While Chicago's streets offer photographers a cold, hard portrait of the city's citizens, the city beaches deliver its vivid inverse. Each year Chicagoans emerge from an extended winter, pale and restless, and migrate east, to Lake Michigan. The quick burst of summer is like mating season, inviting only the bravest sociologist to observe the carnal, freeform play. Charles H. Traub clearly gained the confidence of the revelers-despite the vignette borders of his pictures, which evoke a peephole voyeur-who preened, paraded, and showed off their goods, close up, for his camera. Traub's vintage, black-and-white Beach series (on view through August 25) is over 36 years old, but exhibitionism is a ceaseless pleasure; the photographs look as fresh as a sunburn.
Traub certainly had a taste for the grotesque. He focused on a groin's five-o'clock stubble, muscles contorted in mid-dive, aggressive kiss scenes, and unabashed open-air vanity. His shadow is often cast creepily over his sitter. Although Traub studied with Aaron Siskind at the Illinois Institute of Design, his base animals are the antithesis of Siskind's sublime divers. A decade after Traub's Beach series, Doug Ischar took to the same water and photographed a newly emergent homosocial beach community. While Ischar's compositions recall classical bather scene, Traub's are a full-out beach bacchanal. The same year that Traub published the Beach series, he founded what is now the Museum of Contemporary Photography, thereby institutionalizing a visual history of Chicago, the city's photography legacy, and his own.
Chicagoans know how to get down and dirty, at least they did in the 1970s when Charles Traub shot them in black and white on the sweet city's beaches. It was summer and it was hot, and we know what that means for lakefront habitu�s. Our forebears had shed their second skins and more importantly their inhibitions. At the same time, the hardcore Chicagoan doesn't vogue, so Traub stalked his prey and went in fast capturing priceless scenes like a man standing over a young lady, drawing down his bikini swim suit as she lay in readiness. Who knows what might have happened, but Traub has shown us the spirit of the times and that is enough to slake any curiosity. The black-and-white aesthetic makes Traub's images throw us back to a time that at least seems different from ours, when affirmation of the body, in whatever shape it was, could be celebrated unreservedly. How much does that still happen?