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 had been a hobo in the ’30s, riding the rails and dodging the railroad police from town to town in the Southwest, once landing in jail for 90 days for “borrowing” a typewriter. It helped solidify his feelings about jail and about thievery, about crimes such as “mopery with intent to creep.” About life in the shadows. In his near northwest side Chicago neighborhood, Algren often wandered the vacant lots and side streets. He loved the everyday sideshow nature of street life. The kind of frolicking he’s shown doing in this picture, he said, mimicked his long ago railroad yard contortions, evading the railroad police. “They all had billy clubs and their orders were to free the rails, the boxcars and the yards from bums like me.”’
- Currently Off View
- Photography and Media
- Art Shay
- Novelist Nelson Algren in Local Railway Yard, Chicago
- United States (Artist's nationality)
- Made 1949
- Gelatin silver print
- Image/paper: 33.3 × 27 cm (13 1/8 × 10 11/16 in.)
- Gift of the artist
- © Art Shay