Peter Byrne of Swans has a new essay -- about literature, Chicago and about the pulsing currents of urban living that turned the gathering places of down-and-outs into what passes for the city's own Bohemian quarter. As Byrne puts it, in an ode to the work of Nelson Algren: " Artiness has moved in where Algren found space conducive to making art precisely because there was no art around."
Byrne continues with close observations about Art Shay, who worked closely with Algren:
Art Shay in all this is a voice from the past that won't stop talking back to the present. As a photographer his place is secure in the royal line that goes through Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Walker Evans. But he is not so stolid as Brandt, so lyrical as Cartier-Bresson, or so static as Evans. He is also less sentimental than almost anybody -- including Algren, who had a soft spot for any hooker with a hard luck story.
In the heyday of press photography, Shay was a stalwart of Life, Time, and Sports Illustrated, among others. He has always been willing to give center stage, as at the Rainbo, to his friend Algren. But anyone familiar with Shay's work knows that his photos of the writer are only a small part of his vast production. Shay's world, moreover, has always been wider and more aglow with joie de vivre than the darker planet Algren inhabited.
Click to read the full Byrne essay in Swans Commentary.