I decided to start making photographs of the alleys of Chicago(land) the week I moved here from northern Minnesota.
Something about these in-between places draws me in; they are almost never named, vary radically in design and function, and they are totally accessible, but for most of the world, comfortably out of sight. But, as a culture, we share a curiosity about the dark spaces that define the urban environment, yet are simultaneously divorced from normal life.
This ‘something’ is shared by The Backstreet Boys and Tom Waits, and lends a constellation of meaning to phrases like ‘alley cat’, ‘back alley’ and even ‘up your alley’. These were not just smaller streets to store trash and make deliveries, they were clandestine, and because of that, personal—a built-in blind spot. Here is where things get interesting for me: because of these sociocultural associations, alleys themselves physically began representing people’s conceptions of them. Bars were installed over alley doors and windows, and security cameras and bolted to their greasy bricks. The front of a building may go through a dozen remodels in a dozen years, but the alley is left untouched, full of ghost signs and architectural vestiges of the past.
Walking an alley is like reading between the lines of the city, for those that know the language.
Feel free to use the form below to send me questions, comments, corrections, or suggestions: