The Mickey Pallas Archive is at
The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
All photographs on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyright 1995, The Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Foundation. For information on licensing, please contact CCP.
For information about signed silver prints, please contact J. A. Ginsburg, using the form below.
Mickey Pallas was born in 1916 in Belvidere, Illinois, a small town about 100 miles west of Chicago. The third child of immigrant Jewish parents, Pallas' early life was rough. His mother was institutionalized shortly after his birth. His father, an often absent parent, moved the family to Chicago, where he struggled to earn a living in the restaurant business. Mickey was sent to live with his grandparents in Michigan for a time, but his most vivid childhood memories were of Chicago's "Great Vest Side," a rough and tumble ethnic enclave.
In 1929, at age 13, Mickey decided to take charge of his chaotic young life and arranged to have himself put into the Marks Nathan Children's Home, a Jewish orphanage. Along with food, clothing and a basic education, a Marks Nathan upbringing instilled a strong sense of social responsibility in its young charges. A number of alumni—slightly older than Pallas—joined the famed Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight the good fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. In Pallas' case, social activism took the form of union work and de-segregation efforts.
The Marks Nathan Home also provided Pallas with his first taste of photography: He joined the camera club and, together with a friend, purchased his first camera for $1.26.
Five years later, Pallas graduated and wanted to study photography formally, But his teachers and family didn't see a future in it, at least not in the midst of the Great Depression, so he went to work, quickly running through a series of jobs: driving a truck, selling insurance, playing drums in a burlesque band, running a dry-cleaning business. When he went to work at the Studebaker automobile factory, he joined the United Auto Workers (UAW), where he chaired the local's Anti-Discrimination League. Pallas began photographing union meetings, speeches, strikes and celebrations. Soon, he was shooting weddings on the side. And by the late 1940s, Pallas was working full-time as a photographer.
The 1950s was a decade of promise and prosperity, but also of the Cold War and McCarthyism. Pallas was everywhere, photographing everybody and in the process, creating an aggregated portrait of the time. He photographed oil refinery workers and company executives. He shot Buick ads while juggling assignments for Ebony and Sepia magazines. He photographed local amateur hour stars one day, Jackie Gleason and Gene Kelly the next. He took pictures in burlesque houses where showgirls bared their bodies and nightclubs where Edith Piaf bared her soul. From jazz festivals to company-sponsored beauty contests, by way of the State Fair, Mickey Pallas was there, camera in hand.
In 1959, Pallas founded Gamma Photo Lab, Inc., one the first commercial labs in Chicago. By the time the business was sold in 1973, his two-man shop had grown to a 125-person industry leader. As the lab business prospered, it became increasingly awkward to compete with clients and Pallas work as a photojournalist tapered off.
In 1974, Pallas founded the Center for Photographic Arts in Chicago, which was both a gallery and a library showcasing an extensive personal collection of photographs, vintage books and cameras. The Center presented exhibitions of work by Doisneau, Atget, Sudek,
W. Eugene Smith and Skrebneski, among others.
An extensive retrospective of Pallas’ own work, Mickey Pallas: Photographs 1945 - 1960, curated by J.A. Ginsburg and Kenneth C. Burkhart, was mounted at the Chicago Cultural Center in 1986. The show then toured throughout the United States, including an exhibition at the International Center for Photography in New York.
The Pallas Archive was placed at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, a particularly meaningful honor for Pallas as the Center is also home to an extensive archive of work by his photographic hero, W. Eugene Smith.
Mickey Pallas passed away on August 14, 1997.
— J. A. Ginsburg
"Pallas told a Chicago Tribune writer in 1992, 'You have to have a sense of form to be a photographer...But the most important thing...is to have a feeling for other human beings.' Picasso doubtless felt had a feeling for other human beings, but in his pictures he made them into creatures of his own imagination. For Pallas, the 'feeling' consists not a of asserting his own identity, but of helping others realize theirs. As an artist, he seeks not to remake the world, but to see it, and to celebrate it, as it is."
—Fred Camper, Chicago Reader
"... We put together that lab and the jobs came in, you know, job by job. 'Chuck, stop painting the wall because I got some film for you to develop.' 'Mickey, we have to buy some developer and a tank to put it in.' 'Oh yeah, o.k. When is the job due?' 'Tonight.' 'I think you better go get the stuff.' 'I don’t have anything to pay for it with, Mickey.' And so on, and so on. So eventually the business started rolling in mainly by dint of Mickey going out there and saying, “You got some film? You need some prints?”
— Chuck Reynolds, photographer and Mickey's assistant in the 1950s
... You are a socialist until you bury your first nut. (Mickey) called me into his office one day when I was in the lab with film in the mid-1960s. He says, 'C’mere.' He’d had his first million dollar year. 'Mickey! You’re going to have to become a Republican now.' He says, 'I was always a Republican. I was a Republican for Roosevelt. I was a Republican for Truman. I was a Republican for Adlai Stevenson. What do you want from me?'"