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Before Syd Harris started photographing Chicago workers in the 1950s, he was one himself, logging 20-some years in the stockyards and behind the wheel of a beer truck. But he’d also fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish civil war and helped run the presidential campaign of Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace in 1948; his decision to take up the camera at age 40, says his widow, Mimi Harris, grew out of his desire “to change the world. He was always out on the streets, and wanted to record the little people.” In addition to images of workingmen and -women on the job, on the picket line, or at union rallies–many of which were originally published in union papers such as Labor’s Daily–Harris also snapped leading figures of the 60s and 70s, including Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Robeson, John F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Hoffa. His photographs, including many that were never published, have been archived at the Chicago Historical Society since his death in 1989. They’re getting their first public showing this month as part of the photo exhibit “Eyewitness: Documents of Struggle,” which opens Friday, November 8, at HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, and runs through December 8. The show also includes work by Harris’s sons Marc and Jerry, as well as Daniel Pepper’s photographs from a recent trip to Afghanistan and Alexy Lanza’s shots of life in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There’s a free opening reception Friday at 6; call 312-362-9707 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Sydney Harris.