Summer at Luma: Three Photography Exhibitions

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday July 20, 2017

Wendi, Illinois Circle Pigeon Hill 1990
Wendi, Illinois Circle Pigeon Hill 1990  

The luxurious Loyola University Museum of Art offers a triptych of work, "Summer at Luma: Three Photography Exhibitions," featuring photography in a variety of forms.

"Pigeon Hill: Then and Now"

In the late '80s and early '90s, Jeffrey Wolin was an art professor University of Indiana, Bloomington, uneasily collocated near the Pigeon Hill housing project. He made large-scale black-and-white prints of the mostly white, low-income residents.

He learned that one of his subjects had been murdered, so he returned between 2010 and 2015 to re-photograph over 100 people, and to record the changes in their lives.

The result is the riveting "Pigeon Hill: Then and Now," paired portraits accompanied by narratives written in metallic ink at the bottom of each print. A 2014 video also features eight interviews.

The stories are as powerful as the images. "My dad bounced when my mom was pregnant," one said, and a woman talked about getting a new tattoo to cover the initials of old boyfriends. Tina, who didn't know she was pregnant when the photo was taken, had a miscarriage right after.

One boy showed a chest full of chicken pox scars after an outbreak hit the entire neighborhood.

Junior's transgender transition into Shannon is recorded in picture and story.

Most subjects tell of alcohol and drug addiction, of violence and truancy -- in retrospect, many wished they had stayed in school -- of mental illness and bipolar disorder. Carl said, "I always had what I needed before [my dad] got what he wanted, two cases of beer and a fifth of whiskey a night."

Many started getting arrested when they were young and ended up in jail for one or more stints, or in group homes or halfway houses. A biker says, "When I have to, I sleep in a ditch."

An African-American man took the photo of his shot-up leg to the prosecutor. His attacker was sentenced to eight years, but only served a year and a half.

There's an imperative discomfort in Wolin's work, a pendulum between photojournalism and voyeurism made starker by the mostly well-heeled white viewers at the opening. Are we bearing witness to stories that might never be told, or that might be lost, like one female subject who lost everything when her drunken partner set their trailer on fire? Or are we clucking, "There but for the grace of God go I?"

The exhibit is mostly heartbreaking, as some have remained marginalized and poor. But it's also hopeful, even when looking at the pain and trauma of neglected and abandoned children.

Crystal said, "I really raised myself," and Jamie, wearing her one and only dress, said of her childhood, "That's where I learned to pretend."

"Responsive Beauty"

Michelle Murphy, although she recently received her MFA from Chicago's School of the Art Institute, worked as a NASA photographer for more than a decade. She successfully blends a scientific eye with whimsy and feminism, deconstructing beauty products into color blocks and component parts, much as Petrarchan poets would break women into piecemeal lips, teeth and cheeks.

Murphy's "Responsive Beauty" installation offers wall installations and photos including an array of eyes -- shadow, liner, and lashes -- and one piece, "Imperfect Didactic Palette," arranges blocks of color assigned, as in the drug store, to be applied to base, crease, and lid.

Her refractions cause reflections, noting the "triangular relationship between consumer culture, the billion-dollar beauty industry, and the wage disparity between men and women." Making mundane makeup into a tool, the now-unrecognizable pieces start to look alternately micro- and macroscopic, a galaxy of minutiae.

She says "by mixing forms of arts and methods for examining science, I seek to open pathways to lesser known histories. My point of view is political... Imagining awkwardness and failure is a strategy to disrupt perfect grids, sharp focus and competitive nature of capitalist systems."

To see "women's wear" repurposed makes a science out of subjugation, and attempts to put infinity in the palm of your hand, or the corner of your eye.

"Searching for Jehanne - the Joan of Arc Project"

While in France, Chicago-based Susan Aurinko visited a chateau where Joan of Arc lived, then returned to photograph the saint's other haunts as well. Inside ornate gilt frames, Aurinko superimposes statuary or photos of real girls - some of whom were in attendance at the opening - over buildings and architectural features for her "Searching for Jehanne - the Joan of Arc Project." It felt appropriate to genuflect with a French icon on Bastille Day.

The tripartite Summer at LUMA exhibition runs through October 21 at The Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michigan Ave. in Chicago. Admission is free until November 11. For information, call 312-915-7600 or visit

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at