Through a lens
Jack Lane takes us back to Chicago's 'Saloon Society'
Former Chicago Photographer Jack Lane, with a photo of a girl whose glasses reflect O'Rourke's, opens an exhibit of photographs he took in the '70s at Chicago watering holes such as O'Rourke's and Ricardo's, at the Lubeznik Center. (Charles Osgood/Tribune Newspapers / January 12, 2010)
Photography remains a mysterious art form to me. Yes, I am capable, as are most of you, of snapping a picture with my phone. But when I see a great photo, I know it immediately and I know that I do not take great photos.
A couple of weeks ago I saw many great photos at the opening of an exhibit in the handsome Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City, Ind. They were the work of Jack Lane, and the exhibit was titled "Saloon Society Chicago Style," a visual trip back to O'Rourke's, a North Avenue saloon that flourished as a hangout and a home for writers, actors, and other assorted artists and characters from 1966 into the late 1980s.
To see Lane's work (much of which is also in a new book of the same title as the show, which runs through Feb. 13) is to hear the sound of ice tinkling in glasses and of voices in a bar, some loud and contentious, others dreamy and lonely.
One of those voices is that of Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic for the Sun-Times. He was a lively, perhaps the liveliest, member of O'Rourke's gang. He stopped drinking more than 30 years ago but has written lovingly of his days of wine (actually Johnnie Walker Black, if misty memory serves) and O'Rourke's.
Though he lost his ability to speak after a series of operations a few years ago, he can write (boy, can he write), and on his must-read site (blogs.suntimes.com/ebert), he writes, "O'Rourke's was our stage, and we displayed our personas there nightly."
Lane spent most of his professional career as a commercial photographer and he always had a camera with him when out and about. Most of the faces in his photos will be familiar only to those of us who frequented the bar. But there are also the faces of Mel Brooks, Charlton Heston and Tom Wolfe, and of those two pillars of Chicago, Mike Royko and Nelson Algren, though neither could be called a regular. They had other, dearer haunts, among them the bygone Riccardo's, which is also in the show and book.
Lane has subtitled his book "The Years of Living Dissolutely" and they were, and many did not survive them.
Algren's long gone but in a weirdly wonderful confluence, his great pal Art Shay's exhibit opened Friday at the Thomas Masters Gallery at 245 W. North Ave., a block east of what was once O'Rourke's (now a Flat Top Grill). "That Was Then" is the name of the show, which runs through Dec. 23 and features many of his finest black and white photographs.
Some of those at Shay's event had likely just come from celebrating the work of John White at a reception for his exhibition, "Keep in Flight," through Feb. 28 at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St.The Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Sun-Times is a lovely person who says, "I like to think I am a visual servant, that God blesses me with the 'eye' to see His glory."
Amen to that.