“Walking around here now is very, very surreal,” says longtime Chicago photographer and filmmaker Tom Palazzolo. He is walking past the Rainforest Café’s giant frog sign at Clark and Ohio streets in the River North neighborhood.
Today, River North offers a trendy mix of restaurants, bars and galleries. But it wasn’t always that way, especially along one stretch of Clark Street, from the Chicago River north to Chicago Avenue.
Palazzolo lived at the intersection of Clark and Hubbard from 1962 to 1972 and captured the area like few others.
“You know, it was colorful, I guess,” he said. “It had lots of bars. Almost every corner, if it didn’t have a greasy spoon it had a bar. There were at least two, maybe three burlesque houses.”
He moved into the area when he was a 25-year-old student at the School of the Art Institute. “(I was) taking a photo class and looking for subject matter. And there it was, right outside the door,” he said.
Palazzolo was inspired by early photographers like Lewis Hine, who used their work to shine a light on people facing poverty and injustice.
“They were very sympathetic to them and I was interested in following that kind of tradition,” he said. “Of being not exactly a muckraker, but someone who showed a little interest and compassion for people who were on the lower end of society.”
Palazzolo went on to be known primarily as an experimental filmmaker, turning his lens on the grittier sides of Chicago.
Now many of his Clark Street photos have been collected into a new book called “Clark Street.”
Palazzolo is no lover of mega-retailer Amazon, so his book is only available at a few independent books stores – and just one store sells it online.