Metropolis Coffee Featured Artist: Jen Pagonis

Located in Edgewater, one of the country’s most eclectic locales, the Metropolis Café is relaxed and without attitude. Our customers come from all walks of life and we love ‘em all. And they seem to love our coffee and tea, our sweet and savory bites, and our accomplished vegan menu. Did we mention art, music…? Stop by–we’ll fill you in.

Browsing the photos of Jen Pagonis on her Flickr page for Pidgeon Feet Photography, she seems to pull the humanity out of objects and the natural world as easily as she does out of, well, humans. She confirms this about her current exhibit at Metropolis Cafe: “Become Who You Are.”

Pagonis says, “It’s pretty much a show about intimate portraits of people I’ve come across,” says Pagonis. ”If I see something in someone’s eyes that attracts me, I ask if I can shoot them.”

Born and raised in Chicago (“I was born at Resurrection Hospital,” she says proudly.), she attended DePaul University; now lives in the Rogers Park neighborhood; and is an intern at Fig Multimedia, just down the street from Metropolis Cafe.

The photos you’ll see at Metropolis Cafe were largely taken around our neighborhood, Edgewater. It’s titled “Become Who You Are” because: “I was walking down Granville to Metropolis on a gray, overcast day,” says Pagonis. “I had my camera and kept running into kids and their mothers, people working–I wanted to have the community on the wall.”

She’s also experimenting with video and photo slideshows, like this 3,000-plus photo collage of a cross-country road trip. Her next projects is more local, photos and possibly video portraits of people wearing certain types of Chicago paraphernalia, from generic hats you’d see at an airport gift shop to surplus-type T-shirts. “I’ll be out finding them, not putting them on people,” says Pagonis. “The people wearing those hats seem to be more working class or are living on the street and they have a story to tell–didn’t have money to get a fancy Chicago Bulls hat.”

That ability, and yearning, to look inside people from all strata of society is a theme in Pagonis’ work. It’s an outlook fostered by a life outlook based on being true to herself and returning the good in other people with more of the same. “People have helped me out all along the way, from camera bags to using their space; helping me hang shows or giving me wire for the shows.” She gives special credit to Marc Hauser, a photographer who’s instructed the self-taught Pagonis in studio lighting and other technical aspects of photography.

Pagonis is also building a portfolio as a speaker on the topic of intersexuality, traveling to Philadelphia and Vermont later this year. She delved into the subject after transferring into women’s studies in college (first in her family to go, by the way), instead of being a digital film major. “I was bored to death at school until I found my way to women’s studies and that’s where I met my community, my people, my friends,” says Pagonis.

She found professional and artistic calling in life on a trip to Italy, where she logged thousands of photos with a manual point-and-shoot and a tripod bought en route. “It was an intense visual experience,” she says. “I would get lost but it was okay because I had my camera and every wrong turn was a new opportunity for a photograph.” Returning home, she happened by the Chicago Photography Center, wandered inside and met instructor Richard Stromberg. “I told him my story and that I wanted to do film photography; he set me up with equipment but I still had to pay for the classes.

“There was a baking contest for a free class the next week,” says Pagonis. “I went home, called my aunt for the recipe for my favorite cookies, baked them and won out of 30 contestants. That was how I began to learn the fundamentals of photography.”

Whether on the road in Italy, San Francisco, or at home in Chicago, Pagonis isn’t afraid to learn the fundamentals or trust her higher instincts. Stop by Metropolis cafe and see what you think.

All of the photos on display are available by contacting Pagonis at or find her on Twitter at @Pidgejen. You can also find her on Tumblr.

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