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In the Introduction to On City
Streets, Bob Thall of the Photography Department at Columbia College
Chicago explains how Gary Stochl turned up one day in 2004 at his office with a
bag full of photographs, saying he had never shown them to anyone else
before. He had been taking photographs
on the streets of Chicago for that last forty years. Thall looked them over and was immediately struck by their power
and formal qualities. Most of Stochl's
pictures capture people unaware, although occasionally, as in the cover
photograph "State Street 1974," he also uses his subjects' reactions
to him to great effect. He must have
carried his camera with him and taken photographs as he walked around
town. This book has 55 black and white
plates, which is a small number of pictures to represent forty years work, and
Stochl must have thousands of other images.
The ones here show regular people in Chicago, going about their
business. They wear their coats and carry their bags. They look busy, suspicious, or tired. There are no smiles here, and people do not relate to each other. Even when many people are together, each
seems entirely separate from the others.
For example, in "Adams Street near the Sears Tower, 1990" two
people walk toward each other from opposite directions at a street corner. The sun is coming from the left, so the wall
on the left is lit, while the wall on the right is in darkness. The woman on the left is looking down, and
the man on the right is averting his gaze.
Down the middle of the picture is a vertical line dividing them where
the black and white walls join. It
could be two different photographs taped together, and each person is in a
separate world defined by the avoidance of the other. Many other of Stochl's pictures have powerful lines going from
top to bottom or right to left, dividing the people in the frame. Other pictures highlight the alienation of
people even without lines, with each in his or her own universe. These are memorable images, and match the
power of the best photographers of the twentieth century.
© 2005 Christian Perring. All
American Places page of Stochl photographs
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor
of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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