JOHN BANASIAK: “George Brown’s Bar” (1970)

George Brown’s Bar, Harvey, IL, 1970

By David Vestal, Excerpt from Time/Life Photography, 1973

There is a slightly formal yet very friendly feeling about John Banasiak’s photographs. The people are clearly posing for him, yet they feel at ease. They are dressed up in their best clothes and they are giving the camera a smile, but they feel no need to make an overpowering impression. They are decent people in a respectable bar where husbands and wives can come together to dance, where fathers may invite young daughters and where nice girls can come alone. Confronted by a camera, and by a photographer who is a friend, they present their best faces to the world , because they have nothing to hide.

All the pictures were taken in the same place, a neighborhood tavern in suburban Chicago that Banasiak had known since he was a child. The bar and the restaurant behind it are a kind of neighborhood social center, he says, “a good place to go to drink, dance, sing and have a good time,” and the Polish-descended people of the neighborhood often hold their wedding and funeral receptions and retirement parties there. The photographer grew up in the neighborhood and worked behind the bar while studying photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, and his pictures were taken in the intervals between mixing drinks and talking to customers.

The result, half document, half family snapshot album, is an unusual example of the tendency of many young photographers to use photography as a link between themselves and the rest of the world. Banasiak’s pictures document a world that outsiders know only as a flash of neon lighting and a burst of recorded music as they drive through the anonymous environs of great cities. He has captured this mood of detachment in another series of pictures, like the one on the opposite page, which he took outdoors in color at night. But inside the neighborly tavern, his simple snapshot approach and his warm feeling for people make his own world seem familiar and homey.

 

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