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Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is divided into five main sections: “In the Beginning: Film Photography”; “Phase 2: The Digital Evolution”; “Phase 3: Stylistic and Structural Modifications:, “Project Background and Philosophy”; and “Use of Photos”

In the Beginning: Film Photography

(Note: The questions and answers in this section sometimes refer to issues of work methods and site organization that no longer apply. It constitutes the very first FAQ I created for the website and thus I have kept it up as part of the new FAQ for reasons of posterity, so people can see changes over time.)

Q. When did Picturing Chicago start?

A. The project started in the spring of 2000 with background research and a good deal of planning. I began taking pictures in the fall of 2000. The site officially launched on January 1, 2002.

Q. How big is the site?

A. When the site launched on January 1, 2002, it had 872 photographs covering only the city of Chicago. The database now (winter 2008) contains roughly 20,000 pictures. Of these, roughly 10,000 are of Chicago, 7,000 more are across the U.S., and the remainder are from trips to Madrid, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and India.

Q. How did you come up with your neighborhood boundaries? (AKA: “This neighborhood doesn’t really exist.” OR: “I can’t find my neighborhood.” OR: “Your neighborhood boundaries are all wrong.”)

A. This project uses the neighborhood map developed by Big Stick in 1992 that lists 182 neighborhoods. Occasionally people have complained that this map is just a ploy by the real estate industry to market various places within the city, and that many of these neighborhoods “don’t really exist”. My response to this twofold. First, define “real” and second, everybody’s gotta start somewhere. When I drew up my street map (see below on routine), I used the Big Stick map because it far more accurately reflected actual sentiments and claims-making activity by inhabitants of different areas of the city than previous maps. In other words, the people who live in those neighborhoods claim that they are ‘real’. That’s good enough for me. The other alternative would have been to use the official neighborhood map devised by University of Chicago sociologists in the 1930s and used by the City of Chicago today that lists 77 neighborhoods, and it’s simply not as accurate a representation of community sentiment as the Big Stick map.

It should also be noted that other maps of the city have been made over the years. For example, Hunter (1974) notes a 1968 map of the city containing 75 neighborhoods and through his own research argued that a more accurate representation of the city is a map containing 131 main neighborhoods with an additional 72 ‘sub’ community areas for a total of 203 distinct communities. And in 2001 Big Stick came up with a revised map that tallied roughly 213 neighborhoods. In my database, I make note of these map changes because an important objective of the project is, continuing with the Chicago School tradition, to assess and interpret the fluidity of boundary and name changes over time. But there is no way to reconfigure my database and web site every time someone puts out a new map, so the boundaries available to me when I started the project, the 1992 neighborhood map, are the ones I am sticking with.

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