Photographer Dick Blau Brings Plankinton Avenue Into Focus

A photographer documents the changing scene outside his Downtown home.

From a bustling stretch of Plankinton Avenue, a snapshot of life in Downtown Milwaukee can be found right on the sidewalk. Patrons of the Riverside Theater and Mo’s Irish Pub sprawl onto the street, a variety of characters wait for buses on the corners, and the buildings hint at the neighborhood’s long commercial history.

Photo by Dick Blau.

Over the past nine years, photographer and UW-Milwaukee professor emeritus Dick Blau has captured these scenes and hundreds more outside his condo at 730 N. Plankinton Ave., immortalizing the unseen and forgotten through the lenses of his camera. His only rule: The photos must be taken from inside or within sight of his home.

“The streets, they’re almost like beaches,” says Blau. “Things kind of blow onto them and remain and then they disappear, and that happens every day.”

The public will be able to see Downtown the way Blau sees it on Apr. 20, for Gallery Night at Mo’s Lounge, in the same building where Blau lives. The photos will cycle across three different screens, while pianist Jerry Weitzer plays music by Thelonious Monk.

Blau recently donated 200 of the photographs to the Milwaukee County Historical Society archives. “They’re not part of the formal history of anything, but they are part of a lived history of a place,” he says.

Photo by Dick Blau

‘Photo Finish’ appears in the April 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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