Art & Museums

Review: CityFiles Press Photography Books Bring History into Focus

CityFiles Press is a small publishing company based in Chicago that has been producing books filled with stunning photography along with compelling text. Since its inception in 2003, co-publishers Michael Williams and Richard Cahan have created 20 books and many of them have a strong Chicago focus. Cahan, a former photo editor for the Sun-Times and former director of the CITY 2000 project, and Williams, a photographer and designer, have been working together for two decades.

The photography and text in their books not only explore social/political issues, but also the subtle nuances of everyday life. The number of titles they have published is quite a remarkable feat considering how the publishing industry has suffered economic losses over the years. And despite the economic challenges of running a publishing company in this present climate, CityFiles Press has remained true to their mission statement which is “to produce meaningful projects that have emotional and artistic impact.”

Here is a sampling of some of the books they offer:

Obama: Uncommon Grace

President Barack Obama gathers his thoughts at the White House in 2016 before speaking about the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Photograph by Pete Souza. From Barack Obama: Uncommon Grace, an e-book exclusive.

Barack Obama: Uncommon Grace is their latest publication (published in 2020) and it’s the first book that they are offering as an e-book. This book gives us an intimate look at the Obama presidency through the eyes of all seven White House photographers who documented his years in office. The 300 photographs tell the story of Obama’s role as world leader, touching family scenes with Michelle and his two daughters, as well as numerous photos of the former president being at ease when meeting with people from different walks of life. Many of the photos in this book have never been published before. Readers may feel as if the book is narrated by Obama himself because it is filled with his enduring quotes from public addresses as well as his recollections.

Gotta Go Gotta Flow: Life, Love, and Lust on Chicago’s South Side showcases the photography of Michael Abramson during a period in the 1970s when he took photos of the night club scene on Chicago’s south side. He captures candid moments of clubgoers in places such as Peppers Hideout, Perv’s House, the High Chaparral, the Patio Lounge, and the Showcase Lounge. Text is provided by Patricia Smith, a nationally acclaimed poet, who grew up not too far from these southside clubs. Her 80 poems add a vibrant narrative without detracting attention from the photos.

n-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II.

Japanese Americans get their first look at the Manzanar concentration camp as they arrive with their belongings in Owens Valley, California, in 1942. Photograph by Clem Albers. From Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II provides an in-depth look of when the United States in 1942 rounded up 120,000 residents of Japanese ancestry living along the West Coast and sent them to internment camps for the duration of World War II. The photos by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and others, give us an emotional portrait of the people who were imprisoned in these camps. This book uses primary source government documents to explain as well as place the pictures in context. Also included are recollections of Japanese-American survivors that give the reader an even deeper perspective of this sad chapter in U.S. history.

Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows showcases the compelling photos of the “nanny photographer,” who became an internet sensation after her photos were first shown online in 2009. Maier’s pictures of everyday life in mid-century America earned her recognition among art critics and celebrated photographers. This book also includes revealing interviews with people who knew her to help readers gain more insight into Maier’s life.

Aftershock: The Human Toll of War

Soviet slave laborer points out a German guard who brutalized prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp on in 1945. Photograph by Harold Roberts. From Aftershock: The Human Toll of War.

Aftershock: The Human Toll of War is a collection of photographs taken in 1945 by a small group of U.S. soldiers, the Army Signal Corps, who captured the loss and destruction of life on film. These soldiers cover combat operations where civilian journalists either wouldn’t go or couldn’t go. This photographic collection provides a rich source of information by showing us the horrific scenes that many soldiers witnessed during the war. Most of the photos in this book have never been seen before and were scanned directly from original negatives.

Chicago: Classic Photographs is a collection of 225 images by the city’s most revered photographers such as Art Shay, Harry Callahan, and Aaron Siskind. Some photos go back more than a century. Included in this book are shots from various neighborhoods as well as downtown Chicago.  Some of the photos have a timeless feel while others offer a historical perspective about a city that is always changing.

Their other books include two works on Richard Nickel, the Chicago photographer who fought for the preservation of iconic buildings by architect Louis Sullivan and lost his life in the process.

If you are looking for dynamic books that offer a historical perspective, in-depth research, and striking photography, then check out CityFiles Press. You can purchase these books as well as their other titles at bookstores, national websites or directly through CityFiles Press. For more information, visit their website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *