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About the Photographer
American, b. 1949
For the Changing Chicago documentary project in the late 1980s Tom Petrillo photographed in color at the Sears Tower, one of Chicago's most famous landmarks. Rather than portraying its architectural form or its place within the cityscape, as numerous other photographers have, Petrillo focuses on the various people who use the building, examining how they inhabit a space designed to project an image of efficiency and power. Petrillo writes, "The clean, no-nonsense exterior contrasts with the hectic interior, through which 15,000 workers, tourists, delivery people, and transients pass daily. Like the glass surfaces, the occupants both reflect the aspiration and define the isolation of the tower."
One of the largest documentary photography projects ever organized in an American city, Changing Chicago commissioned thirty-three photographers to document life throughout Chicago's diverse urban and suburban neighborhoods. The project was launched in 1987 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the invention of photography and the 50th anniversary of the Farm Security Administration documentary project, which provides its inspirational model. Changing Chicago honors the tradition of the FSA project, but it moved away from its predecessor's ambition of inspiring social change towards the more general goal of providing a nuanced description of the human experience in a particular geographic area. Sponsored by the Focus/Infinity Fund of Chicago, the project was organized with the support of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Chicago Historical Society, and the Chicago Office of Fine Arts, Chicago Public Library Cultural Center. In the spring of 1989 the five institutions mounted concurrent exhibitions devoted to the project.
Born in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, Petrillo completed a BS at Temple University, Philadelphia (1971) and an MFA at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (1973). He has worked as a freelance photographer and has previously taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Over the past fifteen years Petrillo has worked as a business development manager in the graphic arts industry, while continuing to make photographs.