Windstorm

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Most people when asked are in favor of wind energy. Green. No foreign oil. No spent fuel rods. Cool-looking turbines. But when a reporter and I went out to DeKalb County to talk to residents embroiled in a lawsuit surrounding a wind farm installed in an otherwise tranquil setting, we heard quite an earful. Residents pitted against each other, noise, shadow flicker, lost sleep, stress, dead animals, lower real estate values, lost sightlines. It was a long list of complaints. Although many people wrote off their grievances as little more than NIMBY, you do have to wonder whether 1400 feet is the sufficient amount of distance that a turbine should be from the foundation of a home. Landowners who allowed the wind turbines on their properties are to be paid $9000 a year, per turbine, for the privilege. Some had a few. In this economy, I can see it from their perspective too. In this case, however you look at it, the wind blew up a storm.

So You Think You Can Dance?

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Auditions for the “So You Think You Can Dance?” show were held at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago on Thursday. Hundreds of hopefuls lined up outside and down the block, since early in the morning. Around 7am, cameramen with the show started stirring up the crowd and filming people in line showing their dancework . At left was an associate producer, who brought a group of women into the street to flaunt their moves. A lot of energy, excitement, enthusiasm – and young people – were in the air. A fun morning… There’s an online gallery of some other images, including the show’s host.

Watching Brain Surgery

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Calm, controlled, methodical. For the sensitive work they do, I would think those are the qualities you want in a brain surgeon.  A reporter and I observed neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Byrne at Rush Hospital during his typical workday, and those seemed to be his predominant qualities after several hours of observation. Watching brain surgery is, to say the least, unreal. I spare you an image of the brain because really, all you could see were a hole of bloody tissue and fluid. Of course, with the magnification tools and his trained eye, Byrne can distinguish between cancerous cells of a brain tumor and normal brain cells. It is still disconcerting to see someone suctioning out brain cells left and right while poking around areas of the brain responsible for such things as eyesight, memory and motor control. After he was done, it was startling to see its end result –  a hole of fluid where there were was once brain tissue. But you could visibly see that the brain was pulsating, grateful not to be pushed up against the cranium. Compared with the sophisticated (and expensive) tools used inside the brain, the very normal plates and screws used to reattach the cranium grounded the transcendent moment of advanced science. To watch all this, and then to see a man stir and slowly shake his hands and feet with a new lease on life, was a small miracle.

Catching a Bullet in Mid-Air

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

So it only took 719 frames to finally get a picture of a bullet leaving a gun at a police training facility on the west side of Chicago. I believe that light streak at right is the actual bullet. The casing is peeling off from it at top like a space shuttle rocket booster. When all was said and done, I had inhaled enough of the explosion gases and been pelted with enough casings to last me awhile. The paper was doing a look at how police procedures have changed due to improved understandings and best practices. The firing range supervisor didn’t want me to step out too far, and I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I shot backwards with an outstretched arm. I stood on the same line where this recruit was standing. I found that 1/30th worked best since it left open the shutter long to capture the unpredictable moment of the gun flash but without causing too much camera shake. There was no countdown prior to their pulling the trigger, so I laid on the shutter in anticipation of when it would happen. More than a few times, the camera stalled because the buffer would fill up before the actual gunshot. Or even when I did guess right, the flash of the gun occurred between the 8 frames/second and the resulting image was dark. Argh!  I was grateful for digital. Had it been film, I don’t think I would have lasted for twenty rolls, not knowing if I had captured it.

Getting Your Money’s Worth at Whole Foods

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Who knew that a Whole Foods grocery bag could function as a sled?  I was with my kids when we passed by a snowhill that triggered the phenomenon known as “scream-at-Dad-until-he-caves”.  We didn’t have a sled in the van, so I went hunting for a cardboard box. Of course, you can never find a floppy cardboard box when you really need one, so I looked at the bags in our cargo area and thought “hmmm..” The experience of all of us happily walking up a snowhill with grocery bags was priceless. My kids were too young to care what people thought, and I enjoyed the free ride.

Shooting Sadness

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

I was a vulture today. At least that was the term used by a police officer. He and I were both watching a group of television cameramen and reporters surround a couple as they left the scene of a triple murder in the suburbs. I wasn’t a part of the group, although I easily could have been. I had been photographing people’s reactions, such as the man above in what was a very heartbreaking scene.  Even though I was out there with everyone else, waiting to find whatever tidbit of information we could find, I didn’t see a picture in that one mob so stepped away.  So the officer muttered “…vultures..”, and truth be told, I saw it too.  At face value, either in movies or in real life, it is ugly. And I struggle with it.  There is another side, of course. If there were no photos to show the emotion of a scene, news such as this would have less capacity to arouse the body politic to action, and to ask countless questions that urgently matter, such as, is the killer on the loose? Was the home invasion random or part of a pattern? Is the community safe?  Emotional pictures are like an alarm bell to pay-attention-to-this-one. They encourage connection, empathy, concern, and hopefully action.  Having said that, there is such a thing as too much. Both in process and result. Invasive. Gratuitous. Insensitive. I’m sure there are countless stories of this, and I won’t seek to defend them. I’m not alone in trying to balance the need to get information out quickly, with the need to respect someone’s emotional space in a public setting. My television colleagues have pressures that I don’t fully appreciate, but those I respect also struggle with it. Perhaps I should take the advice of a different police officer who said later, “you’re just doing your job.”  In the end, this post is not meant to be a confession, a defense, or an appeal for absolution. It’s just a statement of fact. I felt like a vulture today. And I’ll never get used to it.

A Policeman of Purpose

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

A door from the patrol car driven by Chicago Police Officer Alan Haymaker rests on the side of Lake Shore Drive after his vehicle slammed into the side of a tree. Haymaker did not survive the crash, which occurred while he was enroute to a burglary.  The exact cause of the crash is being investigated, but icy weather contributed to it. The Tribune had a full story about him on its breaking news website. After photographing the accident, I accompanied the reporter who interviewed the officer’s pastor at his northwest side church.  The picture of Haymaker that emerged from that interview and others was both humbling and inspiring – of someone who served the needs of those around him, as an officer, friend, neighbor, and father – at sometimes great risk, but always as a reflection of his Christian faith. I had just been talking with my wife about how much our society is owed by people who live and serve others in quiet, unassuming ways. This morning I heard one such description and it gave me pause. That seemed to be Haymaker’s mission and heart.