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Linn with borrowed Hasselblad, 1958

I met Linn back in the mid-60’s, as Viet Nam and the civil rights movement boiled to the front pages.  I was a hippie, I guess, and Linn, a few years older, was more stable, had a nice loft, and a kind of job, and his huge studio, in Old Town on Chicago’s near-north side, became my crash pad. He’d converted it from a defunct 3000 sq. ft. restaurant. I shot a film when there, Leah, in 1967.  His places – he seemed to move every handful of years, with an eye to the next hot neighborhood – were always spacious and beautiful, with items others threw away, this and that, salvaged and turned into elegant decor. Since those first days Linn’s always been a reliable friend, and when transiting Chicago, a place to stay, a friend to see.  I stay in frequent touch in between these not-very-often visits.  Forty plus years now.

Through Linn – though it had been a serious thing for me earlier – my interest in photography was enlarged.  I liked his work back then, and we shared similar tastes: Frank, Lyons, Davidson, and of course, Walker Evans. His own work was usually very clean, direct, and he printed beautifully.  Although he made his living from photography most of the time, he had other talents too. He designed and converted loft spaces, physically doing all the work himself.  They were always beautiful in his particular manner and I thought of them as being “Linn-ized.”  He was for a time a partner in a retail gallery of American Indian Art and Artifacts and often traveled to the Southwest USA to buy jewelry and rugs and things, and in process he became an authority, consultant and appraiser of Native American art and artifacts. Later a 5 year stint as an equine photographer would again take him back and forth to the Southwest.

Over the decades, he said he longed to leave Chicago, and move to New Mexico. I confess, I never thought he would, never believed a word of it:  he was Chicago-bound, and his series on prostitutes and other disenfranchised people – low-life realities of the Windy City (or anywhere) kept his head stuck in the big city.  It’s in his blood, like it was in Saul Bellow’s or Stud Terkel’s.

His active photographic coverage of the ’68 Democratic convention and later the Conspiracy Seven trial, and then of the SDS Days of Rage in Chicago in the fall of 1969 – which got him a Pulitzer nomination – all managed to keep him deeply connected to the city as well.

But his road trips, through America and particularly the American West, tempered his vision and expanded his viewpoint.  He always loved the “snapshot,” the way elements seem to come together on their own, waiting for someone to put a frame around them, and he grabbed them wherever he found them.

Though not ambivalent about photography at all, making a living in the field was always a bit elusive for him. He grabbed onto photography, like a life preserver he told me, at the age of 17, 2 years after he dropped out of school, and he never let go, never walked out the door without a camera over his shoulder.  He still does, even with his new bionic knee!

From our meeting in 1966 to the ’68 Chicago Convention mayhem, through my days in California, then Oregon, then my Montana hippy-dropout days, and on to years abroad or in LA or NYC, right up to now, Linn was always my mid-west touchstone.  His door was always open, and cumulatively I probably stayed with him and his lady friends, more months that I could keep track of – and have a good handful of very memorable experiences from them.  Stories for another day.

We look to see him our next swing through America – in another year and some it seems.

Linn’s shot of me, late 1968 or maybe 1969

All photographs Copyright Linn M. Ehrlich 2010



  1. Jon,
    One comment on your recent NY Times post. Those of us unable to avoid the draft in the ’60s weren’t led by “charlatans like George Bush and Dick Cheney.” We were led by the “best and brightest” America had to offer. Namely the men JFK appointed to his cabinet and administration. All very bright men superbly educated in the elite universities of America. How diod they get it so wrong?
    great pictures!

    • I meant that after they got out of the Army in Vietnam days later on they we led by Bush/Cheney etc. I don’t think going to an elite university does much but prepare you to think the bubble you lived in represented some version of reality and act on the presumption. And it isn’t representative of any reality but its own little elite mini-bubble in a much larger world. And hence does it lead one astray. Living on the street for a while should be a requisite for policy positions. Or in jail. Or…

  2. I came here because of that funny great long sentence you wrote as a comment on a NYT blog. I mean, I came here because I love great, long, faultless sentence constructs that one can read all in one first try! And look what I get.

    I like photos, too, but.

    Long texts online discourage reading and are sometimes, in fact, designed to discourage reading and gently coerce the reader into clicking some of the accompanying ads. That wasn’t the intention here; so?

    • I guess I am not so calculating. I write the length it takes to say what I want. Some read, some don’t. Actually I try to write it so the writing and the pictures play off each other. Each to their own!

  3. Bob Herbert’s column in the nytimes tody disgusted me. He blames the public for the war. What an insult. the nytimes promoted both wars, sometimes with exageration and sometimes with lies. Herbert is afraid to confront the powerful so he blames us.
    Thank you for writing there.

    • Well, assuming we are a democracy (which I don’t), as enough people did not go out on the streets, refuse to pay taxes, or otherwise sufficiently gum up the works, “we” theoretically are responsible. Yes, the NY Times and other helped lead the charge, disseminating and backing the false claims of the government and so on. I frankly think 9/11 was an inside job of some kind, the function of which worked as planned except the next step didn’t: easy quick victory, seizing of oil-fields, Afghanistan taken for pipeline, and all the other Neo-Con plots didn’t pan out. Instead, from a triumphalist American-uber-alles stance of 2003, we are now a hobbled and falling post-imperial wreck, in large part thanks to the hubris, deregulatory orgy, and corruption of the Bush-Cheney gang, which to my recollection was not properly elected in 2000, but appointed by a “one-off” Supreme Court putsch. And so it goes. Sadly an awful lot of Americans did go along, brainwashed as they were, and they still do go along.

  4. Sorry but people who opposed the wars always are not the same as people who voted for Bush (twice!)
    Today Friedman says the same thing about oil, we are all to blame for the spill. The people who live in a small apt and drive a small car or take the bus are not ‘the same’ IMHO as those in big houses driving a lot in big vehicles.
    And people with a big following in the nytimes can do more than we can. I can ask a few people to make an effort. They can ask millions and more will listen. I can talk about the latest and the next protest event but they can reach more and more will come.
    There is a difference in a small person doing all he can and a big, powerful person who is not trying too hard. Maybe these guys feel guilty but I think they should direct blame where it belongs.

    • Big powerful folks usually are that way because they think a bit differently. You get big and powerful by walking over people, one way or another. Mr Friedman is one of my favorite pet peeves, and yesterday I wrote a Letter to Editor, not published, about his Sunday column (which doesn’t allow replies for some curious reason.) Here it is:

      In response to Thomas Friedman’s column This Time It’s Different, may I ask if his vast Bethesda house now sports solar-panels; has he dismantled the SUV’s seen on Google-earth parked in his large swath of driveway asphalt? Will he skip the next lucrative talking engagement or meeting with big honcho somewhere and instead of flying, do it by Skype? Will he put his money where his mouth is?
      Having actively participated in the push for the Iraq war – a war, as Mr Greenspan reluctantly confessed, was all about oil – is his conversion now related to how that didn’t pan out? Buyer’s remorse? Mr Friedman’s moral credibility is nano-thin.
      So you see I agree with you, but as I said, assuming we live in a democracy, “we” are accountable. We don’t live in one, but we like to pretend we do.

  5. Linn and his family were close friends forty years ago(esp his mother Clara). She shaped my life. Say hi next time you see him. Christina
    Aka Christina Hurst

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By The Sicilian Defense « Jon Jost’s Weblog on 03 Sep 2010 at 1:17 pm

    […] few days after posting this my friend Linn Ehrlich sent me this, which we can't figure out how to post under comments so I'll paste it […]

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