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Nelson Algren Playing Cards, Chicago

A work made of gelatin silver print.
© Art Shay

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  • A work made of gelatin silver print.




Art Shay
American, 1922-2018

About this artwork

Art Shay is one of Chicago’s great photojournalists. With more than 25,000 published photographs—including more than 1,000 magazine covers—Shay has shaped the way we see the world on the printed page.

Born in the Bronx, Shay took up photography at the age of 12. He served in the U.S. Air Force in World War II, and his first published photographs—of an American military air disaster—were printed in a September 1944 issue of the weekly magazine Look. After the war, he joined Time and Life magazines, writing stories that he occasionally supplemented with his own (uncredited) images. In 1948 he moved to Chicago and took up photography full-time. In the nearly seven decades since, Shay’s camera has documented the famous and the downtrodden, the international and the local, the newsworthy and the intimate.

Of particular significance in Shay’s career was his long friendship with the writer Nelson Algren (American, 1909–1981); the two met in 1949 and collaborated on several books and other projects. Together Shay and Algren roamed Chicago’s neighborhoods to document the lives and culture of the city’s down-and-out, and the photographer’s many pictures of the writer on those forays combine to form a multifaceted portrait.
— Permanent collection label

“Nelson Algren’s addiction to poker, Chicago’s greatest litterateur Herman Kogan and I agreed, cost three, perhaps as many as five unwritten novels. Early on, I’d let Nelson enlist me in one of his poker games. I felt like a sheep about to be shorn by a posse of herders—and I was. They were small stakes games. With Nelson and his friends I would stumble and grumble—and usually drop 10 to 20 bucks—while Algren averaged losses of $5 to $10. It was pleasure in the game itself that he got for his money. One night I was being dealt by Bill Hackett of Saint Louis—the original Frankie Machine of Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm (immortalized by Frank Sinatra in Otto Preminger’s film version of the novel). Hackett, Nelson explained, was both a card dealer and a drug dealer. “He plays and deals to support his habit.”’
—Art Shay


Currently Off View


Photography and Media


Art Shay


Nelson Algren Playing Cards, Chicago


United States (Artist's nationality)


Made 1949


Gelatin silver print


26.1 × 28.4 cm (10 5/16 × 11 3/16 in.)

Credit Line

Purchased with funds provided by Sidney and Sondra Berman Epstein

Reference Number



© Art Shay

Extended information about this artwork

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