An Encounter with a Beluga

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Every so often the museums offer free days, weeks, etc.. for visitors. This week is one such week for the Shedd. Of course, if you want to have a personal encounter with the Belugas in the “Beluga Encounter Habitat” it will set you back a couple hundred dollars, which is why I offer this up-and-close shot to you during a press visit to the Oceanarium. “Assignment Chicago” – saving you money since 2009….:-)

The Remains of Cabrini-Green

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

A view of the ongoing demolition of Cabrini-Green buildings in Chicago. However bad the crime was in some public housing – and it was quite bad according to photographers here at the Trib many years ago – it is still a gut-wrenching site to see homes torn down. The painted apartment walls in the buildings hint at the pride that some of the residents took in their dwellings. Over the last decade I’ve been to Cabrini on assignment several times, and althought I’ve had run-ins with gang members, I was struck by the communitarian ethos among some of the residents struggling to raise their kids properly and to live a normal life. At one point I was standing with a group of moms with painter’s pants, brushes and caps, painting their lobby a bright red color. On the other side of the lobby were young, able-bodied kids with bandannas over their faces, running around in a pack, as if they were trying to avoid getting caught. It was fairly evident in that moment that no matter of paint could rescue a building crumbling from within.

Snow Sculptures

©2010 Alex Garcia

Snow sculptures of various cultural figures and figments of imagination dotted the side of the road along South Michigan Avenue, compelling me to grab the kids for a visit. Among others, there was a dancing elephant, a mohawked-figure, a grandfather clock and what appeared to be an exuberant Oprah. I was off the clock, but that creative need to make photographs keeps right on going, even at a family outing.  (Fodder for another conversation….)  It didn’t take long for an image to happen – a woman saw this sculpture of a seeming religious figure and dropped to her knees. She was having fun, but was she also sincere?  Not sure.  As a photographer having fun that day, I can indulge the luxury of mystery. (BLOG UPDATE.  My friend Margaret talked to the creator of this sculpture. It’s of a Chinese opera star – not a deity. Too funny!)

Shadows of a Fire

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

After a recent early morning blaze on Chicago’s west side, firefighters wore headlamps to find their way during an investigation of a burned-out building.  Their bluish lights moved this way and that in the darkness, so there was a co-mingling of light and shadow that kept my interest. There wasn’t much to shoot so I felt free to photograph more creatively. The strong amber light from the streetlamps were more interesting left warm than color balanced. If you’ve ever lit these situations with direct flash, you’ll know what I mean when I say the results can be just awful-looking if you shoot it straight.  I composed, focused and hoped for the silhouette which finally came amidst the mysterious exchanges between the investigators.

The End of a Greektown Restaurant

©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

It’s rare to get rooftop access for a fire, especially for one that overlooks a restaurant whose destruction had created such buzz in the city. The Costa’s Restaurant in Greektown was a beloved place for many. You know there were many memories contained within the walls of the restaurant, all punctuated with the flaming cheese exclamation “O-pa!” But a midnight fire in the kitchen put an end to any future joy when it didn’t stop burning for hours (no one was hurt). I arrived in the early morning and shortly after saw this rooftop as a possible vantage point. A security guard for the building pointedly refused access when I asked for it, but when I saw a resident walking her “yip-yip” dog I asked to tag-along upstairs as her visitor.  Even with the roof access, I was still shooting this with my arms extended to shoot out over the overhang. We were up on the roof for maybe a minute or so before the security guard came up and said the owner wanted us to leave.  By that point, my host and I got what we were looking for.

Mass Yoga at Union Station

©Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

So the assigning editor in the morning tells me to check out a mass yoga demonstration at Union Station that would involve commuters. It sounded like it had some photographic potential in terms of “real people doing real things”, but when I got there, the overwhelming public relations nature of the event was plainly evident. The event was to promote a financial services website. Of course, newspapers often cover events that have an overwhelming public relations nature to them. Or as some cynics like to say “Slow news day, huh?” Sometimes the editorial response to a business promoting an event is “buy an ad”.  In this case, I stayed awhile trying to focus on people who seemed to be real commuters caught up in the blue shirt frenzy. It didn’t seem like there were many interested to partake, and I felt the pressure of leaving for my next assignment. After deciding to shoot from the second floor, I finally found a moment that would be real enough – a man in a tie struggling to keep up. I come down to get his name only to find out he was a marketing executive helping to organize the event. ARGGH!

A Haitian Goodbye

HaitiGoodbye©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

A staff employee at a Chicago Christian Industrial League shelter, left, says goodbye to a Haitian evacuee before a CTA bus transports about 25 Haitian evacuees to the airport for a flight to New York after an overnight stay at the shelter. The evacuees all had dual citizenship. So many thoughts running through my mind about this. I was happy for everyone who were still alive and made it to the States, where most of them live. I was sad too for all that they had gone through, many of them losing family members under tragic conditions that shocked the senses. I was, honestly, a wee frustrated that we did not send a reporting team to the biggest humanitarian disaster in our hemisphere, given the marshalling of resources by other corporations throughout the city. I am afraid that Haiti will drop off the radar of news pages everywhere, even as there are still bodies in the streets. Coming back to the photo, I am encouraged by the connections perfect strangers can make who are of racial, generational, and geographic differences. Sometimes it takes just a simple and honest click of personalities, as it did here, to remind me that we are not very far apart from each other as human beings.