Featured Artist: Shelby Silvernell

Age: 26

Hometown:  Lutz, Florida
Current town:  Chicago, Illinois

Job description:  Metadata Tech at the Chicago History Museum, freelance & fine art photographer


Bio:  I attended Maryland Institute College of Art, where I graduated with a BFA in photography in 2009.  While in school, I interned in the archives of both the Baltimore Museum of Art and Jewish Museum of Maryland, where I gained a deep appreciation for cultural heritage.  After graduating, I relocated to Chicago, having been drawn to the Midwestern metropolis’s architecture.  I have worked as a studio assistant and image editor in a commercial photography studio and am currently working as an imaging technician and digital assets manager at the Chicago History Museum.

Upcoming projects:  Photography essay comparing contemporary Berlin & Chicago, based on Mark Twain’s essay “The German Chicago.”


Select links:  



What are you working on?

Throughout my work, I strive to both capture and create structure. I enjoy working with found geometry and explore the world with a precisionist’s eye.  Architecture and interiors have been logical choices for subjects, as these spaces function on the basis of order. Our constructed landscape also interests me as a subject in its ability to reflect human stories and ambitions.  It is a wonder to see the life of a space unfold through its architecture: from new development, and with it the establishment of new aesthetics and technology, to decay, an exercise in the selective preservation of our collective history.  I think we often feel separate from the urban landscapes we inhabit, when in fact, these places are our home, and we are responsible for their creation.  Our choices, regardless of how carefully considered, manifest in our environment and say a lot about who we are.

What’s your art background / when did you begin really focusing on art?

I spent a great deal of my childhood in my mother’s painting studio, so art has always been a big part of my life.  I remember especially enjoying photography when I first started playing around with a simple point and shoot camera in elementary school.  In high school, I was a student in my mom’s art classes, and she encouraged and pushed me and my practice.  It was then that I started focusing more on photography, learning how to shoot and process film and develop images in a darkroom.   This way of creating and of experiencing the world around me made so much sense, I decided to pursue a BFA in photography at the Maryland Institute College of Art.  I’ve been making pictures ever since.

Any exhibits coming up/ past exhibits you’d like to mention?

I have my first solo show in Chicago coming up at the Old Town Art Center.  The opening will be on March 10th from 2-5pm, and the show closes on April 4th.  I’m exhibiting a series I’ve been working on for the past four years called Order; it’s primarily architectural photography.  Feel free to drop by if you get a chance!


What is one of the biggest challenges you face as an artist?

I’ve been struggling finding a balance between my 9-5 job, paid freelance work, and my personal work.  It was always clear in college how I should prioritize my time, and I was always given clear deadlines.  I need to find more effective ways of budgeting my time and resources now, especially with my own projects.  It’s nice to be working in a variety of capacities, and I’ve found that there’s a sort of cross-pollination between everything I do, I just need to learn how to pace myself better in all areas of my life.
What are a few of your favorite spots in Chicago?

There are some very specific areas I really love in Chicago.  One of these is Green Street as it’s passing over I90/94 and under the train tracks.  I remember being struck by how layered Chicago is when I first visited, and this intersection embodies that to me.  I also really enjoy the stretch of Cortland between Elston and Clybourn.  I take this route nearly every day to and from work, but I’m still always in awe of the industry that exists there, and all along the river.  In general, I’m drawn to impressive infrastructure especially in regards to transportation and manufacturing.


What is your ideal job?

My current full-time job is nearly my ideal job.  I am fortunate to have access to, work with, and hopefully assist in making more accessible the amazing archives and collections at the Chicago History Museum.  It can certainly be frustrating working at a non-profit, but I believe in the work I am doing, and I find that it informs my other work.  Our photography collection, in particular, is inspiring, and I’ve found that I’m able to put my growing knowledge of the city to use in my personal projects.  It is a joy to work daily with the archives from Hedrich Blessing.


Favorite artists and why/ people in your field whom you most admire: 

One of my all-time favorites is Charles Sheeler.  Seeing his work in the exhibit Across Media at the National Gallery of Art was deeply influential in shaping how my eye for photography has developed.  Studying the work of Paul Strand, László Moholy-Nagy, Aleksander Rodchenko, and other early 20th century artists who worked with abstraction has also helped me to discover what appeals to me aesthetically about photography as a medium.  Most recently, I have discovered the work of David Schalliol, a Chicago-based sociologist and photographer.  His work forms the perfect bridge between my love of architectural and urban photography with history and urban planning.

I’ve been developing a sort of inspiration/sketchbook/blog, if you’d like to see more work and artists I admire, please visit:  shelby-silvernell-observations.tumblr.com.


What are you reading? 

Since moving to Chicago, I’ve almost exclusively been reading non-fiction, most of which has been about urban planning, urban history, and project housing.  Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh and Block by Block: Neighborhoods and Public Policy on Chicago’s West Side by Amanda Seligman were two of the most powerful books I’ve read.  This research has dramatically changed the way I see cities; these spaces are no longer just accumulations of buildings, but spaces whose development deeply impact its inhabitants.  This is what led me the work of David Schalliol.
Your website(s):

Portfolio – shelby-silvernell.com

Blog – shelby-silvernell-observations.tumblr.com

Flickr – flickr.com/photos/ssilvernell/


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