The Arty Semite

A Restless Photographer in Chicago

By David Chesanow

  • Print
  • Share Share
© Art Shay
John F. Kennedy addresses farmers in South Dakota.

From the celebrated to the marginalized, from the heat of a summer antiwar protest to the searing cold of a Windy City winter, Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has been capturing unique, often strikingly ironic images for more than six decades. Thirty two of them, including pictures of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin and Marlon Brando, are currently in display in an exhibit titled “That Was Then” at Chicago’s Thomas Masters Gallery through December 23.

There’s a picture of writer Nelson Algren — who Shay photographed over a 10-year period — waiting for a bus on a rainy Chicago street in 1949. (A Shay photo of Algren graces the jacket of his 1956 novel “A Walk on the Wild Side,” and Shay’s famous shot of Algren’s lover, Simone de Beauvoir, fresh out of a bath, is the subject of a book to be published in Paris next year.)

A characteristically confident Cassius Clay is shown in Louisville, Ky., in 1961 — three years before changing his name to Muhammad Ali — in his locker room the night of his bout with Alex Miteff. (Clay won by a knockout.) There’s a group of welders on a GATX railcar assembly line, blowtorches alight, looking like so many fiery elves at work in a Tolkien fantasy.

At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, the wire-meshed windows of a paddy wagon frame the faces of screaming demonstrators as a gaggle of passersby looks on. And there’s a photo of former Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan in 2010, taken from a three-year series he commissioned after admiring Shay’s book “Chicago’s Nelson Algren,” yukking it up with girlfriend and fellow musician Jessica Origliasso, who smiles beatifically as Corgan holds a tambourine halo-like above his shaved head.

Originally from the Bronx, Shay served as lead navigator aboard a B-24 Liberator in World War II, flying 52 missions over Europe. In San Francisco in 1948, at age 26, he became Life magazine’s youngest bureau chief; he relocated to Life’s Chicago bureau later that year.

The author of more than 50 books, many for children, Shay has taken thousands of photos on assignment for Life, Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and other publications. His work is in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and other institutions.

“Art Shay can’t be pigeonholed into this or that type of photographer,” said Erica DeGlopper, Shay’s archivist. “He doesn’t come with an approach to find a prefigured story: He finds the story. His genius is always on assignment.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Time, Thomas Masters Gallery, Sports Illustrated, Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan, Simone de Beauvoir, Saul Bellow, Photography, Newsweek, New York Times, Nelson Algren, National Portrait Gallery, Muhammad Ali, Marlon Brando, Life, John F. Kennedy, Jessica Origliasso, James Baldwin, Fortune, Erica DeGlopper, David Chesanow, Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Cassius Clay, Bobby Kennedy, Art Shay, Art Institute of Chicago, Alex Miteff, A Walk on the Wild Side

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.