Jim Blair studied at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. As a freelance photographer, Blair has had commissions from the U.S. Information Agency, Time, and Life magazines. He spent over thirty years on staff at National Geographic. His photographs are represented in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery (Washington DC), the Museum of Modern Art (New York City), the Portland Museum of Art (Maine) and the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh). Since retiring from the National Geographic Society in 1994, Blair has continued to photograph and teach.



In 1954 when I was a senior at the Institute of Design in Chicago I received a ‘finals’ project from my teacher Aaron Siskind. He asked me if I would be willing to photograph for the Chicago Housing Authority. They were doing “urban renewal” projects all over the South Side. So, in the early spring I went to the old, almost destroyed, neighborhood in the other end of town with a social worker from the CHA and she introduced me to Mr. and Mrs. Armister Henton. The idea was to show the ‘before’ life in this condemned house and then the ‘after’ when the family moved into a brand new high rise apartment building.

I spent six weeks going down to the South Side every day to photograph the exterior and interior of the apartment they were living in. My experience of being with the family taught me that love, like the unconditional love between mother and daughter, if it is really strong enough, can conquer all, even in a rat and cockroach infested condemned one room apartment with little heat and only cold running water.

The family did move into one of the new high-rise apartments and for a time the CHA efforts were very successful. But, by 1965 the projects had become dangerous places to live and were completely demolished by 2011.