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About the Photographer
American, b. 1954
Jay Wolke embarked on his first large-scale photographic project in 1981, titled Along the Divide (1981-1985). The color photographs in this series revolve around the Dan Ryan Expressway, a multi-lane, heavily trafficked highway that runs through densely populated parts of Chicago. By his own description, Wolke set out to examine the Dan Ryan as a "massive expression of the urban lexicon." His photographs are not simply about the monolithic construction itself, but also the ecosystem of human and industrial elements that has formed around it and in response to it. Wolke trains his lens on such subjects as buildings near the highways, homeless people living under overpasses, drivers in their cars, stranded motorists, and the chaotic aftermath of car accidents.
The Dan Ryan Expressway project paved the way for Wolke’s rigorous approach to large-scale projects in subsequent years. In 1987 Wolke participated in the Changing Chicago Project, one of the largest documentary photography projects ever organized in an American city. Sponsored by the Focus/Infinity Fund of Chicago and launched in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Farm Security Administration documentary project, Changing Chicago was conceived to be a multifaceted record of the city's diverse urban and suburban neighborhoods and the varied ways of life within them. For his contribution, Wolke photographed the activity of Maxwell Street, the city's famous open-air market. The market began in the mid-1800s as the neighborhood emerged as a port of entry for immigrant populations. It was razed in the 1960s, however, to make way for the Dan Ryan Expressway, and ultimately took on a different form with a new generation of pushcarts, vendors, and hustlers by the time Wolke photographed it.
In the mid-1990s, Wolke completed a photographic study, entitled All Around the House (1993-1997), of the communal events and rituals of diverse communities of American Jews. "From its inception," Wolke states, "this photographic project was a generalist proposition, deliberately portraying complex demonstrations of traditional Jewish values as they filtered though the screen of American culture." Wolke's photographs capture the gestures and emotional exchanges of his subjects as they participate in weddings, Passover Seders, Hanukkah celebrations, and Torah readings. All Around the House serves as a visual interpretation of diverse Jewish communities’ responses to ancient rituals evolving within a modern American context.
For his next project, Wolke turned his focus to Mezzogirono, the southern region of Italy, which has a long history of colonization and warfare. Architecture of Resignation (1999-2009) investigates how the landscape becomes an elaborate set of physical, social, and political structures. In images such as Trapani Architecture, Trees (2000) and Architecture, Trees, Gela, Sicily (2000), for example, Wolke looks at the interplay of the built environment and the forms of the natural landscape, shaped to suit human needs and particular aesthetic designs.
Jay Wolke completed a BFA at Washington University, St. Louis (1976) and an MS in Photography at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago (1980). Wolke is a recipient of several grants, including the Illinois Arts Council Grant (1985-1986, 1990-1991, 2005-2006) and the National Endowment/Midwest Arts Alliance Grant (1995-1996). He has exhibited in Italy, Canada, and the United States, and his work is held in many collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Monographs include Along the Divide: Photographs of the Dan Ryan Expressway (2004), All Around the House: Photographs of American-Jewish Communal Life (1998), and Architecture of Resignation: Photographs from the Mezzogiorno (forthcoming in 2011). Wolke is on faculty at Columbia College Chicago.