Time Travel With CPL Photo Collections

Imagine a small window you can look through that will allow you to time travel. In your hand or on your computer screen, you can do just that by looking at a photograph. You can be transported back by the clothes of the subjects, the style of the interior setting or the materials sitting in the background. Time traveling through photographs is a great way to get a sense of what life might’ve been like back then. It gives way to a sense of creativeness and excitement to research; you can see a specificity in the expressions on people’s faces or you can see history in the making with a cultural event being recorded in time.

In CPL's Robert W. Krueger Photograph Collection, you can time travel to 1967 Chicago, when the Picasso statue at the Civic Center Plaza was unveiled:

Want to time travel to an even earlier Chicago? Visit the Henry D. Green Photograph Collection where you can find yourself in 1949 to see the first trolley bus on Belmont or get a perspective of what life was like sitting in a coffee shop that same year.

Although time traveling through photographs can be joyous, it can also be an experience of facing disturbing realities.

The Henry D. Green Collection specifically features disturbing content such as photos of blackface. Looking through these photos led to my learning about Minstrel shows – shows that featured predominantly white actors performing in blackface to reinforce racial stereotypes about Black people. This served as a reminder that heartwarming moments, such as the one captured in the coffee shop, coexist with harsh realities. It gives a complex understanding of what it means to look into the past that archives open for us.

To further time travel and explore Chicago’s past people, places, architecture and events, visit our digital collections. Additional materials by Henry Delorval Green are held at the Chicago History Museum.