While Chicago’s streets offer photographers a cold, hard portrait of the city’s citizens, the city beaches deliver its vivid inverse. Each year Chicagoans emerge from an extended winter, pale and restless, and migrate east, to Lake Michigan. The quick burst of summer is like mating season, inviting only the bravest sociologist to observe the carnal, freeform play. Charles H. Traub clearly gained the confidence of the revelers—despite the vignette borders of his pictures, which evoke a peephole voyeur—who preened, paraded, and showed off their goods, close up, for his camera. Traub’s vintage, black-and-white Beach series (on view through August 25) is over 36 years old, but exhibitionism is a ceaseless pleasure; the photographs look as fresh as a sunburn.
Traub certainly had a taste for the grotesque. He focused on a groin’s five-o’clock stubble, muscles contorted in mid-dive, aggressive kiss scenes, and unabashed open-air vanity. His shadow is often cast creepily over his sitter. Although Traub studied with Aaron Siskind at the Illinois Institute of Design, his base animals are the antithesis of Siskind’s sublime divers. A decade after Traub’s Beach series, Doug Ischar took to the same water and photographed a newly emergent homosocial beach community. While Ischar’s compositions recall classical bather scene, Traub’s are a full-out beach bacchanal. The same year that Traub published the Beach series, he founded what is now the Museum of Contemporary Photography, thereby institutionalizing a visual history of Chicago, the city’s photography legacy, and his own.
Published in Photograph (August, 2012)