Esthetic Lens is happy to bring you the November 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 November of 2020, Ryan returns to Chicago after photographing other parts of the country during a very tense election season. With Halloween canceled, all eyes are on the election; a post-Thanksgiving outing leads him to a surprising discovery.
I returned from my three-and-a-half-week road trip just in time for Halloween. Like everything else in 2020, it was canceled. In place of Halloween, were the signs and efforts encouraging citizens to vote. Halloween and Autumn themed voting signs were everywhere. Four years of political anxiety led up to November 3, election day. My goal was to capture scenes of the day and portraits of voters. Due to the pandemic, most people voted by mail or voted early. Election day itself ended up being a quiet day around the city. After midnight, Trump announced that he had won the election and demanded that all vote-counting stop, alleging voter fraud. With millions of votes still not counted, mainly due to mail-in voting, no news organization would declare a presidential winner.
A day later, on November 4, the U.S. becomes the first country in the world to exceed 100,000 daily cases of COVID-19.
After days of waiting, on November 7th, Joe Biden secured enough electoral college votes to win the presidency. Chicagoans across the city rejoice!
On November 17, citizens are also urged not to gather for Thanksgiving to prevent the virus from spreading.
I initially intended to take November 27, the day after Thanksgiving, off from shooting for the project. I was proud of the progress I had made, and I felt like I needed a break. When I woke early, without any possibility of getting back to sleep and with the guilt of knowing the project would wrap up soon, I set out to create more work.
Without a solid plan, I decided to travel to the southside neighborhood of Washington Heights. It was an incredibly foggy morning. As I was aimlessly driving up and down streets, I noticed that the fog seemed curiously thicker down one road. I went around the block to uncover why this phenomenon occurred, which is when I discovered a house on fire. It was early, the day after Thanksgiving, so no neighbors had noticed it or called the fire department. It was surreal to uncover a house on fire in the middle of a city neighborhood, with no one else paying any attention to it. I immediately called 911; shortly after, a neighbor came outside with her dog. The Chicago Fire Department arrived a few minutes later. I helped the initial few firefighters where I could but then kept my distance. Later that day, I was baffled as I reflected on the series of events that took me directly to that house. On a day I had not even planned to shoot, I chose a neighborhood at random and managed to drive directly to that house at the exact right time. It appeared to be an electrical fire in a place that was being renovated. No one was injured in the fire.
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.