Tribute to a Tailor

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©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

This week, the Tribune ran an obituary on an 89 year-old Chicagoan who I was sad to see pass. As we wrote, “Lawrence Pucci was one of the last remaining master tailors from a bygone era of American style.  A proud, lifelong Chicago resident and booster, Mr. Pucci custom-made exquisite, hand-stitched suits that were sought out by the rich and the powerful. Household names including former Bears owner George Halas, Hollywood stars Dean Martin and James Mason and musician Victor Borge were among his customers…”  When I photographed him on Michigan Avenue, I was struck by how much of an ambassador he was not just for Michigan Avenue and the city, but for that bygone era so far removed from my world of blue jeans and casual shirts. I’m not one for sartorial flair, but if you were to spend time with Mr. Pucci you would see it wasn’t about an expensive suit but about the whole essence of dressing, acting and being the polite and refined gentleman.  It wasn’t just a style, but a world view.  Since meeting him years ago, I still carry a greater appreciation for the formality of an era that our world has long since passed by.

Getting Out of the Way of the Picture

CT Letts112009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

I was assigned to shoot Tracy Letts, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “August: Osage County”, at the Steppenwolf Theatre for the L.A. Times. Happily, this wasn’t just a 5-minutes-and-you’re-out-bada-bing shoot. I actually was able to scout around to find an interesting place and to shoot different situations. Originally I thought the mood should be dark – consistent with the serious intensity of the play and playwright. But I was told his most recent play was a comedy-drama so maybe upbeat would be more current. So my favorite combined a serious look with upbeat colors. It was all ambient. The hot lights with the theatrical flair was track lighting that happened to be in a lounge area. His face and side wall were lit from window daylight (which explains the blue strip at left).  The red wall happened to be there. I had brought a ton of lighting gear with me, and was itching to use them. But although I tried to push them into the shoot, this picture would have none of it. Who am I to argue with the picture?

How Not to Ruin a Digital Camera

Fountain©Chicago Tribune

I finally used a Canon underwater camera housing to take photos at the Crown Fountain. It was an idea that I have been considering for awhile, but was waiting for hot weather to get into the news.  Whenever I’ve been out at the park before, I’ve been relunctant to get into the thick of the action because splashing water + wild children + a $6500 digital camera = trip to the photo director’s office. But with the housing, my credentials (to show parents), and a spare change of clothes, I was the emboldened feature photographer. Of course, I couldn’t see a thing while taking pictures –  it was mostly all about strategic placement and blind faith.  An hour or so later, this was the best picture that emerged from the frenzy.

A See of Humanity

Sea of Humanity

©2009 Chicago Tribune

Just another rainy day at Lollapalooza and a set of strange experiences to go along with… Have you ever stood right up next to a bank of speakers screaming at full throttle? My skin was actually pulsating. Every couple minutes, I had to walk past the edge of the speakers to avoid nausea. I always carry earplugs, so I was prepared for hearing loss, at least… Afterwards, I couldn’t find a dry place to transmit my photos so I ended up covering myself and my laptop with a poncho under a tree. It was leaking like a drippy roof, and I’m sure people were wondering what kind of psychedelic experience that guy was having hunched over in the corner next to the portable toilets…

A Policeman’s Best Friend

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©2009 Chicago Tribune

Normally if I were to take a portrait of a person and their dog, I would not sit them down in the middle of the street and ask them to turn away from me. Especially if the person is a police officer. In fact, I’m sure he thought it was a bit strange for me to make that request. But the concept was being together on the road of life. In the course of a pay squabble with his department, Bradford signed away his rights to pursue claims for back pay in order to keep “Doc”, a Belgian Malinois, who he felt was being used as a bargaining chip. Typically, police dogs are given to their owners after the dogs are retired from service because it is too hard to retrain them to work with others. For him, not being allowed to keep Doc was too much to bear.  So there was something of a cinematic end to their story.  A loyalty tested and a bond that was saved through sacrifice. I imagine this picture as the closing scene where Bradford turns towards Doc and says, “it’s just you and me, kid….”

Inside Buckingham Fountain

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©2009 Chicago Tribune

I thought many of you might appreciate an inside view of the control room of the famous Buckingham Fountain. The Park District is giving paid tours of the fountain, so you can say this photo blog has just saved you $50 by showing you the “money shot”:-)!  Of course, you don’t get to see the boiler room and you can’t turn the levers, either… The fountain has seen better days – it is undergoing a three-phase renovation, and is clearly desperate to drum up more funds. It’s also in the shadow of Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain (y’know, the one that spits water) which has ignited the imagination and delight of Chicagoans. Being the age of interactivity, the Old World-style Buckingham has clearly lost its grip on the city’s enthrall – and I don’t think any amount of “Married With Children” reruns and its Buckingham cameos will change that anytime soon…

Full Circle – In Time and Space

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©2009 Chicago Tribune

It’s not often that I photograph someone who can accurately guess the shutter speed of my camera by simply hearing the click. But such is the attention to technical detail of NASA’s chief scientist John Grunsfeld, a Chicago-born astronaut who repaired the Hubble Space Telescope and who the Tribune profiled this past Sunday. Immediately after his slide presentation at the Adler Planetarium, I was to shoot a cover photo that was more interesting than a guy standing next to a museum exhibit. Pressed for time,  we quickly entered the Atwood Sphere, an interactive exhibit, and while a docent held an off-camera flash, I used a tripod and a long exposure to capture the spinning sphere that shows the night sky.  It was a bit of a calculated gamble, since we only had time for about 10 frames, and there wasn’t a lot of time for testing. At first I tried light-painting, but there was too much movement on our mechanical platform.  Given that his grandfather helped design the dome of the Planetarium building, there was a palpable sense that history and astronomy had come full circle for the Grunsfeld clan.