Airplane Engines Land on Art Institute

Airplane engines designed by Boeing are hoisted by workers onto the rooftop terrace of the Art Institute©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Workers lift two airplane engines over Monroe Street and onto the rooftop terrace of the Art Institute in Chicago. The English artist Roger Hiorns was there with his wife and baby, watching another birth as the Pratt & Whitney TF33 P9 engines, which come from a U.S. Air Force Boeing EC135 Looking Glass surveillance aircraft, were delivered into his hands for a public opening this Saturday.  Having seen some airplane engines up close before on the tarmac at O’Hare, I could relate to the idea of incorporating these marvels of design into an art setting.  Of course, that’s not the exhibit was about. As someone fascinated by “culturally dominant objects”, the artist had inserted into the engines three pharmaceuticals used to treat trauma and depression, Effexor, Citalopram and Mannitol. They are beyond the sight and reach of viewers, but help make “the connection between global security and individual well being.”  I wouldn’t even try to make that up….

Street Accordion on State

An accordian player in Chicago next to Marshall Field sign©2010 Alex Garcia

Street musician Slobodan Markovich plays the accordion outside the former Marshall Field’s in State Street in Chicago. I was out after work and stopped briefly to photograph the scene. I’m not much of a street photographer who photographs strangers,  but every now and then a scene will evoke a sense of another time or era that makes me stop.  Now that Marshall Field’s is gone, replaced by Macy’s, the old signage provides hints of a past that has been eclipsed by much development in the last two decades. From a visual perspective, there is also something special about the accordion. They have more “old world” charm than overturned paint buckets and drumsticks used by other street musicians. In regards to the Cubs, well, let’s hope our accordionist isn’t playing their same old song!

A Forest Painted Blue and Orange

painted tree along lake shore drive in chicago©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

“Painted Forest” is an idea co-sponsored by the Chicago Park District to paint trees that have been targeted for removal this year because they either died or are severely damaged. I’ve seen it driving by and thought it was pretty creative and whimsical.  But not everyone is tickled by this.  A Lincoln Park jogger was seen flipping off the workers and cursing their work. There’s the issue of public funds being used to paint trees that are going to be removed anyway. There’s also the issue of whether the city should be encouraging the painting of public property. And, as one passerby was reported to have commented to a worker with the project, “So you think you can improve upon God’s creation..?”  I don’t know how the colors were chosen (GO BEARS?), but maybe if they had used red, white and blue it might have gone over smoother…

Vulnerable Children

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

A special education teacher lifts a severely disabled preschooler to “circle time” during a morning preschool class at Frederick Stock School on the northwest side of Chicago. The school, which serves children with special needs, is yet another institution getting swept up in the embarrassing failings of the Illinois budget. The school faces drastic cuts under current proposed reductions.  Our story goes into some of the details, but there are always fears, possibilities and uncertainty that ripples through the hearts of concerned parents and beleagured educators that can’t be fully conveyed in words. Many states are grappling with their lack of money. In Illinois, things are a little different.  Corruption, waste and political cowardice in Illinois has made the state something of a joke in the national media, and it has made our finances worse. You might not need an up-close look at special needs children to get angry about all this, but it’s an urgent reminder of the vulnerable who suffer the consequences.

Revisiting Rwanda

© 2010 Alex Garcia

Last week was the anniversary of the start of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which at least 800,000 people were killed in about 100 days. In media terms, it’s an old story, having been replaced by many other horrific events. But especially during this time of year, it’s in my thoughts. I was there a few years ago on my own, documenting the efforts of a church from Southern California to help the country recover. I think many a photojournalist, and aspiring ones, dream of being the go-to person for dramatic news events around the world. For me, Rwanda has been the only place I’ve been to of any significant disaster. The unfortunate byproduct of this is that my journalist mind is more inclined to show the negative stuff from a place where conflict has occurred, even when the conflict is over and people are trying to move on. I know other photographers and observers know what I’m talking about. It’s understandable to some degree. The photos are true and relevant. They also carry more dramatic power that make people stop and think about an issue not over. If you’ve spent much time, effort and money to get somewhere, would you show photos of AIDS patients from a hospital, or people outside basket-weaving? But in the process, there is a side that often gets neglected – the positive, hopeful side on which any progress will be based.  For that reason, given the option to show pictures from Rwanda for this post, I’m using a few diptychs that show things both from a downbeat and upbeat point of view. Diptychs are an approach that my colleague Scott Strazzante has helped popularize, so I know one more photographer adapting it won’t surprise him any…

Loving-and-Hating Lake Street

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

I’m having a love – hate relationship with Lake Street.  They say love is a verb. You choose to spend quality time with someone, or you don’t. Technically, then, we’re living life together. But oh, is this dysfunctional. With the insane amount of traffic on the Eisenhower – special sympathies to Elmhurstians, Hillsiders and my friends and family out west- I’m looking for shortcuts.  And I gravitate to Lake Street like a lovesick motorist. I love the long stretches of road with synchronized green lights. The swooning canopy of the elevated train and its cinematic streams of light. The sweet pathways into lower Wacker and the Tribune parking lot. It just feels right. But what’s not to love?  The white-knuckled driving as you whip past the train support structures only a few feet away,  knowing many motorists have died there. The unpredictable motorists who try to speed past everyone using the right lanes on the other side of the supports. The oncoming motorists who have an inordinate amount of power over your sense of safety in that gauntlet.  Motorists coming from the north and south who you pray have had plenty of sleep, since you have little foresight at several intersections. Floating pedestrians who glide into the street against the light and return your incredulous glance with an expression that says, “Just do me the favor”.  My head says one thing, my heart another. But for the sake of my kids, I need a better detour. I’m open to suggestions…