A Person of Towering Influence

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©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

In this photoblog’s attempt to help you appear informed and city-wise at any cocktail party, I submit to you the perfect name to be casually dropped in conversation:  Adrian Smith.  His influence at helping make Chicago a great city far outweighs his name recognition. He’s the architect for the renovation of State Street, the basic outlines of Millennium Park, the NBC and AT&T buildings and the soon-to-be-completed Trump International Hotel & Tower, at right. He also designed the plans for the world’s tallest building building in Dubai, which will be the tallest in all four categories in which buildings are measured.  When I met him in his office at left, he had a cornucopia of imaginative models for buildings, which took a while to light to get the right reflection in the tall model at left. The reflection at right came from a much bigger light:-)  Architects like Smith help make the city of Chicago  known not only as the “City of Broad Shoulders” but also the “City of Broad Imaginations”…

Tribute to a Tailor


©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?

A Policeman’s Best Friend


©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….”

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.

Da Mayor

Da Mayor

©2009 Chicago Tribune

I would be remiss to start a Chicago photoblog without a reference to Mayor Daley, who has become something of a fascination to those who observe him through the lens. He can appear, within moments of each other, to be both good-natured and yet, well, a tad surly.  The latter is the emotion more often reflected in the day’s news, from press conferences that get testy.   Whether or not that’s an unfair caricature, I thought these two images provide a useful insight on how moment, light, composition and angle of view can all contribute to different representations of Da Mayor.

In the Mood for Italian


©2009 Chicago Tribune

A Chicago classic character. Maitre d’ at the Italian Village restaurant for fifty years. Knew Pavarotti, Sinatra, all the Italian heavyweights. Mayor Daley? Knew him when he was just a law student kid.  The picture is all ambient light. Lighting subjects with the ambient available is so counter-intuitive. As photographers we’ve got our magic kit of attachments and secret-sauce recipes that we itch to use.  But sometimes “you dance with the gal that brought ya”.  In this case the mood of the place was too evocative of history and the twinkles of romance to not explore the possibility of letting the mood speak for itself.