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.

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.

Olympic Hopefuls

OlympicPortraits©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

On a previous post you saw the scene where I photographed quickie portraits of Olympic hopefuls in Chicago at the Palmer House in a room crowded with athletes and other photographers. These were some of the more interesting photos from the bunch. I shot all of them in a vertical format with a tilt-shift lens while using a ringflash. Just a little cumbersome, especially when you only have a couple minutes of shooting time. I also wanted to create a cyan-bluish tone to the images, to create a sense of winter cold. To do so, I used a cyan colored background. The reason it appears white in the photos is because I overexposed it. The white then dissolved into a cyan as the light fell off the subjects – creating a cold edge.  It’s a slight effect. You can see that more in the images of athletes wearing dark colors, or in the duo at bottom. All in all, I enjoyed the process. I was really struck at how the personas of the athletes tended to come out in their pictures, especially among those who have participated in previous Olympics.  I also could see how those personas might possibly outlive their Olympic experiences and endear them to millions around the world.

Kevin Smith’s Potty Brainstorm

kevin-smith©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Actor-director-filmmaker Kevin Smith is back in the news with a new book, so I thought his fans might appreciate this portrait of him from a couple years ago that never made it into our family newspaper. If you know his work, you might say “That’s him alright”!:-)  When it was time for a photo after his hotel interview was completed, it was Smith who suggested sitting on the toilet with his pants down for a picture. I didn’t even know what to say except, “uh..great!” I was tickled at the chance to do something different, and laughed at his improvisations. As a photographer shooting visiting celebrities, it’s challenging to make a celebrity portrait look like it wasn’t taken in a hotel room with a 2 minute timer ticking.  In all my brainstorms, I can honestly say I hadn’t ever thought of asking a celebrity to “drop trou”. It was a veerrry unusual moment.

Career Day at a Pumpkin Farm


©2009 Alex Garcia

Oh, I didn’t let the fun and games at the pumpkin farm fool me. Yes, there was a smorgasbord of wholesome fun to be had this weekend, including an inflatable trampoline, a petting zoo, hay bales galore and all the wonderful non-scary fun of Midwest Americana. But when my little-big-boy got on board that tractor, it was clear he was getting down to business in choosing a career. As far as I can tell, it will involve wheels – big wheels. I’m guessing either pumpkin farmer, race car driver, monster truck driver, or even Hot Wheels brand manager.  I don’t believe I steered him towards his interest in loud, noisy, powerful engines, but if you consider his sources of inspiration around our house, “Roary the Racing Car”, toy construction trucks, and Lightning McQueen, it seems that he’s got enough positive reinforcement to last him until he graduates to rocket boosters…