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Photos: Pilsen's Amazing Autonomous Fireworks Show

One of the most integral parts of many 4th of July celebrations is a fireworks display. I’ve been either photographing or participating in fireworks shows for nearly my entire life, mostly in and around the Midwest. Chicago and its surrounding suburbs have plenty of official displays, but some of the most unique and wonderful shows are in our neighborhoods, and none do them quite like Pilsen on Chicago’s near south side. This year, I walked the blocks with some family and other photographers. You can find folks grilling and lighting off fireworks on almost every corner. Walk a half mile or a mile in any direction and you’ll find dozens of displays. If you stand in the right place in an intersection, you can see aerial displays in any direction.


Usually the nighttime lights in the sky are part of a larger block party or a small gathering that goes on all day and is family friendly where all are welcome.


There’s a type of controlled chaos at these autonomous fireworks displays. Watching at a distance might give you the impression that things are completely out of hand, but for the most part, everyone is quite careful. Older people on the block give kids time to play with sparklers in the street while they set up much larger displays. Parents help their children light the first wick and then they’ll step far back to watch the fun. Everyone shares food and drink, laughs and cheers.


After the last large bang goes off, everyone on the block grabs big push brooms and sweeps the street clean. Almost every resident of the block and surrounding ones are outside on their porches and sidewalks and there’s a shared sense of community that’s beautiful and otherwise difficult to put into words.


Here’s a little bit of what I saw this year.




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