Mickey Pallas

(1916 - 1997) American


Born in Belvidere, Illinois, Pallas was placed in an orphans' home in Chicago at age thirteen because his parents were unable to care for him adequately with the onset of the Depression. When he was older, he found employment as a musician, truck driver, insurance salesman, dry cleaner, and auto worker, and in the mid-1940s began to photograph weddings and labor union activities. Not only did he sympathetically photograph the latter, he was an organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and chair of the Anti-Discrimination committee of the local United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America. By the 1950s, Pallas's clientele expanded to include Standard Oil of Indiana, ABC-TV, Ebony magazine, the Harlem Globetrotters, and several black churches on the South Side of Chicago. He documented subjects as diverse as a sugar workers' strike in Louisiana, the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, an annual Halloween transvestites ball in Chicago, and burlesque performers across the country. Pallas applied his straightforward style to making portraits of common people--fathers and brides, children and dogs, meatpackers and refinery workers, welders--and less common ones--beauty pageant contestants, circus performers, and celebrities. His work is perhaps most noteworthy for the usual comfort with which he crossed social, racial, and class boundaries.
Pallas joined the American Society of Magazine Photographers in 1953, and was a founding member of the Chicago chapter. He opened Gamma photo lab in Chicago in 1959; the business grew until it was sold in 1973, when Pallas opened the Center for Photographic Arts as a forum for making accessible his substantial collection of vintage photographs, photography books and equipment. His work was recognized in a one-man show in 1986 at the Chicago Public Library Cultural Center and has been shown at ICP.
Lisa Soccio
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 224.
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