Michael L. Abramson (1948-2011) was an American photographer best known for his striking black and white photographs documenting the vibrant nightlife of Chicago's South side during the mid-1970s. Their framing and mood evoke the energy and imagery captured by Brassaï in Paris during the early decades of the 20th century.

Abramson’s striking photographs earned him, fresh out of graduate school, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978. Over three decades later, the images, now imbued with historical signficance, were featured in a beautiful multimedia package called Light: On the South Side (Numero Group, 2009), which included a hardbound book of over 100 of the South side prints and 2 LPs of the blues music likely playing in the various clubs at the time the photographs were taken (See https://youtu.be/ZoKdiKz9yWY). As LOTSS was produced and distributed by a recording company, it ended up being Grammy-nominated, resulting in unusual acclaim for a photographer.

In another multimedia release, City Files Press published Gotta Go Gotta Flow (2015), which perfectly paired the South side images with slam poetry by the acclaimed writer Patricia Smith.

In addition to his South Side portfolio, Abramson also explored on Chicago’s North side, ballrooms and dance halls, and even a strip club, the images of which can be found in Men Looking at Women in the 70s (Hoxton Mini Press, 2017).

Abramson loved to travel and among his many photos taken abroad are those from a 2003 trip to Cuba when he documented that country’s citizens, cars, and housing.

From the 1980s until his death in 2011, Michael was a freelance photographer, whose work was regularly featured in Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Forbes, Fortune magazines, along with other national news outlets. His subjects included Stephen Spielberg, Ann Landers, Ron Howard, and Oprah.

Today Abramson’s photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, and the California Museum of Photography.


Michael Abramson, 2009