Archive for February, 2008

Because I Can, II


Time is short in life, still, but I’d at least like to throw some images up. Sorry for the lack of context, but life is about triage to some degree right now, it’s all good, but it’s full, and good.

I’m Too Tired…


It’s been go, go, and even more go for weeks now. I’m going to collapse at some point, in every way. I need a few things to recharge, some will happen, some are in the works, others, well, you know, that’s just life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great. It’s nothing but shoot, hang with awesome people, and do things I love to do, but I need to collapse also. Tomorrow I want to go hang at the planetarium and watch the eclipse. I hope that will help me recharge spiritually a little. A little here, a little there. It’s important to stay somewhat fresh, sparky, to be able to work your best. My work isn’t suffering…yet. (btw – “yet” is the best word in the whole of the English language. Filled with either infinite hope and possibility, or portending doom and destruction, and often both.) Anyway, off my whining.

Few quick items. I got to see (meaning shoot) my favorite-ist tap dance company (favorite-ist because they’re good at what they do, and they are unreasonably kind to me. I got a X-mas present. That’s so cool.) last weekend with my favorite-ist singer. Talk about a set-up for good, but still…The review is supposed to be in the Trib soon. If it goes along with my review, get your tickets today. No seriously, today. The show, especially the first “act” is a sight to behold and hear. I’m going to try to sit and watch this one again, I really, really want to, I should shortly have everything lined up, assuming some generosity from the lovely ladies (and Mark and Phil) and that I can get the night off of work, which requires two basketball teams to lose, which they should do, but if they don’t, I’m going to be real bummed. Not that Bloomington-Normal ain’t fun during spring break, but really, just shoot me now. It would sadden me to not be able to see this show again. But, if all goes well, I will, and I get to take a good friend. (The photos aren’t quite what I’d like, are they ever?, but just trust me when I say it’s a show worth seeing.)

Also, in the world of the weird. I’m on that YouTube thingy. Well, not me really, a bunch of us. It’s an overview shot of the Lakeview Polar Bear event. I’m the one with the camera looking like a fool, a fool in need of a tan. It’s just nice every once and a while to say, “Hey, there’s me! I did it too!” as usually I’m the one on the other side, and happier that way, but every once and a while.

Anyhow, back to work…always, back to work…

Another Day on the Job


My current long-term project may be very serious in nature, and have very serious moments, more serious than I like to think about, it has it’s levity as well. It was Valentine’s Day, I had two beautiful women telling me that I have to wear this and that accessory. Who am I to deny two beautiful, wonderful, joyous women? Not to mention, all the ladies at facility I was at, and there were many, were flirting with me all day long. (I did dress like this all day, and I did fight them, a little, about putting it on in the first place, but their beauty over-powered me.)

To the two beautiful woman who made me wear this pimp hat, well done, and thank you.

Another Day, Another Giant Lady Bug


Did a freelance job tonight, shooting a speaker at a podium. It ran a half hour long, so that was all I did, for an hour. Whatever, they’re paying for me to be there, I’ll be there and shoot what I can. Then the speaker’s laptop battery started to die, he gave up on it. The computer went to the screen saver. Really, after an hour of photographing a guy talk (though his talk was quite interesting, it was on education. Did you know that shortly the country with the most English speakers will be China?) I just couldn’t pass up a giant lady bug behind him.

It’s the little jokes in life that make me happy. Attack of the Giant Lady Bugs!!! Quick, get the Sixty-foot Woman!!!


On a separate note, I’m not a fan of guides to being creative. I don’t think they really exist, but their are things which can help. Anyway, this list I thought was good fodder for thought. I agree with most of it.

It’s all so Zen


I’m going to start with some tangents then get to the point, as much as I ever have one, a few paragraphs on. The imagery is from polar bearing, the Chinese New Year’s Parade, a Snow Skate event (think SSX Tricky, and the only story assigned by the office, for you PJs), Information Superhighway’s performance, and The Afterlife’s performance. All the photos are from Friday night through Sunday night, and if still got leftovers for future posts. Ha!

There is just way too much to talk about from the past few days. Busy, busy beyond all recognition. Last night I got to turn the TV on for the evening news, tonight I watched my taped episode of Coupling (btw-I started watching this program a few months back, and it just kicks ass. Hilarious. Plus that whacky British humor kick. It’s on PBS.) That hour of TV has been all my free time for the last 5 days, and I hope it never ends.

It’s been nothing but edit, shoot, drive and talk about imagery with amazing photogs. Life is nothing short of grand. (I should note here, that I feel a little bad saying that as numerous of my friends have had really bad things happen to them this last week. And while I may be having a great week, that they are all in my thoughts and heart. If any of you need a hand, and I’ve said this to many of you already, let me know, I’m here and it would be my honor to make your life a little better.) Thursday a friend went out of her way to set-up some free tickets to a show for me. Totally unasked for, so kind, and wow, talk about setting a great tone for the weekend.

Friday after hanging with some friends, and running into a cool new friend totally at random, I got to see my favorite singer, the incredible Leslie Beukelman. (And if you’re cool, and I know you are, you want to see Leslie perform with my favorite tap dancers, Chicago Tap Theatre, in what will surely be an awesome performance, Mixology. Buy tickets now, it sells out, every show last year. Guys, you will impress your gals, with your class and taste, trust me.)

Saturday I got go Polar Bearing (I will go into depth on this in a bit, it’s the zen of it all.) And that night hang with some of Chicago’s, and the country’s premiere photographers. (Don’t believe me? Go here. Some of the presenters, showing the best in unused political photography coming out of the primaries. It makes me sad for newspapers that this doesn’t get used, but I’m not surprised either.)

Sunday was the Chinese New Year’s Parade, which was just all kinds of cold. Sunday night (Fri and Sun were both at Silvie’s strangely enough and Sat was at a house two blocks away, weird) I got to see one of my favorite theater groups turn band, The Afterlife. Whacky fun. I like theater people, I tend to get them, usually because they’re insane, so we have something in common. Plus I got to finally meet a friend (this whole Facebook/MySpace/Blog (FMB) world is weird. People I’ve never met know me, and I know them. Well at least this weekend I got to meet both of my FMB friends who I had never actually met.) who I’ve been having some pretty kickass conversations with.

Damn, I mean, damn, can life be better? Oh yeah, to top it off, I was on fire. I was like a drunken teenager in a car on a Saturday night in nowhere Texas with a baseball bat and nothing but mailboxes in front of him. Just hitting everything, everywhere. Not perfect, but solid hits all around.

Alright, too the much delayed point……Zen.

My mid-day Saturday shoot, or one of them was the Lakeview Polar Bear Club’s 7th Annual Celebration of Shrinkage. For those who don’t know, Polar Bearing is basically jumping in a cold, or in this case, literally freezing, lake, for…fun? I’ve wanted to do this for years and because of recent acquasitions by our company, was able to self-assign it for work. All the time I had for prep work basically consisted of calling Brian and getting some tips; sandals so submerged ice cuts your feet less often, a nice robe so you can quickly disrobe and re-robe, things like that.

I knew there were going to be a multitude of technical issues going in. Not that cameras don’t like either the cold or water. Who would’ve thunk it? Plus an event I have a minimal understanding of and have to cover with a minimum of equipment, again, due to the whole “water problem”. I made sure my camera was set-up before hand to be as quick and responsive as possible, basically, all manual. As old Leica ads used to say, “A camera that doesn’t get in the way of taking the picture.” Plus it was going to be quick, maybe a minute, maybe less I had been warned and the people I really wanted, the newbies screaming, probably meant a 15 second window for what I needed. This was going to come down to one, maybe two chances and that was it. Plus there were going to be a host of safety issues, as I would be in literally freezing water. Dead photographers don’t make good photos, basic rule. Basically I knew it would be great. I love intensity. It’s passionate. Yeah, baby.

So I get changed, btw-you know you’re in trouble when you are taking your clothes off on a beach, in the snow, and when you pull your long underwear off, and you have swim trunks underneath, so I get changed, get some “before” shots. Whatever. I end up standing around for a few minutes in my hat, sandals and swim trunks. You’d think this would be really damn cold, it was in the mid-20s after all, but I really wasn’t. This was kind of the theme for the day.

I set-up to be able to enter the water about 5 seconds ahead of the pack. I wanted to be able to get people if it was shocking right as they entered the water, and as I wasn’t wearing a wet suit, it needed to be as little lead time as I could get away with. Safety was a constant in this plan. I entered the water well everyone else was still about 30 feet away, so the first few seconds I got to be in the water without having to, being able to focus on shooting. This is, actually, a bad thing. See I got to feel my feet lose feeling, in what I would estimate to have been 1 to 2 seconds. But once everyone else started hitting the water, it was totally different.

When I shoot, not always, but when I’m there, when I’m in the zone, I’m there, totally in the moment, totally aware of my surrondings, totally aware of what is occurring and totally focused on what I’m doing, on the image I’m making. I think, but more than that, I react, I follow instinct and training, years of training. It’s a hard to describe combination of being in the scene, feeling the scene and floating above it all. I believe as a journalist I have to report what is there, but to capture the emotion, I have to be open to the emotion, and sometimes, feeling the emotion. I have to let that feeling, in this case, damn cold, into me, but flow through me. It has to flow through because well I need to feel it to use it to guide my imagery, my creation process, I can’t get overwhelmed by it. Sometimes I do get overwhelmed by it, and that’s hard on many levels for me, but as much as possible I need to not let it stop me from doing what I need to do.

So once all the participants got in the water it was all shooting. Turn here, look for this shot, turn there, try to get that shot. I don’t remember my legs being cold, but they could’ve just been numb at that point. And while I remember my feet being cold initially, there is something shocking I don’t remember. I didn’t go that far out, that deep, but I got above my waist in the water, I know this because my trunks were soaked when I got out of the water. Not to be blunt, and while the ladies will understand this, the men will truly get this, I don’t remember the boys hitting the water. Maybe they went numb to quick, whatever, but this is one of those moments you expect to hit you, like that drunk teenager earlier, except this time I’d be, or my boys more accurately, would be the mailbox. As a guy, any water below a nice warm bath tub, or a jacuzzi, ahhh jacuzzi, is a memorable experience and not in a good way typically. This one, which may have been the worst ever for me, I didn’t even notice. I was too focused on getting my shots, on what was around me.

It just amazes me how focused the mind can be, how it can allow all the necessary information in and discard everything else, regardless of how…profound, it may be. I ended up being in the water for about a minute and seven seconds (I’m taking that time from the time stamps on the images.) I left, I think I left, when I felt that I was starting to enter a time frame where safety issues might start to appear. Plus most everyone had come in and gotten out, so my shots had moved to people getting dressed and such and were no longer in the water. I didn’t think about it much, I just knew that’s where I needed to be, and moved to be there.

I spent the next 30 minutes, maybe more, in my wet trunks, my sandals, with wool socks on now to keep my feet warm (if my feet are warm, I’m warm), my winter hat, and my awesome royal blue heavy cotton robe. I wasn’t cold at all. I shot people getting warm, drinking hot chocolate, doing all the “after” things you would expect. Plus I ran into one our freelance photographers and we chatted for about 10, 15 minutes. The photo community is small, it’s always good to get to know people, and help them when you can, because someday, you’ll probably need it in return.

But my favorite point in shooting, the experience I live most for, is not when I see that final image. It’s for the moment shutter is open, it’s when everything is around me, I know what’s happening on all sides, and the shutter is open, making that image. For that split second an exposure is being made. That is my moment in life. That is the moment I live for. Not all photography is like that, a village council meeting? Who cares, it’s got to be done, but I’m not into it. Those intense, beautiful instants, when it’s all about feeling, instinct, passion, and the moment, that beautiful moment, is like nothing else. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to that Zen mediation feeling of being totally empty, without thought. Luckily for me, I get it regularly, or fairly regularly, and nothing can replace it.

Can life get better? And if so, can my heart handle it?

Damn that guy in the background


Why? Why? Why?

It’s so close to what I previsualized for the event, so close to what I wanted, now I have to figure out how to crop it to make the guy in back less intrusive.

Damn it, damn it, damn it, so damn close.

(If you have any crop advice, feel free to let me know, I’ve got 24 hours.)



Backstage at a high school talent show.

I’m in the Center of the Earth


Okay, the photo ain’t great, who cares? I just wanted you to notice one very important detail, Asia, is backwards. That’s not because Photoshop can do anything and everything, that’s because I was inside the Earth, not outside of it. Yeah baby. I was in the middle of the Earth. Cool, huh?

You know what is truly sad about events like this, it’s wasted on kids (and me, though the distinction is often a very fine one). Someday these kids will be working a real job, doing real stuff, and they’ll have totally forgotten about how they explored the Earth from the inside out, and how cool it was. Sure, it’s just a big balloon, but man, it was fun, and cool. The other sad part, I get more excited about this stuff than the first graders do. I don’t know if that makes me sad, or them, but it was cool.

Because I Can


The first one is just because I love people who are passionate, passionate about something, just loving it. This guy, Jeffrey Green, loved his gospel. Though I have to ask a question here, who paints a ceiling with lime green grid pattern? Really? You thought this was a good idea? Because? (and yeah, I love her expression also.)

The second is just because I like the interplay of the color, shadow and shapes. I’m allowed to like an image for purely artistic BS reasons occasionally.

Alright, must stop avoiding work. This is why it takes me 2 months to do expense reports. Geez.

Cup: Half Empty or Half Full?


It’s always an interesting question. I can positively, and definitely say, I see it both ways. (And in the political spirit of the season) I wholeheartedly admit to flip-flopping, flip-flopping like a pack of teenage girls on the beach, on this issue. One day one way, one day another. So, what I say, here, now, is true for today, tomorrow, we’ll see….

So recently my “daytime” employer, thee who provides me health insurance, bought several new newspapers (new for us.) We went from having 6 weekly papers to 9. The 3 additions are also a significant hike away. This will most severely effect the circulation staff and the photo staff, in my estimation, because we’re the people that have to travel there. No way around it for us. We have to be on scene, we can’t work via phone calls and email.

Of course, my first response is panic. Change causes fear in many people, me included. I believe this is natural, and good. Change is symbolic of food or shelter being at risk, and people want to live. I want to live. I want to live my happy, shiny little life. That has been largely my response, and is going to continue to be part of my response till I see how this all works out.

My belief is that photo doesn’t have the resources to do the job properly. The company’s position is that they’ve added the resources they can, and that will do the job, and otherwise we’ll find a way. (Hmmm…the staff wants more, the management wants to give less than what the staff “needs”…this song sounds familiar, like the song sung at every company everywhere, except maybe Google. I don’t want to work at Google, or own Google, I want to be Google. Someday.) Where it all lands? Who knows? Give it a few weeks to a few months.

To date, what I’ve been seeing is the company believing I should work 70-hour weeks, and that all the photos should just magically get done, somehow. I like to think of it as the “Photo-Fairy”(picture me in a tutu with a wand in one hand with a magically light weight pro-body and lens combo on the end, just taping people and getting photos and floating over traffic.) Now, my publisher expects a lot out of the photo staff, but he’s not inhuman. The problem is, he doesn’t understand photo. He’s a writer, writers never get photo. They’ve never done it, don’t get what’s involved except in rare instances. Alas, my boss (photo editor, PE) and I aren’t good at communicating our workload to the office. We’re always on the road, I only go in when I have to and call when I have something to talk about. They know as little as I show them.

The solution? Better communication, better self-management. I need to realize my days are going to be full. Every day. Previously some days were full, some over-full, some downright slow. As a colleague (Strazzante) once said, (I’m paraphrasing as I don’t remember exactly, but it’s a great sentiment) “I average 40-hours a week, but I don’t work 40-hours any one week.” I’ve had weeks hit 70 hours in 5 days in the past. I never minded that much, as much as I get kind of pissy and bitchy those weeks. Why? Because some point down the road, I’d have a 30-hour week or less, and maybe a few of them. Over a year, I’m guessing I averaged 45, maybe 50 hours a week. I can live with that.

Now those slow weeks are gone. This means, no more sprints, but a constant marathon. I have to work 50 hours a week, but not more, not more because I won’t have the slow week to walk after the sprint. It’s a constant jog. The office won’t be able to see how much I work, they don’t do my job, they don’t know. I have to set this pace, and they have to respect it. That’s all they have to do, is respect the limits I set and listen to what I’m telling them. Hopefully they can accomplish this. I don’t usually give them credit for this, but this is often unfair, as I’m bad at communicating the limits to them, and why.

So hopefully by managing myself better, I can keep the potential bad of this growth at bay. But the good? That had been simmering in my head, but really hit today, and it involves, of all words, bhangra. Yes, bhangra.

See, over the summer, I went to one of the Millennium Park Dance Festival events of band that was recommended to me, Funkadesi. (FYI – they are absolutely awesome.) I learned how to bhangra dance at this event. Good times. Need to do that more. Apparently bhangra is a from of traditionally Indian dancing, I learned this at that point. I need to do more of it, just an FYI.

So today, I’m driving down Devon, in one of our new neighborhoods (I have no idea what neighborhood mind you), and I realize I’m in a heavily Indian neighborhood. “Hmmm…”(he says in his head) “wonder if I can find some bhangra to shoot for these new papers.” That sounds like fun.

Then it hit me. Duh! Okay, we now have some freelance budget, so if I’m booked, it’s not as bad. If I limit myself to the jog, and don’t get burned out, I can take the chance to explore these new neighborhoods, which I’ve been rather interested in since this acquisition was first announced. If I do some research, learn what’s going on, where, and find the visually interesting ideas, as long as I stay ahead of the writers (which is like hurtling a cantalope, not much more than walking) I can save them the effort of finding photo spreads and drop-ins, and create my own. Writers are inherently lazy people (I really rather like writers, and by writer I mean reporter, not real writers, oh yeah, bring it on, and respect them, really, I do, they just don’t plan well, as a group. There are some wonderful, marvelous exceptions. Yeah, and photographers are pre-Madonnas, we are, which is one of the common complaints. That and all women think we’re hot. We are. Just suck it up writers, Photographer equals sexy, don’t be jealous. Don’t be hating.)…where was I? Oh yeah, writers are always behind on their photo requests and don’t like doing them. So if I can find ideas for those imagery needs first, they’ll be happy not having to do that work, and not get in my life with they’re non-photogenic ideas. (I kid you not, “They’re doing this old time radio broadcast. This should be really cool and interesting, let’s get 5 images out of this!” What about “radio” says “visual”? People standing by a mic, one prop person.) This is a good thing. I get to photograph more photogenic subjects and events, and do more of what I want.

I’m a believer in chaos. Chaos is good, just follow me here for a second. In chaos, the people who usually come out the other side in the best condition are those who are best trained, most intelligent, most adaptable, best prepared, and generally, strongest (in which ever form the word “strong” need take.) I’ve been through chaotic times with other companies in the past, I’ve done well, quite well. I believe, if I take control of my situation, I can come out the other side, doing more of what I want, less of the reporter requested schmuck grip and grin, ribbon cutting crap. Maybe I can even book all my Friday and Saturday nights October through March and not ever shoot basketball again. Okay, that might be too much to ask.

I do have about 20% of the city of Chicago to work with. I might, just might, be able to find a way to fill 30, maybe 40 hours a week, with what I want. Okay, that might be high, but you never know.

I’m not sure how true this all is. I’m not sure that I’m up to the challenge. I’m not even totally convinced the opportunity is really there. But maybe it is. Just maybe.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow the world be crashing down again. Oh well. (I’m smirking here.)

No School Like the Old School, Again?


Someday I’m going to learn to stop unlearning things.

Many a year back I used to use test strips, many test strips, during many hours in the darkroom. The test strip, for those of you who never hung out in the darkroom, which is the high school equivalent of the college bar. (Well, maybe not, but it’s sounds like I was more fun when I say that.) The test strip is a thin strip of paper, that you made a print on, a small portion of the final print, to figure out your exposure and contrast and test to make sure things were coming out alright before dropping the dough on the full sheet.

I took my darkroom down about 5 years back. The “digital darkroom,” which sounds downright sexy compared to “home office,” took it’s place. I haven’t done a test strip in that time, till tonight. See a few weeks back I got a new toy, unless you’re the IRS, in which case it’s a tool to expand my clientèle and avenues of distribution for more imagery and increase my name recognition to generate sales of fine art prints and increase my speaking revenues. Also known as, a really cool toy. It’s a 24inch wide printer. I got it for “Summer Love”. Those images are going to look so sexy when I’m done and they’re 23×31 inches. Oh, they’re going to be hot. Like my hair.

Anyhow, I haven’t calculated out the cost per square foot of print yet. I’m to scared too. Suffice it to say, “not cheap”, will be part of the answer. (replacing all 12 ink cartridges will run roughly $700-$800. Add paper on top of that. Ouch time. And if you want to know why I’m too broke to go out for drinks. Yep. Why I’m working every day, this year. Yep.) So I’m back to doing test prints.

I find it hilarious how the longer I do this, the more I go back to what I did when I first learned how to do this.