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.
In his 1951 hymn to the city, Chicago: City on the Make, Nelson Algren compared his affection for his adopted home to loving a woman with a broken nose, writing, “you may find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real.” Working in Chicago as a photojournalist since 1948, Art Shay befriended Algren while preparing a pitch for a story on the “prose poet of the Chicago slums” for Life magazine. For the next 15 years Shay documented Algren’s life in Chicago, in particular the neighborhood around the intersection of Damen Avenue and Division Street, where Algren lived and found inspiration for his writing. Here Shay captures Algren in front of the Polonia Bar, the opening location of his famous 1947 short story “How the Devil Came Down Division Street.”
“Here Algren has just emerged from losing yet again in a Division Street poker game. In this game his dealer was the legendary dealer/heroin addict Bill Hackett. Algren’s favorite short story of his Chicago oeuvre was “How The Devil Came down Division Street.” It was a fanciful jaunt of a doomed immigrant alcoholic down a wild street in the Algrenian imagination. “Oncoming evenings” (as Algren called them) were always special for him as a writer. In his classic 1951 essay, Chicago: City on the Make, he limned “the great city’s night colors,” “its ceaseless dramas lived out behind blind doors, and the jargon-tongue of Chicago’s as spoken in our Saturday night dance halls, bookie joints and courts.”’
Currently Off View
- Photography and Media
- Art Shay
- Nelson Algren, by his Favorite Division St. Bar, Chicago
- United States
- Made 1949
- Gelatin silver print
- 28.2 × 24.4 cm
- Restricted gift of the Anstiss and Ronald Krueck Foundation, for Nelson from Anstiss in memory of a wonderful friendship
- © Art Shay