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.

Wait Wait..Don’t Bust Me!


©2009 Chicago Tribune

Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! radio show host Peter Sagal lets out a big laugh after he gets busted by an audience of librarians.   During the recent taping of the show at Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago,  he revealed his show uses Wikipedia for some of its research, and they were none too happy…. The most surprising aspect of photographing the show behind the scenes was how truly collaborative the final show is, in the sense that Sagal has been its creative force but is also edited like any other contributor. Also, the show tries to take out from the final show all references to its audience. This is unlike “Prairie Home Companion” which makes references to its audience part of its appeal. For that reason, you didn’t hear this very funny moment on your radio.

Deported in Pink

Illegal Immigrant Deportation

©2009 Chicago Tribune

Photographer note: I’m in the middle of a follow-up on a story about the deportation of illegal immigrants from the United States.  The above photo was from a recent trip in which a Tribune reporter and myself were given rare access to the Immigration Customs Enforcement flights that transport illegal immigrants back to their home countries. You can see the story here.  As you can see,  detainees don’t get a change of clothing. So this woman unfortunately had to wear pumps all the way back to the Mexican border, and beyond. This was one of those situations where you take a small detail and blow out its emphasis to provide more insight into a situation…I’ll publish the update when the Tribune publishes….

Transforming A Scene II

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©2009 Chicago Tribune

A few posts back, I wrote about transforming a hum-drum scene. In that case, it was through the use of underexposure of sky, and the careful placement of strobes to accentuate the relevant parts of an image. Here I’m on the same subject, but am transforming the scene through the use of collage. It can be a technique that can be hackneyed if not used appropriately. I’m reminded of Gregory Heisler’s term “the appropriate response” when it comes to choosing the method that works best with the subject at hand. With discus-throwing there are so many grunts-thrusts-jerks-spins-and-grimaces that one photo doesn’t capture them well, and neither does a stand-far back-with-a-wide-angle burst of shutterfire. You need to be in his space to see the ripples and sinews of shirt and skin all building up to that one moment of discus release which doesn’t necessarily have to be seen in order to be in awe of..

Transforming a Scene


©2009 Chicago Tribune

Whether it’s a state champion or a Superbowl champion, I try to extend the same lighting courtesies. Which is to say, multiple flashes in a way that completely transforms the scene that you are given. In this case, I arrived on an overcast, grey day to an athlete standing without his uniform in an empty field. I’d like to think he and his coach could not have expected a picture like this to emerge from the drab surroundings. With certain pictures, my goal is to leave both the subject and the viewer with an image that interrupts their belief in the static nature of reality. Fancy words for a prep portrait…:-)

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.