In Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood on the corner of eighteenth and Halsted sits a nondescript box with a heavy steel door, a building that looks like a seedy strip joint where you need a password to get in. In fact, the building was apparently one of Capone’s speakeasies. The first floor housed the bar; the second floor was where patrons danced, gambled, and slept with prostitutes. If you knock on the door today, you’ll be greeted by a skinny guy who wants to take your picture.
Last month, photographer Kyle LaMere started Visitors, a project to document every person who steps foot into his apartment over the course of a year. LaMere’s photographs aim to capture people casually, as they might appear at his front door—a significant departure from the stylized portraits he shoots with his make-up artist under the moniker I Shoot Rockstars. He then captions each photograph with the visitors profession and something they “heart.”
The photographs are more than a record of who enters LaMere’s apartment. In many ways, they chronicle the gentrification in the Pilsen neighborhood, which, one hundred years ago, was a working-class Czech neighborhood and only ten years ago was ninety-five percent Latino. Among the Mexican bakeries and restaurants on 18th street, the neighborhoods commercial street, you’ll find a hipster bar that serves a wide selection of micro-brews and features light fixtures made of pinball machine tables and patio planters crafted from old suitcases and a barbecue joint where tattooed servers in tight-rolled jeans serve pulled pork while a main drinking from a flask covers Johnny Cash songs. This is the Pilsen of Visitors.
There is something exciting about Visitors. There, in LaMere’s studio on the parquet dance floor, you can have your picture taken and write the caption. Unsurprising, then, that all of the Visitors are artists of some sort—only a few have alluded to day jobs. It is the chance to define oneself, to create one’s own identity....and to visit an old Capone speakeasy.