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!
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • 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.