See Yesterday’s Milwaukee Through Photographer Mark Gubin’s Lens

When Mark Gubin wasn’t on assignment for national magazines, he roamed the streets of Milwaukee and photographed whatever caught his eye.

For half a century, award-winning photographer Mark Gubin freelanced for national magazines such as Time and Life. He shot exotic landscapes and natural wonders, traveling to the far corners of the world from his Wisconsin home.

But now and then, he went on a Milwaukee walkabout, leaving his professional equipment in his pack and tucking nothing but an old Leica camera in his back pocket. No autofocus, no zoom lens, no digital anything.

“Sometimes I think that stuff impoverished the spirit of it all,” he says. “There’s something about shooting simply. Film was sketchy and erratic back then, no one had phone cameras.” He shot streetscapes, what he calls “spiritual food. Sometimes a photographer just shoots for himself.”

Now retired, Gubin divides his time between his two rather eccentric homes: a reclaimed old movie theater in Bay View and a tugboat on the river.

Couple Atop Lake Bluff

Photo by Mark Gubin

A man and a woman climb steps from Lincoln Memorial Drive to the East Side. “I always liked to stay down by the water, the lake or the river. I hung out there a lot, I liked the boats, I liked the light,” Gubin says. “Sometimes the subjects looked at me, really saw me, but most of the time, they didn’t.”

Seated Man by Fire Hydrant

Photo by Mark Gubin

Gubin’s work displays an eye for the perverse, an appreciation of the tension between the expected and the strange. “Sometimes objects just arrange themselves,” he says. “It just takes someone to see it.”

Sailor and a Young Guy in Phone Booths With Another Guy Waiting

Photo by Mark Gubin

This might be the ’60s, or it might be the ’70s. “I can’t remember anymore,” Gubin laughs. But it was a Saturday night in Milwaukee, down near the lake, and these men looked to be on identical missions. “There were the lines of those bodies, those two men echoing each other, and there it was.”

1970s Lakefront, Couple Strolling, Guy Flexing Muscles

Photo by Mark Gubin

Gubin was used to waiting patiently for the perfect moment of sunrise or the precise degree of shadow for a travel poster shot, so lingering on the sidewalk with his camera was natural for him. “And then, something interesting happened,” he says of this shot, which was taken along Lincoln Memorial Drive.

‘Taking a Shot’ appears in the July 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Pamela Hill Nettleton is an assistant professor of journalism and media studies at the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University.