This month’s tenant spotlight features Bernard Kleina, a photographer in Chicago who has documented the civil rights movement and many other historic topics. Located at 2100 Manchester, Bernard has been in this west Chicago office space since 2012 but his career spans over 5 decades.
Bernard started taking photographs in 1965, when he became involved in the Civil Rights movement. From his office space in Chicago, he curates a body of work that spans more than fifty years, and continues to impact the world today. “Since 1965,” he states on his website, “I have had the privilege of photographing ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and extraordinary people doing exceptional and uncommon things.”
Historic Civil Rights Photographer and Activist Calls Chicago Office Space Home
In 1965, Bernard went to Selma, Alabama to march for voting rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was arrested in Selma for parading without a permit, just days before the famous march to Mobile. He later followed Dr. King to Chicago, where he listened to speeches, participated in protests, and photographed Dr. King. Those photographs turned out to be historic, as they were the first candid color photographs ever taken of Dr. King. Bernard’s unique photos have been featured by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, both on their website and in the Washington DC museum.
In 1970, Bernard joined HOPE Fair Housing Center, a nonprofit that serves North and North Central Illinois by working to create greater housing opportunities and end housing discrimination in the region. He served as the Executive Director of HOPE for 41 years, producing numerous videos on housing discrimination, and using his photography to underscore the mission of HOPE. He is passionate about housing and states: “Housing at the heart of our struggle for equality.”
Bernard’s first experience at 2100 Manchester was actually with HOPE, who maintained office space at this Chicago location from 1995 – 2012. When he left HOPE in 2012 to focus on Bernard Kleina Photography, the choice for a Chicago office space was easy. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t like it,” he says, noting the convenient location and pleasant staff.
Bernard’s work has been displayed across the country. He recently had exhibits in Montgomery, Alabama and Washington, DC; as well as on the campuses of Duke University and Wheaton College. His photographs have also been exhibited in other locations across the country including Las Vegas and Orange County. In October 2019, his photographs were featured at the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights 50th Anniversary Gala – fifty images for fifty years.
In addition to his photography exhibits and speaking engagements, Bernard consults with nonprofit organizations and law firms on the imagery they utilize in their outreach programs and digital communications. He’s also working to get more of his historic photographs into Chicago area schools. Noting that Dr. King led protests and for a while lived in the Chicago area, he believes students today will find Dr. King’s words and images relevant and inspiring.
Bernard, who celebrated his 84th birthday in October, shows no signs of slowing down. He still works seven days a week and has no plans to retire. “When you love what you do, you keep working,” he said, adding, “It’s what keeps me young.”
To learn more about Bernard’s work or Bernard Kleina Photography, you can visit his website or contact him directly at 630.260.4100.
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