What Happened to Soldier Field?


Soldier Field

©2014 Alex Garcia

In case you don’t know about the month-long storm on the lakefront, the architect for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art along Chicago’s lakefront released his design last month. Because of its size and other-worldly appearance, it was widely criticized, most notably by Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic Blair Kamin, whose unmincing words can be seen below the screen grab of his article, above. The Friends of the Parks has launched a federal lawsuit saying the city and the Park District overstepped their authority – so the whole thing is a mess.

As someone who used to photograph for Kamin’s articles at the Trib, and as someone who passed by Soldier Field many times a week along Lake Shore Drive, what most bothers me is the architect’s illustration you see at top. It’s inaccurate at best, and deceptive at worst.  At bottom is a photo I took from the closest I could get to the same vantage point of the sketch, which was probably from the roof of McCormick Place behind where I was standing.

The sketch completely eliminates the controversial western part of the Soldier Field addition, which is considered the last big architectural mistake by many along the lakefront. It has a spaceship like appearance. What Blair Kamin calls, “Klingon Meets Parthenon”.

Normally when an architect unveils their project, they are anxious to show how they have shaped the building to fit its environment, both functionally and aesthetically. At least that’s been my experience, unless someone wants to avoid an embarrassing project.

In this case, the other-worldly addition to Soldier Field probably accentuated the other-worldly design of the Lucas Museum, feeding criticism that the lakefront was becoming too, well, spacey. The citizens of Chicago probably didn’t need that reminder, or they thought Chicagoans couldn’t handle the truth about the future lakefront.

That, or the spaceship on Soldier Field was getting maintenance done on the morning the sketch artist showed up.

On Chicago’s lakefront, anything’s possible, I guess.





Upcoming Talk at the Michigan Avenue Apple Store

Untitled 5apple-store

I’m delighted to say that APA Chicago has asked me to speak as part of their regular photographer talks at the Apple Store. I’ll be talking about visual storytelling, both in an editorial and a commercial context, and what that means for photographers looking to connect with their audiences. I’ll be there for two hours on Monday, Oct. 20th from 7-9pm. For more details, please go to the APA Chicago website. Please mark it on your calendars!

Enjoying Redmoon and the Fire Festival

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

Photo ©Alex Garcia 2014 for Redmoon Theater 708-824-7778

(All images ©Alex Garcia and protected by the Incredible Hulk)


For me, the Redmoon Theater is like hot sauce. Everday life is better with it. I’ve always felt that way, even before being asked to be part of their official photo team this year. Their what’s-going-to-happen-next creativity and in-every-neighborhood orientation gives such flavor to the civic life of Chicago.  My designated spot was the lower Michigan Avenue bridge, shooting eastward down Chicago River towards the lake. There was such a build-up to the houses being consumed by fire that I could understand that many people were disappointed by the lack of a cathartic burn. At a live event, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s unpredictable. It keeps you on your seat, better than live television. Yet to me, the ultimate joy of such an event is just being among other Chicagoans from all over the city, feeling connected across divisions that keep people apart.  It’s why my favorite part of the show, a part that many missed because they left too soon, was seeing faces of Chicagoans floating down the river. All of the faces were of people who had surmounted obstacles in their lives, and all were connected to an event that aimed to celebrate a city that has and will overcome obstacles as well.


Buy This E-book So It’ll Get…Published?

photography tips ebook spreads

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I’m including sample spreads from my 140 page e-book “Depth of Field:  Tips on Photojournalism and Creativity.” The e-book gathers together some of my favorite pictures and “Tuesday Tips” posts, edited and in some cases re-written for those looking for photography advice and a little inspiration.

If you buy this e-book, I’d be immensely grateful. Not because I would make any money from the sale, because I wouldn’t. All the content belongs to the Chicago Tribune in a trade-off that involved little things called salary and healthcare. It’s not about the money.

What you would be doing is ensuring it’s production as a hard copy book next year. From what I’ve been told, sales of e-book determines whether or not the e-book becomes a hard copy.

So yes, it’s technically been published. But not in print, the traditional way.

After four years of writing and blogging at the Chicago Tribune under the title of Assignment Chicago, a hard copy book would be an ideal way to codify a lot of time, sweat and hard work. After all that, wouldn’t you want to touch, carry and ultimately share a book in person?

With its publication as a hard copy on the line, you’d think I’d be promoting this e-book for the past two months like a desperate Kickstarter.

Well, there was this issue…. to my horror, somehow, a rough copy of the book was published on Amazon. So I was happily telling people all about the e-book, not knowing that it had a lot of errors, from pixelated and repeated images, to problems with formatting and editing. No one ever told me how these errors got in there. If you bought a copy during that period, I hope you saw my posts about returning it for an updated copy.

Then, the fixed format size of the ebook frustrated some phone and small tablet users. Then it completely crashed the Ebook member center at the Tribune. There was a plague, then locusts…

All is clear now.

Basically,  the Tribune had never published an e-book before with so many high-res images. It was the first graphic-heavy e-book they have published. So being first meant serving as a warning to others!

After the accumulated hundreds of hours of writing, editing, re-writing, updating, designing, picture editing, toning and re-editing, to this outcome, I went into a funk of frustration about the rollout. Then I left my job.

(Note: this is not how you sell an e-book.)

So I’m OK now, but I have a request…

If you ever gained from my tips columns over the years, or if you know anyone who could, would you buy this ebook at the Chicago Tribune, Agate Publishing, or Amazon?   If you’re a digital subscriber to the Chicago Tribune, you get it free. But it’s only $4.99.

It would mean a lot. Thank you for your support. I never thought when I first started writing Tuesday Tips at Assignment Chicago that it would become a weekly column that would get published in the Sunday paper and last four years.

It was an organic experience that became something meaningful for me and many others. I’ve been really touched, and to be honest humbly surprised, at how well received the blog was to students, other professionals, and the public.

Perhaps this book will be one of several more to come.

But, you know, I wouldn’t want to jinx it…



Relaunching AssignmentChicago.com

Welcome back to AssignmentChicago.com. For those who followed my blog by this name at the Chicago Tribune, I left the paper a few weeks ago to pursue a freelance career based here in Chicago. It’s been on my heart for awhile to do so, as I saw more and more opportunities for visual storytelling to which I wanted to say “Yes!”  Yet before I left there were many posts that I still wanted to write, that I just didn’t have time to squeeze in before going. So I’m returning to this domain address, which I purchased years ago before my blog moved to the Tribune site. It’s where Assignment Chicago first got its start.

Now that this blog is independent, there will be things I can say without it being perceived as the opinions of my former employer. I look forward to writing more posts about photojournalism, visual storytelling and the editorial world with more candor but still the same politeness (unless your staff lets go of its photojournalists). As before, I’ll be posting pictures but with probably less frequency depending on the preferences of my clients. My longer posts will still aim to be educational, hopefully inspirational, and others well, thanks for the benefit of the doubt.

Stay tuned to this space…

Alex Garcia

100 Photo Tips for 100 Photos

Welcome to my 100th post! Thank you for reading past that exclamation point, and a hearty thank you to all of the blog readers and Facebook fans who have been encouraging throughout the past six months. Your words and support have really helped me keep this journal alive.

So if you haven’t joined us on the Assignment Chicago Facebook Page, please do. It’s a handy way to keep updated on things and to comment on photos.

If you are already a Fan, can I ask that you suggest this page to your friends? It just takes a moment. You can do so from the Facebook page, in the column at left. Chicagophiles, photophiles, cityphiles – all are welcome!

To commemorate this moment, and to keep it interesting, I’ve compiled a list of  unfiltered observations, lessons, tips, secrets, etc.  from each of the 100 pictures posted here on this site. It’s for all those who are aspiring photographers, or are interested in the process of photography and photojournalism. They’re also reminders to myself. They’re listed in the same sequence as the images from which they are inspired, which is why it reads like a stream of consciousness. So…for what it’s worth…let’s get going…..

100 Tips for 100 Photos

1)    Some of the best moments I’ve seen as a photographer happen on the way to other moments.

2)    Don’t let the frustration of bad light keep from transforming a moment with your own.

3)    Low angle + underexposed sky + off-camera light = dramatic portrait

4)    A good percentage of my best photos were taken holding the camera with an outstretched arm.

5)    Color balancing every scene takes the color and interest out of ambient light.

6)    Pictures are like paintings. It start with the background canvas.

7)    Creative collages – a la David Hockney – can tell the story better.

8)    There is such a thing as boring photos taken from a helicopter. I have a ton.

9)    Interesting celebrity portraits often depend on the willing interest of the celebrity.

10) Ambient light = content.

11) Even in a rapidly moving event with crowds of people, small details can tell the full story.

12) When the reality of a scene will be obvious to a viewer from any angle, go for surreality.

13) If someone doesn’t ask why you’re taking photos, you generally don’t need to give them a because.

14) To give people a sense of being there, it’s best to be knee deep in it.

15) Photographs can lie. It’s too true.

16) The decisive moment can’t always be tack sharp. But don’t expect an editor to agree.

17) Sometimes all you get is a few minutes. And you might know that going in.

18) Access, access, access…and mission. An essential part of  what makes for a great photograph.

19) It’s hard to get to a news event in a big city before emergency personnel do. Good thing.

20) Don’t avoid low-percentage shooting situations. They yield the question “How’d you get that?”

21) The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is true with photos – it’s uncertain whether your camera altered the equation.

22) Don’t stop once you get a cool looking photo. Sometimes your cup will runneth over.

23) Some of the most interesting portraits are when you can’t see anyone’s face.

24) Always keep ear plugs in your photo bag. Keep an additional new set for the friend you will make with them.

25) An underwater housing has many interesting above-water applications.

26) Carry a compass. I would have saved Door County the cost of several rescue personnel had one been in my bag.

27) I hate to admit but the early bird often gets the worm. I’m typically a night owl.

28) Avoid complacency like the plague.

29) Whether it be manipulated electrons of a flash, or sunlit particles of the sun, God powers the batteries.

30) The secret of getting photos others don’t is knowing the exact place and time when it all comes together.

31) A bicycle amplifies one’s seeing by reducing the inertia you have to keep going.

32) Helicopter vibrations demand a very high shutter speed, although it may not seem like it at the time.

33) Keep a camera in the front seat, ready to go.

34) Chances are if you’re curious about something,  your pictures will have the power to make others curious.

35) “Backlit” is seen as a shortcoming in camera manuals, but that’s just boring conventional thought.

36) Staying with a situation to make a better photo often involves swallowing one’s pride and impatience.

37) Don’t hesitate to pull off to the side of the road for a photo. Just don’t get hit, ok?

38) When a celebrity gives you a lot of time, you don’t have much of an excuse.

39) You’ll probably look foolish at some point while taking pictures. If that bothers you, it’s not the career for you.

40) Let your subjects not leave you unchanged.

41) Being a professional photographer means knowing when and what audibles to call at the 5 yard line in overtime.

42) If you are tense during a photo shoot, your subjects will become tense. Mostly, you’re a thermostat.

43) In any group, a few faces will captivate. It’s not level of attractiveness. Take time to find those people in a crowd.

44) Blur, color, light, repeat.

45) I think it’s human nature to shrug off things you don’t understand. That’s a blown opportunity for pictures.

46) Being a photographer will help you meet famous people, but you risk being seen as the annoying person in the room.

47) I miss police ride-a-longs. They  yield some of the most compelling images.

48) Sometimes it’s not the size of something but the diversity within it that makes for a compelling image.

49) Be nice to cops. Firefighters are always the heroes, but cops have to deal with far worse stuff.

50) Arriving early to events can help give you the necessary big perspective to adapt quickly to changes.

51) Yes, morning light before 8ish and afternoon light after 3ish are warm and beautiful. But high noon is also virtuous.

52) If you can be paid to make pictures, you are increasingly fortunate.

53) Don’t  get caught up with the mechanics of your tools and the dynamics of an event. You’ll miss the heart of a shoot.

54) Kids’ pictures are a legacy to leave for a family.

55) Shoot jpg and RAW at the same time. RAW can save you technically and artistically, even if it’s only 1% of time.

56) In this age of wide exposure latitude in RAW, I shoot shutter priority more often, since camera shake is a killer.

57) The Communication Arts Photography Annual is a great tool for visual inspiration.

58) The best war photographers I admire are also able to capture the exquisite nature of peace.

59) I’ve had pictures that seize my imagination and not let go until I try to adapt their vision to my own reality.

60) Shoot as much for as long as you need. Sometimes it’s your 1st photo. Sometimes it’s your 2587th.

61) When you’re shooting a group in a short time, shoot a ton. You might get one where someone is not staring at you.

62) Observe your biases while shooting.

63) The world needs more uplifting photos. My industry tends towards grief.

64) Keep an organized archive. Someone you once photographed may become president (or his mistress…).

65) Social skills and salesmanship are more important than talent as a photographer.  I know, I know…

66) It’s beneficial to keep a physical list of places you want to return to when the weather or season changes.

67) It’s best to avoid saying “Oh, I’ll come back here to shoot more”, because the unchangeable changes.

68) Negative self-talk in your creative life masquerades as your conscience or “practical thinking”.

69) Save up money to take creative pictures from a helicopter when the sun is low. Just for the creative boost.

70) Making the mundane intensely interesting is a valuable skill that people recognize.

71) Portraits often reflect the photographer more than the subject being photographed.

72) If you ask many questions upfront, you can save yourself a lot of wasted shooting time.

73) Some photographers shoot in manual. I’m usually shooting in automatic mode toggling the exposure compensation.

74) I ran into David Alan Harvey using a crappy old flash in Cuba. Quite a lesson there.

75) Always be ready.

76) Watch how the sun falls in different places at different times of the year . Take a longer, more patient view.

77) I wouldn’t advise photographing kids on the street without getting parental approval.  Even if they’re being cute.

78) Individual achievements in photography are determined by talent and drive… politics and timing.

79) Getting inspired by the mood of  your surroundings will make time flow as you wait for your moment.

80) It is hard to know when to cut bait. When in doubt, wait.

81) If you’re out photo hunting, iPod earbuds are blindfolds to your ears.

82) If you’re looking for a public restroom, don’t ignore construction site portable toilets. (sorry, it’s just that important)

83) When shooting a crowd of people, imagine yourself a casting scout looking for a mesmerizing face.

84) Photographers who are not self-conscious may get photos others don’t, but they leave a wake of ill will.

85) Photographers that blast away, even in tight situations, miss the subtleties.

86) Readers of newspapers are more visually astute than newspapers realize.

87) Free wifi, an outlet, cheap parking, cellphone signal, restroom, and maybe a cup of Joe. Is that asking too much?

88) Keep in flight. Thank you John White.

89) Understaying your welcome as a photog is generally worse than overstaying, for them and for you…

90) Develop a philosophy about when not to take a picture, so you’re not caught in the moment.

91) Shadows deepen when exposing for highlights, accentuating the graphic nature of an image.

92) Photography is hard on your lower back and shoulders. Some digital cameras are too heavy.

93) Not to sound like a kook, but feeling moments will yield to seeing them.

94) It is easier than people think to photograph strangers.

95) The option of jeans everyday. And I don’t have to pay at the office.

96) I thought I would tire of sharing in the happiness when a child gets a photo in the paper. Still there.

97) Another approach: seize on a detail within a scene, and follow it through until it’s gone.

98) Real, intimate, telling, documentary moments are not that easy to come by.

99) 10 years later, the Chicago skyline is still not old. It changes by the minute in the mornings.

100) Rules in photography are often broken to great achievement.