A View from Above the Palm Trees

Garfield Park Conservatory
©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Walking through the Garfield Park Conservatory, I realize that I forget what it means to breathe deeply. The air is so rich with oxygen,  I find myself inhaling and exhaling with a smile on my face like a giddy hippie. My assignment was to photograph the staff dyeing a pond green for St. Patrick’s Day. But as I was lingering on my way out, I noticed a spiral staircase that became a service walkway at the very top of the Palm House. I asked a horticulturist watering plants nearby if there was a way I could make a few pictures from above. To my surprise, she agreed without hesitation. Within a couple minutes, I was walking the length of the greenhouse at its highest point, taking in the unique view. In a previous post about photo tips, I talked about how sometimes you have to feel a moment to really photograph it. As I was looking from above, I was hoping to find someone who shared my sense of the beauty and grandeur of being surrounded by our green Earth. And that’s when I saw this man – wearing a green shirt, of course.

When is a Photo Spiritual?

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

“So are you feeling spiritual this morning?” was the question I was lightheartedly asked after transmitting these pictures yesterday. At first I didn’t realize what the editors were talking about. In search of morning fog pictures,  I had stopped at the intersections of Balbo and Columbus after being dazzled by light rays from a building through the fog. Have you seen this type of phenomenon before? I hadn’t. By the time I got there on foot, the wind had carried away the fog and my photo with it. So I turned around, saw the statue at left, and thought – well, at least it’s something. Then I saw some of the dazzling reflections again on the building at right.  I ran towards it and photographed the light rays before transmitting from my camera using our mobile technology. I was so focused on the unusual light, I didn’t even realize the overall image.  When I later saw the cross I found it amusing and a little embarrassing that although I’m a photographer and churchgoer, others saw it before I did.

30 “Typical” Photo Assignments

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

The wheel turns at Navy Pier a recent morning, and a new month of assignments brings new highs and lows in the life of our city. I was asked a fairly frequent question on Friday, “So what is your typical day like?” As viewers of this blog know, every day is atypical.  I’m on a day shift which means that I get whatever happens during that period of time. I usually find out that morning, with many changes during the day. Think of photo assignments as airplanes needing air traffic control.  If you look at assignments on radar, the flight path of one photojournalist from another could be completely different owing to the time of day and other circumstances. If I’m a night guy working weekends, it means I’m shooting a lot of sports.  When I worked in Southern California, I would be out at photographing Rams or Raiders game every weekend. I even shot NFC Championships and a Superbowl. But as a Chicago photographer, I haven’t shot a single Bears or Bulls game in 10 years (OK with me, BTW). So in addition to time of day, the size of paper makes a difference.  If I worked at a smaller paper, I might be shooting a feature picture story of an interesting character in the community on a regular basis. At a larger paper, that character might become a portrait to occupy the lead in a sweeping piece about interesting characters in a region. Each approach has its strengths, but it will color a photojournalist’s portfolio. As a result, the work of a photojournalist and his newspaper is symbiotic. Below is a short sampling of my photo assignments from the past month.  Since moving to an earlier morning shift, I found there tends to be more overnight crime than at other points in my career.

(I don’t describe those that haven’t been published yet or which are multiple day assignments. Many assignments, in which I check on a police report, don’t get listed either).

A popular restaurant that burned down overnight.

People whose health insurance was mistakenly dropped.

Cubs pack up for spring training.

A candidate for Cook County Board President casts her vote.

A memorial after a fatal car crash.

A wind farm.

Lawyers at a press conference about medical malpractice.

Interviews of Republican candidates for governor.

CTA bus stops in the wake of budget cuts.

Lawyers at a press conference about a medical malpractice court ruling.

Heavy snowfall.

A gubernatorial candidate thanks voters at a train station.

A street corner of a proposed high tower in suburbs.

A body found in an alley.

The Auto Show.

A mob of media surrounding a convicted town mayor released from prison.

A CHA building being demolished.

Freight trains stalled in suburbs, blocking intersections.

An executive director of a battered women’s shelter.

An early morning shooting at Northern Illinois University.

A police officer killed in an accident.

A single father brings his kids to a preschool.

High schoolers playing rugby.

A warehouse of printing presses.

A food pantry for the needy.

Family of teenager shot and killed.

A state official at a church event.

Commuters struggling with weather.

Freeway accident involving a state vehicle.

Behind the scenes at a Chicago Police Department facility.

Winter Walking

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

A commuter walks among the 9-foot tall cast iron legs of “Agora” a public art installation at Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Roads. I’ve seen this several times, but didn’t see a time in which a photo could work really well.  I passed by it this morning and for the first time saw that commuters had forged a path between the legs. Shooting at eye level would have been a bit pedestrian, so I laid down in snow when I saw a commuter coming around the bend. People are such good sports. I got up covered in snow and asked for her name for the paper. I’m sure I was quite the sight, but it never ceases to amaze me how little I have to explain before complete strangers tell me what their name is and what they’re up to. In this case, maybe there was some sympathy for the photographer at work…

The Downtown Train

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

I’m catching the train back to work this next week. Well, only figuratively. I’ve been off for a week on a staycation, and the morning sun beckons. This year I’m going to make more of an effort to find activities in the morning, in addition to the next-beautiful-morning-light-scenic and the day-after fire. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears…

Just Another Day Out of the Office

Officelife2©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

From the courthouse in downtown Chicago you get a decent view into many office buildings next door.  Since covering courtroom-related news is usually a game of hurry up and wait, there is plenty of time for me to gaze out towards the galaxy of cubicles and wonder about a career path in photojournalism that enables jeans, long hair and beard scruff. I guess that sounds freeing in a Harley-Davidson kind of way, but there has always been a conventional side of me that wonders about what it would be like to wear a tie everyday to work. A good friend of mine who went from plumber to civil engineer loves doing so, feeling himself the educated man he worked to become. I’ve tried ties, but with camera straps from two heavy bodies, credentials, and what some p.r. person may want to hang around my neck to confer legitimacy, I may as well start pulling a plow I’m so strapped in.  It also seems that the day I wear a tie with nice slacks and dapper shoes is the day I get assigned to shoot a pig farm.  Of course, nowadays, the world is more casual. On most days I’m probably better dressed than some billionaire software engineers I’ve met in Mountain View, CA…

Keeping in Flight

seagull-lake©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

An end-of-year message came to mind as I watched a man feed seagulls on the lake this week. Fellow Chicago photojournalist John White from the Sun-Times is known to say,  “Keep in Flight!”  The light will always shine again, as it did that day, after ten days of cold and 18 minutes of sunshine.  Without realizing the relevance of her words, my daughter has also been singing a hopeful message that is apropos for this challenging year.  After watching the musical “Annie”, she hasn’t stopped singing “..the sun will come out to-mo-rrow…” Have a Great New Year and Keep in Flight!