Wacker Drive (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 standard 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, and high contrast. 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.
In Wacker Drive, Hedrich creates a harmonious composition of a distant view of Chicago’s skyline. Positioned along Wacker Drive, the vantage point looks up stone stairs between two pillars to a tight cluster of high-rise buildings set in the distance. Light is utilized to create a division between the foreground, in shadow, and the background, in highlight with natural light emerging from the right of the photograph. By casting the foreground in shadow, the focal point of the photo becomes the illuminated distant skyscrapers. This contrasting use of light is also enhanced by the smooth, even cloudless sky which offers no distractions from the urban structures below as it cascades in a gradation from mid-grey tones at the top edge of the image to light grey tones behind the cityscape. In this, the smooth texture and tonal quality of the sky operates in harmony with the light and shadow of the composition to showcase the beauty of the skyscrapers in the distance. There is stillness to the image that allows for expressive contemplation. Wacker Drive sits empty, waiting for impending cars or pedestrians to traverse across the columned threshold towards the city. The two columns are accented by symmetrical, round-orbed lighting, but they are also dormant, waiting to illuminate the dark area and offer guidance to passersby. Behind the quiet street the city skyline reflects Chicago architectural feats. In the center of this survey of architecture is the towering Wrigley building adorned with a clock for informing pedestrians below, while to its right is the Tribune Tower, accented with flying buttresses and gothic style architecture. To the left of the Wrigley building is the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile recognizable for the small dome atop the building. Through this compositional arrangement, one is invited to visually move through Wacker Drive and gaze at the brightly lit architectural majesty of Chicago, where the metaphorical hope and potential success of Chicago’s urban development is felt.