7. A Picture Says 1,000 Words: Wallace Kirkland
In 1923 Wallace Kirkland had just earned a college degree in social work. Soon he received an invitation from Jane Addams to come to Hull-House to become director of the boys’ and men’s clubs. He rented an apartment at the ever-expanding Hull-House complex and moved his family in. The Eastman Kodak store in Chicago donated cameras for Kirkland to use with the boys to cultivate an interest in photography. After all how can someone find interest in photography if they do not have a camera?
Not familiar with photography, Wallace was soon hooked. His enthusiasm spread to the boys and young men that took photography classes at the clubs. He encouraged each participant to photograph what was of interest to them. This was a big change from the constant directions bombarded at the boys in the poor, immigrant, working-class neighborhood. The boys could take control of their own work and as such were eager to learn. Wallace constructed a darkroom in a closet of the boys’ clubs building where young photographers developed their artwork.
Wallace Kirkland walked into all parts of the neighborhoods surrounding Hull-House. This could only happen because boys from all gangs respected him. Because of Wallace’s kindness and empathy for other people and his work with some of the toughest boys in the city, he was never harassed as he walked from building to building and street to street taking photos of everyday life in Chicago’s Near West Side. Eventually Wallace left Hull-House and opened his own photography studio.
Eventually he became a photojournalist for Life magazine. According to his son, Wallace Kirkland was assigned to go to India to photography Mohandas Gandhi, whom he idolized. Reportedly Gandhi stated that he did not want to contribute to a capitalistic magazine like Life and wanted nothing to do with Wallace or the magazine. When Wallace Kirkland informed Gandhi that he worked with Jane Addams at Hull-House Gandhi replied with, “Well, spend some time with me.”
Some of the most iconic images of the settlement house movement and Hull-House are photographs taken by Wallace Kirkland. There is a photo of a young Benny Goodman taking clarinet lessons, an old woman spinning yarn, theater and dance classes, citizenship classes, as well as numerous images of the surrounding neighborhood. Throughout his career Kirkland photographed Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the YMCA, and people just being people.