A Positive Question

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©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

I had other pictures in mind to post today, but this moment kept coming back to me from a school assignment last week. It’s not the greatest-stop-the-presses-run-this-baby-big-on-the-front-page, but after weeks of covering school violence and failing schools, to watch a student high-five a teacher on his way to class was a breath of fresh air.  It was a spontaneous exchange after the boy playfully challenged his teacher on whether or not he was her favorite student. A more positive spin of the phrase “Question Authority”…

Something in the Air

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©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

Normally, cruising the skies in a helicopter is a very cool assignment. But circling the largest polluters in the Chicago area on a hot day for three hours while breathing chopper exhaust isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered. But hey, it’s still a helicopter ride. The images were for one of several environmental stories we’ve published since taking a more aggressive watchdog role this past year. This past Sunday the Tribune published a story about how state politics had reduced environmental law enforcement, requiring federal regulators to step in to cite such companies as the one which owns the coal-powered plant in the photo. The state didn’t see any problems with the emissions, but since that very company was represented for years by one of ex-Governor Blagojevich’s top campaign aides, well, let’s just say something was in the air…

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.

Downtown Downpour


© 2009 Chicago Tribune

For the Chicago area and our economy, it seems like there’s always the threat of more rain. Occasionally to this column I’ll be publishing flashback photos – pictures that represent a timeless Chicago and that most of my blog readers have never seen. This scene was from a July in which I found myself on LaSalle Street for an unexpected downpour.  The humorous aspect of this picture is that I was trying to keep ahead of this businessman to frame him within the street yet he kept speeding up at the sound of my footsteps. He didn’t look back, and so couldn’t have known who I was. But he pressed ahead more quickly. Perhaps his healthy paranoia of the unknown is a useful commodity in today’s business world!:-)

Coin Toss


©2009 Chicago Tribune

Coming back from a shoot, I stumbled onto workers ripping out parking meters and hurling them into the back of a truck.  Chicago is switching over to a citywide system of payboxes instead of meters because with the new rates of $3.50/hour in some places, or, 14 quarters per hour, meters were filling up with quarters too quickly.  With all the havoc THAT created, I’ll bet you could have found a lot of people willing to chuck parking meters into the back of a truck, for free.  All these meters, if all goes according to plan:-), should be replaced by the end of the year.

When a Presidential Portrait is not Really

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©2009 Chicago Tribune

You can’t launch a Chicago blog without including some of its famous denizens. Chicago is in the national consciousness now stronger than ever because of President Obama.  I was assigned to shoot his first interview with a newspaper after winning the election. Alas,  “No portrait”.  I was to meet him in his transitional office after his three layers of security.  Fluorescent lights. Sterile. Don’t show the bullet-proof window barriers.  Unwilling to walk away with just a talking head of our newest president, I quickly set up a softbox and looked for a mood to show the big issues he was struggling with.  Whether you agree with him or not, he seems a thoughtful and introspective person – traits I was looking to capture. I find that photographing executives who only have a few minutes often involves more fast-thinking (technical, aesthetic, and interpersonal persuasion) than shooting spot news as a photojournalist.