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Chicago Photographer Candace Casey's Work Explores 100 Countries And Uptown

 Candace Casey and her husband moved to Uptown in th 90s after more than a year exploring Africa.
Candace Casey and her husband moved to Uptown in th 90s after more than a year exploring Africa.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — In the span of four decades, Candace Casey's love of exploration and photography has led her to more than 100 countries around the world.

A collection of the 63-year-old photographer's work, titled "Ethereal Abandonment," which has taken her to London, Africa, Australia and back to the ruins of forgotten landmarks in the United States, is on display at Everybody's Coffee, 935 W. Wilson Ave., until May 25.

"It’s almost like two separate body of works of mine," said Casey, adding the owner specifically asked her to combine some of the world photography with her later Midwest ruins work for the exhibition.

The one-of-a-kind photos are digitally rendered onto film that is manipulated, imposing other elements for a collage effect, according a news release promoting the exhibit.

The technique of creating the Polaroid-based collages is "a different kind of process ... a historic process," Casey said. "It’s very, very old, and I don’t really show this work" publicly.

The photo-transferring process grew from an artistic movement popular in the 90s involving Polaroid overlays. Instead of waiting for the picture to develop, photographers split the picture, peeling open the film and developing the negative on another surface, she said.

"It gives this really cool effect and what I like about it is that … each picture is different. It has this really cool edge that’s created that defines the picture. That's very unusual," she said.

Photos from the exhibit at Everybody's Coffee, 935 W. Wilson Ave. [DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]

Casey started her journey in photography after buying her first camera at a pawn shop in college. Though her career was in real estate, she was also a passionate portrait photographer who expanded her skills as she began traveling the world. She committed to exploring the world full-time when she lost her job in the 1980s, she said.

"The good news and bad news about real estate is that we happen to have recessions, in which your career becomes completely kicked to the curb. ... Quite frankly for me, I felt like it was cheaper for me to travel then live in one place in the United States and not have a job or be unemployed," Casey said.

Paving a New Path

At age 30, she took a 14-month trip around the world that led her to Australia, New Zealand, Kathmandu and all over Europe, she said.

"That was 14 months gone, on my own, as a woman traveler through India, Pakistan and all those places," she said of the trip, where she focused primarily on her photography work. "The world was a different place at that time than now." 

"I was just traveling with a camera. That was the whole plan."

After the trip, Casey returned to real estate, settling down in New York City. There, she met her husband, David, who had a career in construction. In the 1990s, another recession would hit and they both lost their jobs, she said.

"Believe me, hanging around New York City with no money is no fun," she said. "So we went to London."

After researching cars, the couple bought a Land Rover equipped for and drove from London, England to Cape Town, South Africa. On the journey, they crossed the Sahara Dessert and explored the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said.

Life on the Road

The more than 8,000-mile journey, which was supposed to take a year, ended when the couple ran out of money, about 18 months after it began.

"It was just traveling around, living in the parks and sleeping in the car. We had a tent on top of the car and we were just traveling to game parks and all sorts of small African villages," she said. "It took us so much longer because Africa was much more challenging to travel across. [At that point,] we pretty much needed to get back to work. The recession had started to mellow out a little bit."

In 1992, they both got jobs and moved to Chicago, lured by low housing prices and the possibility of being close to Lake Michigan. In New York, you had to travel to long Island to see the water, but "here in Chicago it's right there, everywhere," Casey said.

"Our strategy was, we went up Lake Shore Drive, we got off at every exit and we looked around until we got up to Lawrence. We found the area up here in Uptown was more affordable for us," she said.

"Plus, it was our peeps. We were from New York — it was ethnically diverse, it was economically diverse. ... We really felt like we lived in Brooklyn."

The couple fell in love with the beauty of the neighborhood, where Asian and West African communities coexisted in harmony, reminding them of their time as world travelers — a lifestyle that would soon move to the back burner of their priorities, she said. 

Shortly afterwards, she opened Candace Casey Photography studio at 910 W. Lawrence Ave., putting down roots.

A New Creative Direction

The Uptown neighborhood inspired Casey's curiosity with urban ruins, which inspired "Ethereal Abandonment." The exploration of "abandoned buildings" led her inside an vacant synagogue on Argyle Street in Uptown and to other houses of worship and theaters in Gary, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan.

"There’s something really intriguing about buildings that have been completely abandoned. What I see in them are all these multiple layers of stories. I see the stories of what they were at one time: how grand and beautiful they were, the hundreds of thousands of people who have used these theaters or places. Then we see how they’ve been deteriorated or forgotten," she said.

"Then you think 'well, what is it today? What’s going on today?' You think about the reclamation. You think about the returning to the earth. There’s very much a sadness. A sadness that our culture doesn’t restore, retain some of these beautiful landmarks. They’ve been left to just disintegrate. ... I kind of see it as a mixture of beauty and existence," she said.

You can check out slideshows from Candace Casey Photography here.

Photos from the exhibit at Everybody's Coffee, 935 W. Wilson Ave. [DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]

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