Heather Elder Represents
Reps Journal

Dan Goldberg's 'A World in a City' Project Celebrates the Diversity of Chicago

There are 77 distinct neighborhoods in Chicago, filled with people from all over the world bringing unique cultures and traditions to the 228 square miles of city streets. For Dan Goldberg, the colors, textures, smells and flavors passed by on his daily commute are too special to ignore. On his way to his studio, he travels through Little Village, Pilsen and Chinatown, three very different regions of the city offering up their distinct characteristics. This daily ritual got him thinking about how living in Chicago is like having the entire world in a single city.

As a visual storyteller, the compelling narrative of each neighborhood was perfect inspiration, so using ingredients and props from each neighborhood, Dan conceived his project, “A World in a City”. Sharing a passion for food, adventure and community, Dan partnered with longtime collaborator and friend, prop stylist Andrea Kuhn to create a collection of images, each image as individual as the neighborhood it represents and together a beautiful homage to the diversity of Chicago.

What was the inspiration behind A World in a City?

On my commute into the city, I often stop at local grocery stores, bodegas and bakeries. They are packed with items you don’t find in your chain grocery stores. The character of these places and the people that own and frequent them is unique and I started thinking about how living in Chicago is like having the entire world in one city. The ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago are slowly and sadly disappearing so I wanted to celebrate them and tell a visual story about these individual communities through food. I immediately called friend and prop stylist Andrea Kuhn. We had spent 5 years working on a Cuban cookbook together so I knew she’d be the perfect partner. We had such a fun time brainstorming, sourcing components, eating and shooting these still lifes.

How did you decide which ingredients to use in each set?

It was honestly somewhat random, but we knew we wanted to find what is local and available in each neighorhood and also items that really represented the neighborhood. For example, we saw durian in Chinatown when we hadn’t seen that in any other neighborhood. If you’re familiar with durian you know that while it has a really fragrant and somewhat stinky smell, when prepared correctly it is delicious. It is a delicacy and so unique we knew we wanted to include it in the Chinatown image.

Each image has distinct colors associated, can you speak to that?

Some neighborhoods are extremely vibrant in color and other have foods that seem to lack color. Devon Ave is a great example of this. Devon Ave is on the north side of Chicago and is a multiethnic corridor that stretches 15 blocks. It is predominantly an Indian neighborhood but also is home to both Pakistani and Jewish communities. I love walking into a Jewish deli with rye bread, corned beef, bagels, cured meats and pickles. The color palette is very muted and reminiscent of a Russell Chatham painting. But then you will walk next door to Patel Brothers Indian Market and it’s exploding with color. The juxtaposition of the two are amazing and cannot be ignored so I wanted to make sure and represent that in my imagery.

Do you have a favorite image? 

My favorite still life is Argyle street. I just love how raw it is. It’s no coincidence that it is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. It’s known for its Vietnamese, South East Asian and East Asian heritage and reminds me of traveling in Asia. The culture, food and people are very rich and I love how that image came out.

Where do you see this project going in the future?

There are 77 neighborhoods in Chicago. Will I create a photograph of each one? We’ll see, but I’d like to continue the project as long as time permits. We are working to create a fine art show in Chicago. I would love to see these in a gallery. I hosted a party at my studio back in August and showcased these and I am excited to see how they are received in the fine art world. In the meantime, you can purchase any of these prints on Giving Photography.