These prints are from the Wilco/Chicago Series, made during the making of Wilco's album 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'
6x6" image on 11.5x14"
Archival Pigment Print
Signed and numbered by the artist
Edition of 100
Music can do so many things to the brain. It can shape our emotions, bring an idea into sharper focus, or suggest environments or even whole worlds. When I first heard the early demos that would become 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot', I was the passenger in a car being piloted by Jeff Tweedy, who also has strong feelings about the power of music. We were driving around Chicago, because Jeff said, “these songs sound best in the car, where the view is moving and changing.” As I let the music wash over me, I also took in the passing landscape—Midwest apartment buildings, Lakeshore Drive, bridges, old concrete structures mixed with modern architectural behemoths, and Lake Michigan, always a presence--framing the city and spilling between the buildings at every turn.
I associated this first drive, and the unique Chicago cityscape, with 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot', and the two became forever meshed in my mind. I can’t see the city without hearing the songs in my head, and when I listen to the album, the city looms in my subconscious.
I decided to recreate this drive for the opening credits of my Wilco documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. I wanted the city to play a character in the telling of the story, and I believed that Chicago had a big influence on Jeff as well. To a kid from Belleville, Illinois, Chicago is the big city where dreams are made and broken, and yet it is a bit of an afterthought compared to New York and Los Angeles, where most of the music business is centered. As Wilco broke ties with their record company and set out on their own path, Chicago seemed like a sympathetic environment that fit the band’s story very well.
Throughout the process of filming the documentary, I took many photographs of the band. Some of these sessions turned into scenes that made it into the film, including the slow motion sequence on the lake near the Adler Planetarium. I also made a lot of pictures of the city, attempting to capture its unique character. I would try to capture the way the sun bounced off the water and caught the buildings. I liked looking up as I rode the riverboats and marveling at the spectacle of 50 story buildings that seemed to grow right out of the river. I liked the levels of the city too-- roads that rose from lake level and curved upwards over Lake Shore Drive, creating vistas that were polar opposites of each other- to the left, only water as far as the eye could see. And to the right, a line of skyscrapers loomed. I liked the way the Midwest trees let just enough sun through to create a flickering movie as life passed by out the window of a car.
So I would drive around and make pictures. I would take my camera on tourist boats and find a seat on the top level, accompanied by a Mamiya RZ67 and a Chicago Hot Dog. I would go out to Northerly Island and look back at the city at dusk, watching the sun sink behind the skyline. (I loved that view so much I put a time lapse of it in the movie). I would ride the L Train and point my camera out of the dirty windows, waiting for a magic accident to occur between all those layers of glass: the buildings, the train, and the lens itself creating millions of reflections, refractions, flares, and mirrors.
Jeff ended up feeling a connection between the images and the music, and used the photographs in the album art, forever solidifying the connection between those original 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' demos, and the cityscape that played host to that first listen. I remember I was riding a tourist boat one morning, and was soaking in some early spring Chicago sun, when I noticed some very strange buildings. I was practically underneath them when I craned my head back and made the photograph of the Marina City Towers, or “corn cobs.” Jeff loved the minimalist image, and it became the cover. And I suppose it said everything he wanted to say about Chicago-it was bold, beautiful construction that suited the Midwest perfectly: maybe overlooked in the canon of architectural wonders, but quite sublime and breathtaking.
For the first time I have gone back through these images and made some of my favorite ones into a series that evokes memories of that year in Chicago, and of that album. There are many more, but these six seemed to fit with each other in a way that made sense to me. I am pleased to share them with you all.
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