Esthetic Lens is happy to bring you the September 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 September of 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passes away during an already tense election year and the smoke from California fires makes it all the way to the midwest thus muting the sun for an otherwise spectacular annual downtown light event.
I felt that I had bitten off more than I could chew by February of 2020. I was concerned that the project’s scope was entirely too much to complete in a single year. I rushed through each neighborhood to ensure I would create work in all seventy-seven communities, all the while making time to visit the many events that Chicago offers year-round. Of course, due to the pandemic, the many events that Chicago offers year-round were canceled…nothing I had intended to photograph happened. There were no obstacles for me in creating this project; I thought making work in all seventy-seven neighborhoods would take me the entire year, however, by the end of August, I had reached every community. Making my goal came with a sense of relief; I had put in place a date for a hard stop so that I had the opportunity to review the work I had created, revisit neighborhoods to photograph things that I felt needed representation.
On Labor Day weekend, I returned to the neighborhoods I photographed first, South Deering and East Side. Interestingly enough, the world was completely different from when I first visited in January, and these neighborhoods seemed new to me again.
Though protests were winding down, we hadn’t seen the end of them. On September 5th, sex workers and allies gathered at Millennium park for the Stripper Strike. This rally was to protest strip club owners and managers who had committed acts of racial violence in order to maintain the status quo of the white male patriarchy. The mission of the protestors was to eradicate oppression to facilitate a safe space for everyone to coexist.
On September 18th, long-serving Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87 years old. Citizens across the nation mourn her death; Chicagoans marked her loss by leaving flowers, photos, and chalk messages outside Cedille Records in the Edgewater neighborhood. Her son, James founded the record label in the late eighties. Signs read May her memory be for a revolution, May her memory be a blessing, and Rest now, Justice Ginsburg, We’ve got it from here.
During the spring and fall equinox, Chicago experiences a phenomenon called “Chicago Henge” when the sun is rising and setting between the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago as the streets in the Loop are plotted East-West directly, this phenomenon occurs twice a year.
Just before Chicago Henge, the El Dorado fire that erupted in San Bernardino County, California, that was sparked by pyrotechnics as part of a gender reveal party becomes a part of two dozen other major blazes still burning state-wide. Usually, the sun glares down the city streets, providing an opportunity for beautiful silhouettes and sun flares, however, the smoke in the atmosphere from the El Dorado fires made it’s way all of the way to the Midwest. In the most 2020 of ways, the smoke essentially muted the sun and put a damper on the full experience of Chicago Henge. I felt that positioning the sun at the bottom of the frame and putting emphasis on the skyscrapers was the best way to illustrate this event in the year 2020. The sun felt powerless, quiet, and lonely.
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.