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Photo Project Documents Abandoned Bloomingdale Rail Trail

By Casey Cora | October 11, 2012 1:24pm
 Photographer and sociologist David Schalliol captured this slice-of-life image along what will eventually become the Bloomingdale Trail. 
Photographer and sociologist David Schalliol captured this slice-of-life image along what will eventually become the Bloomingdale Trail. 
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Flickr/David Schalliol

HUMBOLDT PARK—For those looking for a new way to explore the city's neighborhoods, three miles of abandoned railway on the northwest side known as the Bloomingdale line have proved inviting to joggers, artists, night-walkers and daydreamers.

Now plans are being finalized to convert the stretch of unused Canadian Pacific railroad into a sprawling, $91 million city park. Organizers behind the second installment of the "Reframing Ruin" photo project are hoping local photographers can capture what’s left of the corridor's remaining “rough magic.”

“I think the Bloomingdale embankment has been attracting and inspiring people in weird and wonderful ways for many years,” said Ben Helphand, president of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail. “We want to document and celebrate this thing we’ve been living with for so long.”

The Reframing Ruin project was inspired by a Flickr photo pool of Bloomingdale images. Photos curated by Shannon Bourne were displayed at the 2011 Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, where Helphand said “people came in and said ‘I’ve [also] got this great photo.’ People would open up their phones and show me something.”

With this year’s exhibit, “we want to give those people a voice,” he said.

David Schalliol was a contributor to the original project.

A photographer and managing editor at Gapers Block, he’s also working toward his doctorate in sociology at the University of Chicago. For Schalliol, documenting the abandoned freight line — which runs through parts of the Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods and connects all manner of class and race — seemed natural.

His photos take viewers on a journey through a variety of city scenes. There’s a jogger in Bucktown, a couple frolicking on an overgrown weeded path, boys conspiring on a street corner and a homeless campsite underneath a viaduct. 

"I think that most people are drawn [to the trail] for the same reason: it's this sort of exciting new perspective on the city. You can look out across the city in a way you don't normally. Recently it's been a quiet and natural, in a reappropriated sense, environment," he said.

“I do think that when the park is finalized, it will bring people above the city. It will be a different experience. Right now, it’s a little hidden, a little out of the way. That spirit is kind of being channeled into the reborn trail.”

On the trail website, it is noted that the railroad embankment is owned and maintained by Canadian Pacific Railroad and the City of Chicago does not endorse or condone trespassing. The site includes a recommended walking tour adjacent to the trail.

Interested in contributing photos to the project? Here’s how: Email shannon.m.bourne@gmail.com with the following information:

• Write in the Subject Line: Photo Submission
• Include First/Last Name and Phone Number
• Attach between 1-5 photos (JPGs should be approximately 8 X 10 at 144ppi or 1152 pixels X 1449 pixels)
• Include a title for each photo
• Provide a short description about the photos you are submitting (150 max)

The deadline for photo submissions is Friday, Nov. 9. Beginning in February, the Reframing Ruin exhibit will be displayed at the Center for Neighborhood Technology's facility at 1741 N. Western Ave. Note: The Bloomingdale line is technically private property and organizers of the Reframing Ruin project discourage trespassing.