About the Photographer

PoKempner, Marc

American, b. 1948

For the Changing Chicago documentary project, Marc PoKempner photographed daily life in and around Chicago's infamous housing project Cabrini Green. A national symbol for the failures of public housing in the United States, in the 1980s and 1990s the reputation of Cabrini Green was reinforced by stories in the press about gang violence, the illicit drug trade, and teen pregancy, among other topics, with a generally unsympathetic view of its inhabitants. PoKempner writes, "I've worked on these stories for local and national magazines and seen them perpetuate the negative stereotypes of the… underclass criminal lowlifes living off public aid and ill-gotten gains. I took the Changing Chicago project as an opportunity to document the normalcy I found in everyday life in Cabrini." His photographs depict kids playing games on the sidewalk, families spending time together, and ordinary gatherings such as Christmas celebrations. Along with the photographs of various activities, PoKempner made portraits of people in their apartments—many of which defy expectations of what a housing project looks like. Although in some images one still gets a sense of the hardship that comes with daily life in this setting, PoKempner evokes, in a more balanced way, the context of the residents' lives. Demolition of parts of Cabrini Green started in 1995, and the number of residents has decreased from over 15,000 to less than 2,000. The city of Chicago passed a plan in 2000 to demolish nearly all of its high rise public housing projects over the course of ten years.

Marc PoKempner completed the Graduate Progam in Creative Photography with Minor White at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (1969-1970) and received a BA in philosphical psychology from University of Chicago. Since 1972 he has worked as an independent journalist and his photographs have been featured in the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Time, Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, Rolling Stone, and other publications. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago; Chicago Cultural Center; the Peace Museum, Chicago; and HotHouse International Center for Performance and Exhibition, Chicago.