“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…
Probably no other assignment I have received has had such an ongoing impact on my understanding of the profession than the week I spent at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA. Two reporters and I spent the time getting to know the ins- and-outs of the place while interviewing the founders, their executives and their army of engineers. We listened to their competitors, website owners and their advertisers. We even visited their Chicago operations, where I was able to look over the shoulders of their ad team scrutinizing the Chicago Tribune website and our advertisers. It was life-changing. Have you ever had the opportunity to watch someone cheerfully plot your destruction? That’s kind of how it felt. Since then, I have tried to learn as much as I can about the intersection of web content, search engines and user behavior. I have taken a keener interest in the digital products the Tribune has been rolling out. We’re profitable, we’ll emerge from bankruptcy, and we’ll hopefully adapt more quickly to the challenges of Google and others on the web. For the sake of journalism, we better succeed.
I was a vulture today. At least that was the term used by a police officer. He and I were both watching a group of television cameramen and reporters surround a couple as they left the scene of a triple murder in the suburbs. I wasn’t a part of the group, although I easily could have been. I had been photographing people’s reactions, such as the man above in what was a very heartbreaking scene. Even though I was out there with everyone else, waiting to find whatever tidbit of information we could find, I didn’t see a picture in that one mob so stepped away. So the officer muttered “…vultures..”, and truth be told, I saw it too. At face value, either in movies or in real life, it is ugly. And I struggle with it. There is another side, of course. If there were no photos to show the emotion of a scene, news such as this would have less capacity to arouse the body politic to action, and to ask countless questions that urgently matter, such as, is the killer on the loose? Was the home invasion random or part of a pattern? Is the community safe? Emotional pictures are like an alarm bell to pay-attention-to-this-one. They encourage connection, empathy, concern, and hopefully action. Having said that, there is such a thing as too much. Both in process and result. Invasive. Gratuitous. Insensitive. I’m sure there are countless stories of this, and I won’t seek to defend them. I’m not alone in trying to balance the need to get information out quickly, with the need to respect someone’s emotional space in a public setting. My television colleagues have pressures that I don’t fully appreciate, but those I respect also struggle with it. Perhaps I should take the advice of a different police officer who said later, “you’re just doing your job.” In the end, this post is not meant to be a confession, a defense, or an appeal for absolution. It’s just a statement of fact. I felt like a vulture today. And I’ll never get used to it.
©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia
When this photo blog (almost 100 posts ago) first got going last year, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of pictures to post, and whether I could keep up the quality of the images on a regular basis. As I have been looking back at the last year, I think it was a mistake not to include this image from a Boys and Girls Club event. It had a community journalism feel to it, and I was wanting to create a different vision or look for the photo blog. But what has emerged over time through the blog is a desire to have images that can connect and uplift with you the readers. In doing so, it helps me to be inspired. Given some of the negative stuff that comprises news, I think most of us news consumers need a steady dose of positivity. The activities of the Boys and Girls Clubs are very inspiring, and the fun expressions of these boys was fun to experience and to photograph.
The hour when I drive in to the city is showtime for the sky. If you see more than a few morning pictorials on this photo blog, it’s because I’m just capturing a sliver of the elusive beauty that slips across the sky. Even with my photographic “dusty mirror”, the colors and the light that presents itself gets me going even more than the morning joe.
©Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia
Walking through Pioneer Court recently on a rainy day, a new statue bust near a stairwell caught my eye. Sure enough, Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable has finally gotten his due. Known as “The Father of Chicago”, du Sable was a Haitian colonist in North America of mixed French and African ancestry and was the first known permanent nonindigenous settler of our city. That a statue of him at Pioneer Court, the site of his settlement, did not exist was irritating to many – especially to Jesse Jackson, who would attend shareholder meetings of the Tribune company to make the point. At 230 years later, it’s not the biggest statue in the court, but at least there is one. No one really knows what du Sable looked like, so the sculptor had to take some creative license. As I was photographing the bust, I noticed the sculptor was a high school friend, Erik Blome. Great job Erik!