Archive for February, 2007

Problems, Problems, Problems, or…An Ode to Bitching


Something I’ve discovered over the last few years is that I love to bitch about things. Most of the time the things I bitch about bother me, but not all that much. I just find joy in the art of bitching. It’s fun.

Now, luckily for me, my job gives me ample opportunity to bitch in that something always seems to be either getting messed up or just randomly falling apart. I bitch about these things, pretty much every time. But I’ve also discovered that I like it when it all falls apart.

It’s just no fun when things are working well. There’s no challenge. I thrive on the challenge. Put me in a situation where I have every reason to fail, and usually I’ll do pretty well, come out with some decent to good images, and have fun doing it. Put me in a situation where everything is alright, or working for me, and I’ll do fine, I’ll make some good images, but probably not as nice, or at least not to me, and I often won’t have as much fun. I love the thought of overwhelming failure, and the ability to succeed in those situations.

Really, who doesn’t like a challenge? It brings out the best in all of us, or at least in me. I have to get more creative in my problem solving. I have to look beyond what I’ve done and I know I’m capable of and find more and go further. If people only grow by pushing their limits and expanding their horizons, aren’t the situations I should fail the perfect opportunity to grow?

I really rather wonder how poets, musicians and painters do it, how they grow. They often don’t have loads of problems bearing down on them. They don’t have to worry about a word not showing up to the party. I guess they might have writers block, and maybe that’s the same as the candidate not showing up. I don’t know. I just think it helps when artists have obstacles to overcome. It pushes them to find that extra something in themselves to succeed. I’m sure it also builds confidence in themselves as well.

One of personal, favorite, sell imposed limits, and I work so much better when I have this limit than when I don’t, is using prime lenses. For the non-photographers out there, that means using lenses that don’t have a zoom capability. When I have a zoom lens I can just stand there and select what I want in the frame and be done. With prime lenses I have to figure out how to get the lens to work regardless of the fact that it’s just a little to wide, or a little to tight for what I would like. I look at this problem, and compose around it, but I also have to spend time examining the image, thinking about the image, and then finding some way to cope with the limits. Often this leads to making a better image. If for no other reason than I’ve spent more time thinking about the image and thinking about what else I can get rid of in the image if the lens is to tight, or what else I can add if it’s too loose.

Plus there is something that is good for the ego and self-image (I have done the entry on “Don’t feed the Ego” yet?) in success in the face of obstacles. Sometimes it’s nice to show off and just show, “I’m a bad ass, I’m so good, you can’t stop me! Bring it on, I got it, I’m that good.” Okay, this wasn’t that serious of a situation, but really, this was asking for trouble.

The situation was that we had to cover election night. The other photographer, and my boss, had to bow out of working due to illness. So now instead of two photographer we got one. This meant I had to cover 3 candidates for mayor in Forest Park, plus at least three candidates for alderman in Chicago. The 3 Forest Park mayoral candidate images also had to be in pretty quick as the paper had to be out the door an hour or two later. The aldermanic images didn’t need to be in till morning at least, but involved a lot of driving. This just had the potential to fall apart, there is no way to be in six places at once. Three sure, six is a definite stretch though, especially with driving.

Suffice it to say they all got covered, with images to spare. 6 locations, 4 hours, 30 minutes of editing in there, and over an hour of driving. Loads of fun, though not even close to my personal record for number of locations in that amount of time. Now mind you I can’t take all the credit. Once we at the paper realized we had one photographer my editors did a great job of narrowing down coverage locations and minimizing drive time. They deserve a lot of credit, but I’m still really, really cool.

I’ve also discovered when I’m happy, my ego is feeling good, I tend to sing, mostly in the car. I think it’s my new sign of happiness. I don’t know when it started, but it did, and I like it. Mind you, I don’t sing well, but I enjoy doing it. I think it’s important to notice those signs, the tells we make when we have different moods. For me it’s singing in the car, and singing the song “I’m too sexy for my….” when I’m walking down the street.

Sophomoric Humor and for the Love of Storytelling


Alright, let’s be clear about this photo. It has no other point other than dumb humor. Even I think it’s ridiculous, sophomoric and juvenile.

I expect no less from anyone looking at it. And just to provide context, this is Jason, at the Illinois Boys State Swimming Championship. I was killing time, he was actually working.

While there I ran into another photographer I’ve met before, she’s becoming something of a friend, but I we’re not quite at that point yet. We got to talking about what we enjoy shooting, the need for variety and effort. Maybe the effort part is where Jason comes in, he always puts out a 110%.

Anyhow, my comment to Tracy, and I hope I spelled her name right, was that 75-85% of all assignments are going to be the same repetitive crap and I do it to pay the bills. Thinking about it now I think it came off as a little more negative sounding than I meant, but if you wanted someone good with words you, and she, would be talking to writers and not photographers. The idea behind is that most shoots are pretty much the same as any number of shoots you’ve done before it. That’s fine. You do the job, you do it well, and you move on.

The idea isn’t that I don’t try hard at my job. The idea is more like what I would imagine it is being a striker in soccer. Whenever you get the chance you walk, or run slowly. You do this to conserve energy. While hustling constantly may help make a difference in any particular play, the difference it makes will probably be small. So instead you save your energy so that when you need to be able to strike hard, move fast, you have the energy for that sudden burst.

It’s a similar idea to what I feel I do. I take the day to day assignments, I do them well, but I don’t put out that extra energy to take a nice photo and make it very nice. Instead I hold that energy, so when the situation arises I can take a good photo and make it great, take a good photo and turn into a great photo story. I look at as being able to take an image of medium importance and story telling ability, and make it 20% better (yeah, percentages don’t really work with are, but work with me here) or take a potentially good story and make it 10 times better.

At the end of the day I don’t think artists have an infinite amount of energy; creativity, sure, but not the energy to carry out all those ideas. So decisions have to be made, sacrifices made. Happens in everything we do, it’s no different in art.

And mind you, I’m not saying this is necessarily the right choice. I’m saying that this is the choice I’ve discovered that works best for me, at this point in my life. It may be different for me in a year, or a decade, and it’s probably different for you.

Now I just need to find a story that lights my fire. It’s been a few months, I’m in the mood, but nothing has appeared that has really screamed “I need to do a story on this.” I’ve already got one planned for the fall, and some ideas of where I want to go for summer, but the season of the moment, spring, I’ve got nothing. At moments like this I count on the strangeness of the world and serendipity, and a story shall appear. I just hope it’s soon.

Work or Play?


I’ve been debating what the difference is between work and play for me.

The question on it’s face is pretty simple. Work is what you do for money, play is what you do for fun. The problem is that in my case what I do for fun that is the most fun, is often identical to what I do to put food on my table.

Examples, this photo is from a multimedia story I did for the Wednesday Journal. I followed the production of a feature movie , “Love. Blood. Kryptonite.” that was written and largely done by local high school students. The story itself was totally self-generated. The audio was recorded and processed by me. In the end I was pretty happy with the piece, and fairly proud of it. But regardless of my good feelings, it was still definitely work, no way about that. When I was done with it all I wanted to do was collapse for week.

Now while I was working on the LBK piece for the paper I took “a week long weekend.” For this mini-vacation I flew out to Rhode Island and joined my friend Peter (aka George) while a group of his friends and cohorts worked on a play for a group they run called TENT.

My “job” during this production was to make a record of them working on it and to a more limited degree of the piece itself. Basically this involved shooting from 9am till 1am for four days straight, with a little bit of editing packed in the middle. The woman who was kind enough to house a few of us I didn’t even meet till the last day because we got back every night after she had gone to bed and left before she woke. We’re talking four straight 16 hour days.

The end result of this piece for TENT was also a mutlimedia slideshow.

This was the best vacation I had had in years. I came back recharged and feeling great. The problem I’m having is figuring out where the difference is between these two events. One is work, the other is not. Both we’re done because I wanted to. Yet, again, one was work, the other a vacation, and they both felt like that. But I “worked” more on the vacation.

This post doesn’t have an answer. It just has the question when is it work? When is it play? And what is essence of the difference? I don’t know. Some days I just wonder about this a lot.

It’s also a good problem to have I guess.

Contest Entries


I hate entering contests. Mostly because it just feels like doing paperwork. I’m going through old work, at most doing minor toning, and otherwise rewriting captions, renaming and getting images to the requested specs.


But it’s good to do also. One, there is always the chance I could win something. Though past experience has taught me that that chance is pretty small. On the other hand if you don’t shoot you don’t score, so take the shot.

Second, if I do win, it gets me some points in the newsroom which will hopefully get me something in need, space maybe, down the line.

Third, it looks good on the resume. I don’t know why I care about that as I haven’t updated it in years, but it sounds like a good reason.

The above image is from a foundry on the south side of Chicago where the owner (pictured) wants to convert this room for blacksmithing. I love people who love a craft.

Also, note the redesign of the site. Okay, I’ll note the redesign of the site and you’ll read and not know what I’m talking about.

A Gala I wasn’t working


I get to attend formal events somewhat regularly. I almost never get to attend formal events as a guest. It’s a nice change of pace.

Maybe the word “formal” is wrong in this situation, but technically it was a gala, and a fund raiser, so I’m going to call it a formal event.

So these are from Chicago Tap Theatre’s Unmasked Gala. They are a joy watch, and fun to help.

It’s also nice to be complimented on your work. It’s really nice when it happens repeatedly, with a fair amount of energy, and from beautiful women. If only every night were so nice.

As with many artists in this world, it’s rare to get much feedback much less a lot of reinforcement. Personally I don’t need it much (or I tell myself that) but every once and a while, it’s damn nice. And I think to varying degrees that’s true with just about every artist.

Art is world that typically involves a lot of work, sometime solitary, or fairly solo, and it’s nice to know that there’s something on the other side of that silent void that your energy goes into. It’s one thing to feel good about what you’re doing, but we all need some feedback from others on occasion.

Now this isn’t why I went to this event. I went to this event because they are a damn cool dance group. So it’s just cool to be able to support them. It’s also nice to get to put names, voices and personalities to faces which I’ve seen over and over in my photos.

Blessing of the Clowns


Heads up to anyone reading this regularly (I know there are a very few of you) I haven’t been updating lately, and it will be a few weeks before I probably start again. I’ve been absorbed with updating my website. It’s getting close, but I’ve still got a lot of finishing touches to take care of. You may want to head over there and take a look.

This is just a quick pair of images from the Blessing of the Clowns. I know people talk about how something was “like in the movies,” but personally, I think the movies lack an understanding of the surreality of daily life.

Before the clowns started performing while the Reverend was talking, I had a clown telling me masturbation and incest jokes in the back of the church. Yep, during church service I was being told dirty jokes by a clown in the back of a church. If you put that in a movie they include drugs to make it “believable,” when in reality this stuff just happens.

Sometimes in life it’s best just to accept the strangeness of life and move on. Anymore will just screw with your world view too much.