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Nelson Algren, Madison St. Gambling Den

  • Accession Number:
    1984:26
  • Artist:
    Shay, Arthur
  • Date:
    1950
  • Medium:
    Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions:
    image/paper: 11 in x 13 1/2 in
  • Credit Line:
    Gift of Sonia and Theodore Bloch

About the Photographer

Shay, Arthur

American, 1922-2018

One of Chicago's most prolific photographers, Art Shay has published more than 30,000 photographs during his career, which has spanned more than half a century and covered such subjects as John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign, the fights of Muhammad Ali, Hugh Hefner's infamous bedroom office, the last man alive to have seen Abraham Lincoln's corpse, Chicago police clubbing demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and a swan snubbing a pig as they swim.

Some of his favorite photographs, however, are those of Chicago writer Nelson Algren, author of The Man with the Golden Arm and winner of the first National Book Award. Shay and Algren met in 1949 when Shay pitched a story on "the prose poet of the Chicago slums" to his editors at Life magazine. The two men became close friends and spent time roaming near the West Side, encountering addicts, hookers, alcoholics, bums, cops, and hustlers, among many other street characters. The gritty photo essay was never published, but photographs from the series are currently held in many private and public collections. Both passionate about and critical of Chicago, Shay wrote a novel, Never Come Morning, depicting the seedy underbelly of crime and poverty in the city, which was banned by the Chicago Public Library System. After Algren's death in 1981, Shay published Nelson Algren's Chicago, a collection of his photographs from the men's years together as well as accompanying texts. As of 2004, Shay is currently writing Waiting for Nelson, a play depicting the real-life love triangle between Algren, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Art Shay worked first as a reporter and then as a photographer for numerous publications including Life, Fortune, The New York Times, and Sports Illustrated. His photograph of Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev on an Iowa farm won Life magazine's "Picture of the Year" in 1959. Shay has also published several books on photography and sports, including Nelson Algren's Chicago (1988), Album for an Age (2000), and Animals (2002). His play, Where Have You Gone, Jimmy Stewart was produced by Chicago's American Theater Company (ATC) in 2002.