Bensinger’s Pool Hall, 1970 — A book of Photographs celebrating a long lost landmark in Chicago.

Nor’wester Books has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the production of a photobook celebrating a long lost pool hall in Chicago, IL. It has been over 45 years since Helaine shot this body of work and we are excited to get it out into the world as a beautiful book of photographs.

In 1970 Helaine Garren began to photograph at Bensinger’s Pool Hall while she was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. She had a long history with the Art Institute, as her parents sent her there for art classes every Saturday of her childhood. She also had a long history with pocket billiards, as in her words, she “spent many of my bad-girl years learning the game.” The two interests collided when she decided to major in photography.

Her first assignment was in a class taught by Hugh Edwards, the curator of the print department. “He’s the guy who gave Robert Frank, my favorite photographer, his first major solo exhibition.”

“I chose to do my series on Bensinger’s, a classic old-time pool hall that had been the inspiration for The Hustler. I had spent a good deal of time shooting pool there and thought the beautiful side lighting and shady characters would provide an ideal setting. I began shooting with a telephoto lens at first. I didn’t want to disrupt the concentration and social dynamics at the tables. I was there so often, though, that I became a fixture and could sit right next to the tables, and no one seemed to notice me.”
“I turned in my assignment to Mr. Edwards, and he looked through the photographs carefully, separating them into two piles. When he was done, he pointed to one pile and said, “I’d like to buy these.” It was the proudest day of my life.”

When Helaine finished school, she moved to Portland, Oregon, and the negatives and prints ended up in a box in her closet for the next 30 years. One day in 2002, while talking about a shared love of shooting pool with a friend, she dug out her old photographs and showed them to him. “He was blown away and told me I needed to try to have an exhibition of the work, so I decided to take them around to a few galleries in Portland.”

That is how Chris Bennett, co-founder of Nor’wester Books, met Helaine. He had recently opened a photography center in Portland, Oregon called Newspace Center for Photography, which housed a gallery for exhibiting work. She came in with her box of prints one day, and he was floored. In 2004 Newspace exhibited the Bensinger’s work in a two-person exhibition titled American Retro. Chris lost touch with Helaine over the years until he and his friend decided to start publishing photobooks under the imprint name Nor’wester Books. Chris says, “I showed the work to my partner, Benny, and we decided it was time to track Helaine down and propose publishing the Bensinger’s work.”

This is how we arrived here. If our Kickstarter campaign is successful, in fall 2015, Nor’wester Books will publish the photobook Bensinger’s. The book incorporates elements of history from the pool hall and the characters who played there, and will include a short essay written about Bensinger’s by David Mamet from 1986, long after the pool hall closed its doors for good.

About Helaine Garren

Helaine was born in 1944 and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents wanted her to marry a nice Jewish boy and become a senator. “I remember my mother marveling that senators earned $22,500 a year.” Instead, she married an artist from Glasgow. He wore a black leather motorcycle jacket lined with his old kilt. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon.

About Nor’wester Books

Nor’wester Books is a publisher of Photobooks based in Portland, Oregon.

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