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The White City

A photo essay from a trip to Chicago revealing the toil of unnoticed workers and haunting poverty through black and white photography.

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After the civil war, America experienced a Gilded Age. This industrial period was marked by factories pouring out steel to fuel the building of shining cities and the concentration of great wealth. But under that shallow glitter of gold lay great poverty.

In 1893, during an economic depression, the World’s Fair opened in Chicago, the “White City.” While rich fairgoers rode the Ferris wheel, immigrants and workers wandered the streets in search of work, starving and homeless.

After looking at Chicago in the late 19th century, parallels are found in the modern day. Underneath the skyscrapers are people who have been often left unnoticed and forgotten. America has entered a second gilded age.

 

At the same time as businessmen sit in glass offices, there are masses of overlooked workers who often must do dirty, unappealing tasks. People are often ungrateful for them, who do the worst jobs that keep the city running. These are the people who maintain the city’s gilded facade.

 

An areal shot of the Chicago rail yards showing the vast effort of manpower behind the task of supplying the city with goods to keep it running.

 

At subway stations and on the streets people sweep to keep the city clean. Workers will even pick out garbage from the Chicago River from boats. They are ignored, but if they stopped doing their job, their value would be recognized.

 

At the art institute, security guards have tiresome work, standing all day and protecting artwork from overexcited tourists. One guard explains to a visitor the hidden details of a painting that only come with long hours looking at it. In the institute’s restrooms, workers clean the bathrooms. A woman thanked the worker, and they replied, “Thank you, you wouldn’t believe what other people say, they tell me to hurry up. They can be so rude.”

 

Chicago taxi drivers have a stressful job, being stuck in traffic on the jammed streets all day and constantly hearing the honking of impatient drivers.

 

Window washers work in windy, treacherous conditions. They hang from the glass skyscrapers like spiders in harnesses with giant sponges to make sure the windows are spotless. Here are pictured their ropes.

 

The better off style themselves and work in buildings like the Tribune tower, styled with gothic architecture.

 

At Chicago’s Union station, shoe shiners kneel over the feet of businessmen.

 

There are some who are even less fortunate than the cleaners and garbage collectors: the homeless. We expect them to remain hidden from sight, but in Chicago they rise to haunt those of us who are more fortunate with guilt, only to be greeted with being ignored. 

 

Homeless people find shelter in underpasses from the snow and sleep in the underground subways. At the subway station pictured, a woman in a big, furry pink coat was singing hip-hop and pumping music.

 

In the shadow of the Trump tower, a homeless man sits at the same corner the entire day, in spite of the snow and the wind. On the subway and the streets, some homeless people audibly beg riders and passersby for change. Most people feel afraid, ashamed, and pretend that this poverty doesn’t exist.

 

At millennium park, a homeless man rested on a bench while tourists took pictures next to sculptures. Ironically, the public park was built to celebrate the new Millennium, but inequality still persists in the 21st century.

 

Neighborhoods like the “Gold Coast” have enormous buildings in spite of the fact there are so many homeless in Chicago so visibly in need of help on the streets.

 

On the doorstep of the iconic Chicago theater, sits a homeless man with a sign “Hungry as F_ck” and a woman, after seeing him, buys and brings a meal for him.

 

It is wrong to have ignored the needs of the homeless for so long to the point they become this desperate. Tourists feed the pigeons and seagulls in the city, but why is it so hard to feed and clothe another human being?

The majority of passersby ignore the homeless, but once in a while, someone is brave enough to help.

If history is, in fact, repeating itself, after this second Gilded Age America will step into a second Progressive era. People will call for reform to respond to the suffering of those who often go unnoticed.

 

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The White City