Board of Trade (1930)
18.0 x 12.0 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago
Hedrich-Blessing was founded in 1929. It is one of the largest and best-regarded of firms specializing in architectural photographs. Hedrich-Blessing was started in Chicago by Ken Hedrich and Henry Blessing (who left after only a year).
Ken Hedrich brought his brother Bill in to serve as an apprentice, and was later joined by two other brothers, Ed and Jack. Ken's son Jim Hedrich still runs the firm. Hedrich-Blessing became a success because of the quality of their work, both a matter of intellectual approach and attention to detail.
Ken Hedrich dedicated his career to the complex negotiation
of using a two-dimensional art form, photography, to capture a
three-dimensional art form, architecture. His practice pushed architectural
photography from documentation to an original interpretive artwork.
Ken Hedrich (1908-1972) grew up in Chicago and studied at the New York Institute of Photography. After school, he returned to Chicago to work as a photographer and salesman. In 1929, The Great Depression took hold of the nation. At age twenty-one, Hedrich faced the Depression head on and opened his own commercial photography studio and quickly partnered with Henry Blessing and his brother Bill Hedrich. The company completed their first large photography project in 1933, capturing the Chicago’s Century of Progress International Exposition. In the 1930s and 40s, architectural photography was generally executed with a wide angle lens to capture the most space in one image. Alternatively, Ken Hedrich and the company elected to use normal or long angle lens, which demanded that they move away from the frozen macro images of the past and focus instead on interpretive micro details and dynamic angles of the spaces. In 1933, Ken Hedrich was hired to photograph for the Chicago World’s Fair Chrysler pavilion. Architects and developers realized that Hedrich’s approach to photographic artwork portrayed an “essence” or architectural intent of the building, and the company became highly sought after by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Their work is known for capturing idiosyncratic viewpoints, dramatic lighting, high contrast, and photographing at night. By the 1950s, the photography firm adopted a more clinical style of photography and worked predominantly in color, but by the 70s and 80 this would give way to a revival of their earlier well-known dramatic and stylized approach. In Chicago art history, Ken Hedrich’s artistic imprint shifted the role of architectural photography from static documentation to a dynamic art form full of seductive, energetic, and modern images. In 1991, the Chicago Historical Society acquired the company’s 500,000 photography collection, and Hedrich Blessing Photographers is still operating. At one point the tallest building in Chicago, the Chicago Board of Trade Building is a landmark skyscraper erected in Chicago’s downtown loop area.
In Board of Trade (c. 1930), Hedrich portrayed the prevailing poise of the structure in Chicago and the metaphorical allure of success and growth that is married to notions of the financial industry. Hedrich used perspective and line to generate an image that pulls the viewer straight towards the façade. At the bottom edge of the composition, the viewer is positioned as if standing in the center of the street that progressively narrows inward towards the edifice. In this, depth and perspective are employed to orient the trade building at the pinnacle of the visual hierarchy in the image. The periphery architecture, and their symbolic position in Chicago, are darkened in shadow, which contrasts the aura of light that cascades across the trade high rise, elevating both its spatial hierarchy in the city and its metaphorical role as a harbor for finance and potential wealth. Light compliments the art deco style, and one can study the three-part division, structural setbacks, isolated entry, and pyramid top of the iconic architecture. The overall design of the structure gives it a throne-like appearance that was common for many skyscrapers. At the apex of the high rise perches an abstract sculpture of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. The skyscraper traverses nearly the entire length of the photograph, but Hedrich made a choice to showcase the goddess sculpture just before the image ends. This formal choice positions her as a watchful eye soaring above the shadowy city below. By applying light, line, perspective, and scale to emphasize the towering presence and stylized elegance of the building, Hedrich evokes both the details of the edifice as an architectural wonder and its essence as a repository for progress and financial success.
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