded the only flight I took all year. I took a short trip to Los Angeles to shoot an album cover for the ska/punk band Goldfinger. As I monitored the weather that day, a fast-moving, intense storm was approaching. I luckily got on an early flight, and when I landed in LA and looked at my social media feed, a derecho storm had plowed through the city. This storm had torn off roofs, downed power lines, and destroyed thousands of trees; the coverage of it flooded my news feed. An EF-1 tornado touched down in Rogers park before spinning out onto Lake Michigan and morphing into a waterspout. It was the first time since 1976 that a twister with comparable power had plowed through the city. When I returned a few days later, the neighborhoods were still littered with fallen trees, demolished cars, and downed power lines. I spent the next few days following the storm’s path on the north side, visiting North Park, West Ridge, and Rogers Park.
August gave us a temporary break from Protests, extreme COVID concerns, and political unease, giving me space to realize that what I was looking for in my image— emotion, a hard thing to portray in a photograph when there are no people present.
His Chicago2020 site can be found here.