The Design Observer Group

Posted 04.30.10

Bill Guy

Take Me To

Dreams in the dusk,
Only dreams closing the day
And with the day's close going back
To the gray things, the dark things,
The far, deep things of dreamland.
Carl Sandburg, from the Chicago Poems, 1916

Downtown Chicago is a complex landscape, with distinct qualities of light, space and scale. I am interested in how Chicagoans are framed by this landscape, how they use the landscape and how it in turn affects them. Take Me To seeks to describe both urban landscape and urban psychology.

Downtown Chicago is also a dark landscape, and in this series I've chosen to work in black-and-white, which reduces the urban scene to the play of light and shadow. In winter the sun sets in the late afternoon, at around 4 o'clock, and the long shadows cast by the setting sun, and the tall buildings that crowd out the sky, can make the streets feel cavernous. Built structures shape the light; shadows contrast with human forms and can seem themselves like forms.


The city can arouse feelings of anonymity and maybe even alienation. Many of the people in these images seem lost in thought, detached somehow from their surroundings. I often mask or obscure a person's identity through the use of shadow or distance to emphasize this detachment, and I am interested in how human figures can heighten awareness of scale. Storefront displays and media images abound in downtown Chicago, as in most cities, and here I look for mannequins and advertising images that also contribute to our perception of scale, or to feelings of anonymity.

Despite the many attractions of downtown, I tend to experience it not in contemplation but in motion. But while Take Me To emphasizes a kind of urban restlessness — even the title evokes movement with no discernible purpose — the process of photography becomes for me an opportunity to slow down, to stop and study, and maybe alter my perception.