About the Photographer

Blau, Dick

American, b. 1943

For the Changing Chicago documentary project in the late 1980s, Dick Blau made a series of photographs in places where polka music is played, examining both its links to Chicago's Polish population and the ways in which practitioners adapt the musical tradition in a contemporary context. "The polka party," Blau writes, "is a kind of carnival and can last as long as three days, filled with the breathtaking whirl of the dance… and a special sort of euphoric play that unites performers and audience in a mass improvisation on a set of comic themes central to Polish-American life."

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.

A self-taught photographer, Blau earned a BA in English from Harvard University (1965), and a PhD in American Studies at Yale University (1973). Blau has gone on to research the role of photography and cinema in culture while teaching in the Department of Film at the University of Wisconson, Milwaukee. Blau published a larger photographic study of polka music and its cultural roles in 1992, as the book Polka Happiness, co-authored with Charles and Angeliki Keil.