© Alex Garcia
This is my last of three posts attempting to compare photography to other professions. I was originally going to make the comparison to being a fisherman (ok, maybe a little weak) but after some compelling suggestions on this blog’s Facebook page by Kim and Kathryn that involved issues of aesthetics and design, I thought about another arts profession – how much my own approach to picture-taking is similar to that of a painter: fill in your background, capture the light, craft composition, fill in with action, share emotion of the scene. And, most importantly, connect with viewers. A muralist, whose work is seen by thousands if not millions everyday, often uses visual archetypes to be understood by the widest number of people. Some of the most successful photographs work on the same abstract level. As an example, pick up any recent copy of National Geographic and you’ll see images from other cultures and communities such as a mother and child bond, family togetherness at meal, workers braving elements in the fields, etc… Of course they can become cliches, but these prisms help us to understand others and to serve as a basis for images with more meaningful layers to them…
© Alex Garcia
Ouch. The controversial Blackhawks mural that was the center of a blogosphere firestorm has been painted over. The original image everyone referenced brought thousands of people to this blog, which shows you how quickly things can go viral when the Stanley Cup is at stake. Even Jonathan Toews was asked about it. He and the team were obviously not happy about it, and Blackhawks fans also, since they believed any kind of image of the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks could result in a jinx, or motivation for the team’s opponents. I don’t think the mural was actually even completed before it was gone…
© Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia
“Photographer as Gardener” was the first of three comparisons that I’ve been making about the process of photography compared to other professions. The second was one that has always been in the back of mind, especially while I was on the features beat for some years. Photographer as Chef. (Or sometimes, Photographer as Short-Order Cook). The photo above is of Charlie Trotter, rising as a master chef to the Tribune challenge of reinventing the hot dog, which he turned into an Ahi Tuna Hot Dog. And that is what photographers are often asked to do – make something particularly special from the mundane. Every day. It’s like you’re going to the cupboard, scrambling for whatever ingredients you have, techniques learned or tools you hadn’t used in awhile, to meet the demands of readers, editors, colleagues, yourself, or the VIP who just walked in the door. As Scott on this blog’s Facebook page noted, photographer have to stay on top of the art and science just like a chef to keep up with changing tastes and trends. But then other times, all the customer wants is what’s on the menu. Nothing fancy. Not the overly complex Italian food as dreamed up in “Big Night” but the spaghetti served on the red-and-white checkered tablecloth by the competitor across the street who packs them in. So you alternate between whipping up something special “C’est Magnifique!” and frying something in a jiffy. But the pressure to meet expectations, not always known by the diner in advance, is always on. The last thing you want is for the customer to send something back to the kitchen, or to leave the table, with your masterpiece untouched.
©2010 Alex Garcia
It is said that the world’s oldest profession..is gardening. What must it have been like to be the first human being beholding the first flower? To realize that all that was necessary for this glorious pop of color and design was contained in a tiny seed the color of blah. Scarcely unbelievable. You might ask, hmmm. ok, nice Alex – but what the HECK does this have to do with photojournalism? Every situation has a flower – its moment of beauty, emotion, light, or important meaning. You go into situations with the hope to find and to share with others your discovery. You take, but only for the benefit of the many more who are not privy. Sometimes the potential for pictures looks small, or blah. In the process, it is good to bury your expectations of what the scene should be, and to let hope and patience grow something new. I could go on, but you get the picture. In the many professional analogies that can be made about photographers and the process of picture-taking, this is the kind that springs eternal for me.
©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia
As a photographer shooting a religious procession or reenactment, it is not uncommon to find yourself in the sometimes paradoxical moment of “jostling for the sacred”. You’re running around, anticipating and preparing yourself for that sacred moment that you can’t miss. Everyone else seems calm and in the spiritual moment. But if you stay in such a moment, you’ve lost the ability to capture it. So you’re sweating up a storm, your back is aching, “Jesus” keeps moving faster than you would think, and at the last moment some other photographer steps in front of you. At a “stations of the cross” moment on Good Friday last year in Pilsen, the only one of these I’ve shot, it was a similar situation. Lots of photographers. With so many, I’ve seen moments like this turn ridiculous. I’m reminded of one religious pilgrimage in Cuba, there were so many photographers surrounding one person on his knees that the man dryly commented, “I hope one of you guys will give me a passport photo”. Since no one else spoke Spanish, photographers passed off the remark as a prayer or religious utterance. A few moments after the above picture, after the cross was upright, the hectic jostling ceased and you realized the moment had peaked. There was no looking back. You either got it, or didn’t. In the back of your mind, and with your ears, you hear the words, “It is finished.”
©2010 Alex Garcia
Black is not a color commonly associated with Spring, except if you’re watching a controlled burn. Outside city perimeters this is the season for forest management and prairie restoration, seen here west of Chicago. Wikipedia says “controlled burning stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees…some seeds, such as sequoia, remain dormant until fire breaks down the seed coating.” Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m just guilty of enjoying the visual spectacle of a harmless fire. Maybe it’s the caveman in me, or the Tom-Hanks-in-“Cast Away” in me. I couldn’t help but stand downwind from the smoke, hoping to get a photo of the streaming light and the smoke passing quickly by me. Unfortunately the grandiose picture didn’t materialize, and my souvenir was nausea and a smoke smell I’m still whiffing…
©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia
Probably no other assignment I have received has had such an ongoing impact on my understanding of the profession than the week I spent at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA. Two reporters and I spent the time getting to know the ins- and-outs of the place while interviewing the founders, their executives and their army of engineers. We listened to their competitors, website owners and their advertisers. We even visited their Chicago operations, where I was able to look over the shoulders of their ad team scrutinizing the Chicago Tribune website and our advertisers. It was life-changing. Have you ever had the opportunity to watch someone cheerfully plot your destruction? That’s kind of how it felt. Since then, I have tried to learn as much as I can about the intersection of web content, search engines and user behavior. I have taken a keener interest in the digital products the Tribune has been rolling out. We’re profitable, we’ll emerge from bankruptcy, and we’ll hopefully adapt more quickly to the challenges of Google and others on the web. For the sake of journalism, we better succeed.