“A sense of place” usually conjures feel-good scenes on picture postcards, or the rhapsodies of nostalgia-laced coffee-table books. It certainly isn’t a term that springs to mind when you’re talking hip-hop. But for photographer Michael Schmelling, who spent the past year poking his camera into Chicago’s grass-roots music scene, “place” is the crucible of creativity. And with “Your Blues,” opening at the Museum of Contemporary Photography this month, the River Forest native offers his view on the artists and audiences who keep the city rocking.
Untitled (Delmark_1432), 2013
While Schmelling, whose past subjects range from Kanye West to Wilco, isn’t out to play sociologist, as a documentarian he has long been curious about how a setting shapes individuals. “When I was in high school, I would drive down to Maxwell Street and photograph,” says the LA-based photographer. “I’ve always loved going to a place and trying to figure out what that environment says and how it affects people there.”
Untitled (Jimmy Whispers_37)
Catching shows in basements and people’s homes—as many as six a night—and photographing the likes of Heavy Times, Lucki Eck$, and The Funs, Schmelling came away from his project with a sense of the city as a “really fluid, supportive scene, with a lot of crossover among genres. I’ve gone to shows where there’s a hip-hop artist on the bill along with an indie-rock band and a footwork DJ. With all the outlets and resources, bands can really live out their creative lives in Chicago.” October 16-December 21, Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan Ave., 312-663-5554