Exhibition showcases history and modern times

The Washington Park Camera Club was founded in 1955 and is the first Black camera club in the city of Chicago. A new exhibit, "South Park Then and Now," showcases the photography of the members. Photo provided by Yvonne Cary
The Washington Park Camera Club was founded in 1955 and is the first Black camera club in the city of Chicago. A new exhibit, "South Park Then and Now," showcases the photography of the members. Photo provided by Yvonne Cary

 Exhibition showcases history and modern times

By Tia Carol Jones
The Washington Park Camera Club uses photography to document the world around the people behind the lens. A digital video exhibition titled “South Park Then and Now” showcases images from the club, juxtaposed with historical images of South Park, which includes Jackson Park, Washington Park and Midway Plaisance.


The Washington Park Camera Club has been around since 1955 and is the first predominantly Black Camera Club in the city of Chicago. The group operates out of the Washington Park Fieldhouse, located at 55th and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.


The club has an archive committee, which it started about three years ago. The goal of the committee was for members of the club to go out and photograph Washington Park and the surrounding community.


“We want to capture as much as we can for future generations of our own camera club. They can go back and see the area that we’re in now and also see the work of the previous members of the club,” said Duane E. Savage, past president of the Washington Park Camera Club.


Washington Park Camera Club was approached by Julia Bachrach, author of “The Olmsted Legacy in Chicago.” The historian who once worked for the Chicago Park District wanted to celebrate the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed South Park, as well as Central Park in New York City and the grounds surrounding the Capitol in Washington, D.C.


Bachrach and the Washington Park Camera Club came up with the idea for the exhibition. Because some of the structures and locations no longer exist, the photographers from the camera club captured the spirit of the historic images.


Washington Park Camera Club worked on the project for about a year. The exhibition is available on the Hyde Park Historical Society website. Savage is pleased with the outcome of the project.


“We had great participation from members of the club. It also allowed us to hone some new skills, doing the pairings, laying the slides out, writing the captions. It was a good experience for us,” Savage said.


The Washington Camera Club is part of the Chicago Area Camera Club Association, which includes 45 camera clubs around the city. There are more than 40 members in the group, which consists of working people and retirees. The club offers instructional guidance, as well as speakers, some of whom were Pulitzer Prize winners. The club meets at 7 p.m. every Tuesday. Since the pandemic, they have been meeting on Zoom, but they are eager to get back to meeting in person.


The Washington Park Camera Club works with the University of Chicago Arts Incubator, which is located at 55th and Prairie Ave. The club hosts events in the space.  Before the pandemic, it was the site of the club’s first public exhibition.


Savage believes it is important to document history through the lens. “It is that infallible look that can’t be denied because it is what was happening at the time. Rather than it being hearsay, it’s like having an eyewitness to tell you, this is how it looked before the Fieldhouse was built, this is how the Fountain of Time looked when it was first erected,” he said.


To view the exhibition, visit https://www.hydeparkhistory.org/blog/south-park-then-and-now. For more information about Washington Park Camera Club, visit https://washingtonparkcameraclub.org.

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