The book: “Portraits From the Park: Comiskey Park Photographs, 1973-1990”
The author: Photos by Thomas W. Harney, text by Thomas Nawrocki, Harney and Ed Maldonado
The vital stats: Columbia College Chicago Press, 93 pages, $35
The pitch: Any place that would welcome Bill Veeck as a Hall of Fame owner has to be a destination spot on the baseball map.
And any spot famous for burning disco records between games of a double header has to be a historical monument.
What the 67-year-old street photographer Harney manages to capture, save and reprint in this bound album would probably have made Veeck smile all over again.
Art scholars on the back cover may use phrases like the “anthropology of the crowd,” where the present and past are “held together in pathos,” and how “moments of grace and zeal” are forever frozen in time.
Art makes one experience an entirely different emotion than the printed word, but then it’s the printed word that tries to take it to the next level. Sometimes, it really doesn’t do it justice.
Harney himself tries in a three-paragraph note near the end of the book to explain that he has tried to accomplish here — recreate the comfort zone he once felt at the on the corner of Shields and 35th Street.
“It was the way people looked and acted, the way the park looked with its bigness and old arched walls … time had taken its toll on the park and many of its fans, but they shared a common dignity and energy that knew no age.”
An accompanying essay by Nawrocki expands on Harney’s sentiment, making note that the park’s architect, Zachory Taylor Davis, was famous before the opening of this 1910 structure for designing churches throughout the city with similar arches and steel/concrete reinforcement. So maybe when they say Comiskey was another Chicago cathedral, that wasn’t far off.
“The magic of Harney’s photographs: He captured the inner-most thoughts of so many fans … what we’re privy to in the portraits are the deep wrinkles of their lives.”
The men in the their Sunday suits, disheveled, alone, smoking, looking distant to the field and beyond.
For South Side natives, this will no doubt evoke memories of a place that disappeared in September, 1900, only to be replaced by a new monument of the times (with the commercial signage and naming rights). Even in the beauty of black and white, for those who never had the pleasure of visiting this place, we’re thankful for the opportunity to walk the halls, see the outfield picnic cave, lurk in the shadows.
Feel the soul.