They are the city's faceless people, the sort you look away from as you pass them on the sidewalk. They are people (men, women and a few children) hit by hard times and battered by life's wicked curves. Many of them are without jobs or homes or, in some cases, hopes. Needing a square meal, some of them come on Tuesday nights to the Catholic Charities St. Vincent Center at 721 N. LaSalle St., filling 130 seats at 13 tables and partaking of food provided by such fine-dining spots as Keefer's, Rosebud, Tavern on the Park, the Kerryman and 312 Chicago, and served by volunteers.
They come there earlier in the afternoon to register for the meal, thereby allowing them to enter the building quickly at dinnertime and not form the sort of waiting line that might offend the delicate sensibilities or ruin the views of those who live in expensive condominiums nearby.
These people are referred to as "guests," and among them are "artists."
Each September for the last eight years, some of these people have asked for and received inexpensive disposable cameras, and have gone about the adventure of capturing their lives. They shoot buildings and flowers, sunrises and the river as they wander the city.
"I take whatever catches my eye," says Louis DiGiulio.
This work culminates with a one-night-only exhibition, "After Supper: Visions of My Life." On Friday there will be some 200 photos, 8-by-10 and handsomely framed, on the walls of the dining hall. The first year there were 17 artists. This year there are 58. The photos will sell for $100, with $75 of that going to the photographers, some of whom have used the money to buy their own cameras. Those who have participated before hang four photos; those in their first year get to hang three. Every year has been a sellout.
The idea came from Ellen Gorney, a senior administrator at Catholic Charities, and the Rev. Wayne Watts, the associate administrator for the organization, who says the "project gives these artists a little taste of heaven. They are proud of their work. They share their joy."
Some of the artists live at the Lawson House YMCA, just to the east. Some of them live, as one says with chilling resignation, "nowhere really, and everywhere."
We meet Ray Bauzys, who says, "Everywhere I go I find out more about the buildings I'm shooting." And there is Amie Davis who is legally blind — "high partial they call it," she says — and who tells us that she likes to get "up real close to what I am shooting."
Many of the artists eye Osgood's cameras with an envious curiosity, though one says, "Those look more expensive than what we have, but we do the same thing as you."
The photos are spread across a table, a feast of 4-by-6 snapshots. They are assessed and discussed with pleasant professionalism with freelance photographers Maureen Kelley Fitzgibbons and Jody O'Connor. The best of them are artful and all are insightful.
"The thing that impresses me is that so many of these shots are great," says Osgood. "But more than that is the level of excitement on the part of the photographers."
Kenneth Knight, originally from Mississippi, tells us he has become fascinated with the Bean.
"And in one shot you just see the city," he says. "I'm not even in it and that makes it better."
The meals finished and the photos packed away, the guests and the artists, all filled with food and some with pride, drift off into the uncertain night in this unforgiving city.