A collection of Gary Cialdella's photographs of an area that begins in southern Chicago, and ends somewhere in Northwest Indiana, has just been published in a new book. This book of photographs took me a long time to digest, mainly because I know the Calumet region and was not very familiar with this sort of documentary photography. I don't know the area quite as well as Gregg Hertzlieb, editor and contributing essayist for this book, but I have spent enough time in the area to be familiar with the subject matter. It isn't easy to look at photograph after photograph of things you've seen before, all taken in black and white from a six foot eye level. It becomes monotonous and tiring after a while, but I am beginning to understand that there is a lot more here than was originally able to see.
Like I said, I'm familiar with the iconic images of the area, single family homes and industry not only on the same block but often on the same plot of land. These photos show urban decay, liquor and cigarette ads, war memorials, Baptist churches, train tracks and dozens of other "American" images. Upon further inspection though you are not looking only at a region you are looking at individuals. Individuals are making choices about their lawn ornamentation that lend insight into the diversity of the region. On top of that, we are lead through this region so thoughtfully by the editors that we are almost unaware of how much knowledge we are actually receiving from the photographs. Insights into daily struggles, and even inner city infrastructure begin to make themselves known after spending some time studying the work.
There is something very special about these photographs, and I have a feeling it is the relationship between the area being photographed and the photographer. A lot of what has been photographed in this book is gone now, that fact alone will entice locals to reminisce over long loved, and long since lost, local buildings and memories. This is a book you will want to spend time with, like the images of Paris by Eugène Atget we are shown a spirit of this region in a time of change.
But what about people that have never stepped foot into the Calumet region. Well in his essay Gary said
"To this day, I go out of my way to drive through the Region and take it in. Like so much of America, it is both sad and hopeful. I see the Region as a unique place, but I see it also as a metaphor for the contemporary American landscape. Calumet is a real place, and it is home
When Gary says Calumet is real, he is right. This is where the heart of the steel Industry was, and the only reason it is not as bad as Detroit is because of Chicago. As blue collars become white all across America, we need to look to Detroit and the Calumet Region in order to remember what happens when we believe what we are told. We need to remember happiness is what you make it every day and all of that is very important in spending time with this book. The photographs herein were taken over a span of more than twenty years, and although that is nothing in terms of time, it is more than double the amount of time you would need to make significant changes in a neighborhood today.
Gary is taking us on a tour of his neighborhood, a neighborhood that has changed, and even if we have never visited the area, we have been, and will continue to be effected by that change.