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"CHICAGO AND THE DIANA: TOY CAMERA IMAGES BY DAN ZAMUDIO"|
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Gallery News" January 2011
Chicago Maroon January 10, 2011
A review by Hugh Iglarsh
Dan Zamudio has participated in each of the three Algren exhibits. He uses his vintage
Diana camera, with its plastic lens and uncertain focus, in a Proustian quest to capture
the feel of a swiftly receding past. As Algren wrote nostalgic elegies to the tight-knit
urban village of his youth, so Zamudio presents visually the artifacts of an older communal
order, lingering here and there between dollar stores and Wal-Marts. “Neon signs are
disappearing quickly,” he says, victims of Midwestern winters and the winds of fashion.
He has collected some of what is left. The overlapping words written in light against
the darkness of the Chicago night are like frames from a classic film noir. The pictures are
jazzy evocations of a pre-television age, when every neighborhood had its little Broadway
and Chicago after dusk was indeed a neon wilderness.
"CHICAGO IN BLACK AND WHITE"
A review by Hugh Iglarsh
To use a toy “Diana” camera, with it’s cloudy plastic lens and guesswork viewfinder, is
to gamble with light and space-creating a certain parallel between photographer Dan
Zamudio and Nelson Algren. But Zamudio wins more often at the developing tray than
did Algren at the poker table. Influenced directly by Algren’s writings and also by Art
Shay’s photo essays, Zamudio creates small-scale monuments to a disappearing city:
Algren’s “neon wilderness” of dark streets and alleys punctuated by glowing, blinking
appeals to drown one’s sorrow inside.
Several shots are of landmarks that graced their neighborhood for generations, such as
the gigantic “THIRSTY?” sign that flashed its message of liquid relief in Jefferson Park
for more than 70 years, until torn down last fall at the prompting of an uptight city that
wants it’s signs flat and it’s vices discreet. And there’s DeMar’s coffee shop on Chicago
Avenue, which is still there, holding out in a neighborhhod that’s trending yuppie. “I know
it’s going to be gone soon”, says Zamudio of his efforts to document this modest landmark.
“Back porches are disappearing, too- and whole blocks of frame houses are just being
wiped out for new buildings that have no character.”
West division Street in the 1950’s was known as “Polish Broadway.” Then the neon had
an appealing brashness, like a shiny plaid suit. In today’s postmodern city, the old flash is
cultivated as a nostalgia trip for hipsters seeking to escape the colorless, shadowless space
of the strip mall and parking lot. Zamudio’s city is gray and its elements lack sharp definition.
His photos are less about the things themselves than the threatened urban ecosystem they
occupy. The old industrial city depicted here was no Shangi-La, but it had what the
photographer refers to as a “lived-in” quality, in contrast to the oddly grim affluence of
Wicker Park’s new loft and condo complexes. There are stories within these intimate
photos- stories and characters and memories. They’re meant to be “reminiscent of your
grandparents’ photo album,” says Zamudio. Their bittersweet tone, seasoned with on
offhand humor, deserves the adjective Algrenesque.
by Hugh Iglarsh and Warren Leming
Dan Zamudio's photos are tiny windows into a disappearing present, the once-ubiquitous
Chicago of grimy corner diners and faded boarding houses. It is the fraying working-class
fabric of a gentrifying city. Shot over the past year and a half, these black and white photos
seem infinitely older, casting the soft focus of nostalgia over an environment slipping away
before our eyes. The rusting vintage automobiles caught by his dime store "Diana" camera
with its cloudy lens could be stuffed bison shabbily commemorating an ancient vanished
"All that's solid melts into air," wrote Marx about capitalism's dance of creative destruction.
Here we see the process in action, the great meltdown of place and history into the
blankness of so-called "real" estate.
"The character of the city is going," says Zamudio. "I have to save what I like." The
imperfection of his plastic camera makes it perfect for his warts-and-all mission. "What
you see and what the camera sees can be totally different," he says."You just let go of
control." It's at these moments of Zen-like relinquishment that the present moment
wavers and the city tells its own story.