About the Photographer
American, b. 1973
In early 2013, when Michael Schmelling began a commissioned project for the MoCP on the topic of Chicago music, ultimately resulting in the exhibition, Your Blues, he decided to seek out a large cross-section of mostly unsigned, youthful musicians and bands. He took this approach because he knew that even though there was a time when homegrown blues and jazz acts dominated the music scene in Chicago, no one style rules today. For eighteen months he worked in Chicago and photographed music played in makeshift concert venues including an indoor soccer arena, houses, and defunct stores. He visited parties, clubs, and festivals, and listened to punk, Chicago House, bop, R&B, hip hop, and hybrid styles that combine genres and are harder to define. The freedom for fans and musicians to identify with numerous types of music, and the cross-pollination of genres Schmelling witnessed coalesced into a picture of an energetic, varied music scene that although undefinable seemed to carry a certain Chicago attitude.
Seeking out the edges of the scene, so to speak, has personal meaning for Schmelling. Having grown up in the Chicago suburb of River Forest, during high school in the late 1980s and early ’90s, he and his friends did exactly that—went to concerts, visited record shops, and hunted for interesting underground or one-off concerts to attend. Working as a photographer for the school newspaper at the time, Schmelling taught himself how to print photographs, using a dark room in his parents’ basement. His love for music is reflected in his pictures from that time, mostly of his friends listening to and hanging around the music scene, with various DJs and bands. For him, although the groups, technologies, and environments change over time, teenagers and their relationship to music, as well as the fluidity and fertility of the music scene in Chicago, haven’t fundamentally changed in twenty-five years.
In this project, Schmelling digs into some of the most individualized, creative pockets of musical activity in Chicago and celebrates the artists working here. Ultimately, his work applauds romantic notions of youth, extreme individualism and risk-taking that form identity, the dynamic and intense sense of community music can provide, and the simple joy of playing, singing or humming along.
Michael Schmelling completed his BFA in Photography from Tisch School of The Arts, New York University, NY (1995). In addition to shooting many album covers and bands, Schmelling’s diverse talents include book design, editorial photography, and theater lighting design. He has been recognized for a long line of music projects, including The Wilco Book (2004) and the photograph that appears on the album cover of Wilco’s A Ghost is Born (2004), which won a Grammy for Best Recording Package. Another critically acclaimed publication by Schmelling, Atlanta (2010), documents the hip-hop scene in Atlanta and creates a rich portrayal of an urban subculture. He has held solo exhibitions at Rider Gallery, Chicago, IL (2008), Wallspace Gallery, NY (2003). He lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.