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Mikki Ferrill

Black-and-white photo of a woman dancing. She is wearing pants and heels, and bends over with her arms stretched in front of her. A man in a suit stands in the background.
Valeria “Mikki” Ferrill. Untitled, 1972, from the series “The Garage,” 1970/80. National Docent Symposium Endowment.
Also known as
Valeria Ferrill
Date of birth

A member of a network of black photojournalists working on Chicago’s South Side in the 1960s and ’70s, Valeria “Mikki” Ferrill gained recognition through her work for periodicals such as Ebony, Downbeat, and the Chicago Defender. Born in Chicago, Ferrill studied advertising design and illustration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She turned to photography after meeting Ted Williams (American, 1925–2009), a fellow South Side photojournalist who became known for his photographs of jazz musicians. As Williams’s protégé, Ferrill accompanied him on assignments in Mexico from 1967 to 1970. She returned to Chicago in 1970 and, while working as a freelance photojournalist, began a decade-long project documenting a music venue known as the Garage.

The Garage was an improvised music club that popped up every Sunday in a car garage located at 610 East 50th Street in Chicago. Ferrill, known at the venue as “The Picture-Taking Lady,” photographed these events regularly for ten years, creating images that demonstrate a relaxed relationship between her and her subjects—members of a close-knit community who saw the Garage as a space for the uninhibited personal expression of black identity. This approach became a hallmark of her career as she created in-depth studies of various communities on Chicago’s South Side. A portfolio of images from the Garage was included in the first volume of The Black Photographers Annual (1973), a seminal publication that highlighted the work of African American photographers. In that publication Ferrill wrote, “Whether it be Maxwell Street Market or a market in San Luis, Potosi, Skokie, Bronzeville, or a west side tavern, I believe ‘every man his own candle, and sees by his own flame.’ I hope only to be able to continue to work without compromise.” 

Ferrill’s work was featured in the 2018 exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, a survey of photographers and filmmakers who worked in neighborhoods across the city from the 1950s through the 1970s. Read more about Ferrill on the Art Institute’s blog.

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