Loving-and-Hating Lake Street

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

I’m having a love – hate relationship with Lake Street.  They say love is a verb. You choose to spend quality time with someone, or you don’t. Technically, then, we’re living life together. But oh, is this dysfunctional. With the insane amount of traffic on the Eisenhower – special sympathies to Elmhurstians, Hillsiders and my friends and family out west- I’m looking for shortcuts.  And I gravitate to Lake Street like a lovesick motorist. I love the long stretches of road with synchronized green lights. The swooning canopy of the elevated train and its cinematic streams of light. The sweet pathways into lower Wacker and the Tribune parking lot. It just feels right. But what’s not to love?  The white-knuckled driving as you whip past the train support structures only a few feet away,  knowing many motorists have died there. The unpredictable motorists who try to speed past everyone using the right lanes on the other side of the supports. The oncoming motorists who have an inordinate amount of power over your sense of safety in that gauntlet.  Motorists coming from the north and south who you pray have had plenty of sleep, since you have little foresight at several intersections. Floating pedestrians who glide into the street against the light and return your incredulous glance with an expression that says, “Just do me the favor”.  My head says one thing, my heart another. But for the sake of my kids, I need a better detour. I’m open to suggestions…

Photographer As…Painter

© 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…

Update – Blackhawks Mural Painted Over

© 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…

Good Friday

©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.”

Watching A Controlled Burn

©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…

At Google Headquarters

©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.

Faces of Need – Photo Exhibit

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Laura Haag, who says she has been homeless for a year, asks for money at the corner of Franklin and Washington streets in the Loop. She used to be a cashier at Wal-Mart before losing her job. In this case I photographed her before talking to her, since camera awareness is sometimes difficult to calm once it is awakened. She was fine with it and we talked a bit about her situation and other issues affecting the homeless. The Tribune will be doing more stories of the homeless and poverty in the months ahead, and pictures with stories like hers will be figuring into our future coverage.  As part of this mission, the Tribune has sponsored a photo exhibit called “The Faces of Need” about poverty and homelessness. It spans several decades, and just opened yesterday (my apologies for those wanting to attend the opening). All photos will be for sale, with proceeds to benefit the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton. More details can be found at the Poverty Project’s website.