Art Shay

Directed by
Jack Davidson & Ken Hanson
Produced by
Steve Roeder
Edited by
Dave Myszewski
Story Editor
Barry Poltermann

Art Shay flew more than fifty combat missions during World War II, where he photographed the war as a hobby under the command of his commander, actor Jimmy Stewart. When he returned home he began working as a photojournalist for Life Magazine, and eventually became a ‘go to’ photographer for Sports Illustrated, Time, The New York Times Magazine and just about every other journalistic magazine then in existence.


Simone De Beauvoir, photographed by Art Shay in Nelson Algren’s apartment.

By the early sixties, Shay had become one of American’s most renowned photo-journalists during the heyday of the print magazine. He documented just about every celebrity and important national event of the 50’s and 60’s, from Marlon Brando at home with his dog to the ’68 Democratic national convention.

But his most acclaimed work would be found not through his ZELIG-like career with the magazines of the day, but instead through his passion for photographing his home city of Chicago with gritty street photography, working closely with his close friend, the writer Nelson Algren, to bring to light the darker side of life.

As his career skyrocketed and his stature grew, he was away from home more and more, eventually becoming distanced from his family and his beloved wife, Florence. And then, in an unexpected strike of personal family tragedy, he was broken — his career essentially over.

But where is 91-year-old Shay now?

As his health declines and he comes to terms with the recent loss of his soul mate, Florence, we follow Art as his reputation is restored through an unexpected wave of rediscovery by the art world. Today, with his photography finding it’s way onto the walls of renowned collectors and museums such as the National Portrait Gallery, we meet a wise, funny and philosophical storyteller, who gives us a uniquely personal photographic journey through the middle of the twentieth century.

A September Club Production