Photographer As…Chef

© Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

“Photographer as Gardener” was the first of three comparisons that I’ve been making about the process of photography compared to other professions. The second was one that has always been in the back of mind, especially while I was on the features beat for some years. Photographer as Chef. (Or sometimes, Photographer as Short-Order Cook). The photo above is of Charlie Trotter, rising as a master chef to the Tribune challenge of reinventing the hot dog, which he turned into an Ahi Tuna Hot Dog. And that is what photographers are often asked to do – make something particularly special from the mundane. Every day. It’s like you’re going to the cupboard, scrambling for whatever ingredients you have, techniques learned or tools you hadn’t used in awhile, to meet the demands of readers, editors, colleagues, yourself, or the VIP who just walked in the door.  As Scott on this blog’s Facebook page noted, photographer have to stay on top of the art and science just like a chef to keep up with changing tastes and trends. But then other times, all the customer wants is what’s on the menu. Nothing fancy. Not the overly complex Italian food as dreamed up in “Big Night” but the spaghetti served on the red-and-white checkered tablecloth by the competitor across the street who packs them in. So you alternate between whipping up something special “C’est Magnifique!” and frying something in a jiffy.  But the pressure to meet expectations, not always known by the diner in advance,  is always on. The last thing you want is for the customer to send something back to the kitchen, or to leave the table, with your masterpiece untouched.

The Story of T Bone Burnett

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

T Bone Burnett won his first Oscar last night, for Best Original Song from”Crazy Heart”.  Walking onstage, the gentlemanly Burnett was wearing his familiar sunglasses and signature dark suit. His dark outfit made for an interesting image in the alley of the Vic Theater in Chicago when I was assigned to take his portrait on one of his visits. I was grateful for the light in the alley that day. It was one of those moments when the sun was out, and the light was skimming the surface of the bricks. You hope your subject is available before the light changes, or clouds move in.  The lighting seemed appropriate. At the time, he was coming out with his first album in 14 years, so I offered the theme of “emerging from shadows” back at the office. Even with a portrait, you try to tell a story.

Crazy Snow Rugby

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Members of a high school academy rugby team mix it up during a scrimmage at Garfield Park on an early morning before school. I came upon it while driving around for features. The scene had all the makings of the kind of crazy-rough-ball-chasing-crazy-blizzard pictures that one hopes for in a sports picture, so I was delighted when it started and a little bummed when the scrimmage itself ended after about five-ten minutes.  But after an hour of drills, the kids were fuh-fuh-fuh-reeeeezing, so I was glad to see they would be getting some warm relief – even though it was to the expense of more dramatic snow pictures…

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…

Evan Lysacek – Gold Medalist

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Naperville skater Evan Lysacek appeared here previously in a collection of other portraits of Olympic hopefuls, but I didn’t make any comment about his photo.  Now that he rocked the Olympics by being the first U.S. man to win a gold medal in skating since 1988, I thought I’d post some specifics. In that post,  I described some technical details on how the photos were supposed to look, but the look he was creating was one of focused intensity. I’m not exaggerating or lassoing a star when I say that of  the seventy-some athletes I shot during those three days, Lysacek was the one whose intensity stood out. I was actually a bit startled by it. Maybe it was his eyebrows and tightly clenched jaw, or his dark eyes and quite demeanor – or all of that. As you look at his photo, especially the one at left, remember that he’s facing me and a crazy crowd of activity behind me  – photographers, agents, athletes, etc.. all bumping into each other and creating a raucous roar. Some athletes handled that by being funny or irreverent. Some appeared a bit tired or distracted. Lysacek stood in and quickly stared at me with such concentration,  I knew he was focusing more on the picture than I was.

Coach Mike Ditka Gets A Boost

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Legendary Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka made an appearance in a Boost mobile ad during yesterday’s Super Bowl, in which his (one-time) New Orleans Saints went marching out with a victory. 25 years after he led the Chicago Bears to a raucous Superbowl win, Da Coach still is the man for many Bears fans.  My one portrait of him was not made in a studio with an art director, agents, and assistants scurrying around serving everyone’s needs over a sumptuous buffet, with 3-4 setups ready to go. As with most newspaper portraits, this shoot was no-frills – it lasted about 45 seconds in the corner of his steakhouse right after an interview. I had two direct flashes pointed directly at him from both sides – why would you put a softbox on a gritty character like Ditka?  A few frames, and then he had to go. Of the many quickie portraits I’ve made of famous people, this one worked out better than most.

Conga Line

Geese ©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

This scene at Montrose Harbor along the lakefront was visible to me and several other motorists who watched from their cars the goings on of a large collection of birds. You could say it was like a drive-in theater showing of “Animal Kingdom”…