Art Shay ‘My Florence’

Beginning January 20th at the Library at Columbia College in Chicago is renowned photojournalist Art Shay’s homage to his wife Florence. My Florence is a collection of photos that Shay took of his wife throughout his long career. His iconic photos have appeared frequently in Time, Life and Chicago for decades. In his life he has photographed celebrities, presidents, sports stars and even kings and still through all of this, his favorite subject to photography was his wife.

Shay created this exhibit as an homage to Florence Shay who passed away from ovarian cancer back in August of 2012. After viewing these photography you truly feel his love and his loss of his wife. Don’t forget your tissues and waterproof mascara for this one… it is sure to be both powerful and deeply moving.


“General Motors had a magazine called Friends. I used to do stories for them. I knew the PR director, who had been stationed with me at the Pentagon. Just out of the blue, I said, ‘We have to go to New York pretty soon—what if we drove a GM car?’ Two days later, an Oldsmobile station wagon appeared. We crossed the country in 1964. The boy sleeping next to Florence is our second son, Richard. Steven and Lauren are in the back. I shot this picture over my shoulder with a Leica and a 21 mm wide-angle lens. You can’t miss with a wide-angle lens.” Photo: Art Shay
“The great Life photographer Philippe Halsman was a friend of mine. He had done a provocative story on smooching for Life in 1952. I showed her Philippe’s pictures, and Florence insisted on miming Marilyn Monroe. She was a big ham—had a great comic spirit.” Photo: Art Shay
“We moved from our Chicago apartment to our first house—a $13,000 three-bedroom wonder in Des Plaines. The first artifact Florence installed was the camp bugle that was instrumental in our meeting at camp. I was the bugler and she was the counselor who edited the camp newspaper.” Photo: Art Shay
“On a balcony in Hawaii in 1970, Florence makes an determined effort to play the ukulele. She said, ‘After learning to spell ukulele, the rest is easy.’” Photo: Art Shay
“I was enthralled with a new kind of wide-angle camera and photographed Florence in her domain—twice. The blur in the center is her moving through the 140-degree arc of the lens.” Photo: Art Shay
“I started taking pictures around [the North Shore mall] Northbrook Court in ’76 or ’77, when they first broke ground on it. I thought I’d do a story: What happened to the big mall? I tried to go through the management, but they said I’d have to get releases from everyone I photographed. So I started using a hidden Leica, with a semi-wide-angle lens. If I wore a jacket, I’d have a hole in the top of the jacket. Sometimes I’d hide a camera in a book. Florence would meet me there. She shopped there a lot. We’d have supper and a little excitement. We had some good years. I took this photo in the early 2000s. That’s me at left.”
“When the Hula-Hoop craze hit, I was assigned by Life to do the Chicago segment. This picture was taken in 1959 in front of our house in Deerfield. I gathered all the neighbors I could. Florence, in the white shirt, is at the top right. The little girl [at her left], our daughter Lauren, is now a grandma. It didn’t run in the magazine, though; Life chose my picture of a big fat guy in the Loop with a Hula-Hoop.”
“Florence and newborn Harmon in 1951. At four, Harmon would create patterned tracks in the snow and, a few years later, would win his junior-high science fair with an electronic roller skate directed by the light from his flashlight.”
“In 1962, my activist wife Florence and I schlepped Steven, Lauren, and some signs to greet John F. Kennedy at O’Hare. He never arrived—the Cuban Missile Crisis intervened. We disappointedly went home with our two signs, which have decorated a dark corner of our living room these past 51 years.” Photo: Art Shay


Loves offbeat music and on-beat art. Composer, whisky-lover and horror enthusiast.

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