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Bound Together

By Mardy Sears
Evanston, Illinois: Mardy Sears, 2022. Edition of 8.

2.75 x 3.5”; 101 cyanotypes. Ethiopian binding with carved walnut covers. Indigo Kozo on the spine of some signatures. Housed in cloth covered box. Signed and dated by the artist.

Mardy Sears: "In 2020 I was asked to hand bind a Caxton Club publication, ‘Chicago by the Book’, 101 publications that shaped the city and its image, that would be put up for auction along with several other Chicago artist bindings. As I am more of an artist than a binder, I decided to make an artist book using the commercially printed book pages. The first question I asked myself in the process is 'What shapes Chicago?' and the answer I gave myself was - the people. I decided to create portraits of 101 Chicagoans to pair with the 101 publications; but how to go about this during a worldwide pandemic? I began at work while the Art Institute of Chicago was shut down and very few people were working in the museum. I wandered the empty galleries looking for those who were still doing their jobs - keeping the museum running. Almost half the portraits in this book were taken at work. I learned the names of colleagues whom I've worked with for a decade or more, and the project united us on a personal level at a time when we have been told to keep our distance. I found that the part of this project that filled me with dread, approaching people for photos, ended up giving me the greatest joy.

"Then as a polar vortex swept into Chicago and we had many days of snow, I began to take walks during lunch. I went into businesses that were still open and asked shopkeepers if I could photograph them for my project. I was often the only customer in the shop. I talked to strangers! I didn't realize how much I enjoy talking to people I don't know and it was such a pleasure to see their whole face. I took most of my photos in the downtown area surrounding the Art Institute. I knew I couldn't visit every city neighborhood and this is a place where many people come to work. I hoped to include those who work for public transportation, police, and security, but I repeatedly found that they are not allowed to be photographed while on duty. I also had some refusals from those who felt they were unable to be photographed while wearing a company uniform, or without managerial approval. I hoped to photograph a pharmacist, but due to criticism surrounding the distribution of the CoViD vaccination, they were unable to talk to any media or have their photo taken. I felt the most connection to those who work in small businesses, who are surviving a pandemic, shut downs, looting, and destruction of property. These are the few who have made it through difficulties and are still providing a service.

"This is not a group without bias - the portraits in this book have more to do with my own surroundings than anything else. Where did I go, and what did I see in the process? These photos as a whole tell a story of a place during a worldwide pandemic. Who continues to work onsite and interact with the public? Are there more men or women, young or old, how many are BIPOC? I remember where I was for each photo, some conversations, connections, and many instances of kindness.

"Now that the pandemic has been pronounced endemic, I look back at these portraits and see a moment in time. Many of these people have moved on from their jobs, some I can no longer find to give them a copy of their portrait, but they are Bound Together by time and experience. I needed to make a book of pure portraiture that I could hold in my hand and remember."

Bound Together

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