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It was an incredibly sunny winter morning in Rockford when, on my way to a dentist appointment, I noticed these beautiful trees near Elliot Golf Course. As soon as I got out of the car I was greeted with a mixture of warm sunlight and blisteringly cold wind. I'd originally intended to keep the tree on the left side of the frame and the sun on the right, but once I saw what they looked like together, I knew I had something truly special.
Tree of Life
This photograph was made on an unusually damp and foggy morning in September of 2013. As I made my way toward this tree, I noticed it had an unusual wish bone shape, and felt like a photograph of it might bring me some much-needed good luck. Twenty photographs of this scene were made, but this particular one didn't stand out at the time I looked at in post production. Five months later, while going through my archives, I noticed something I hadn't before; the wishbone design of the tree squeezed the sunlight into the shape of a heart. For obvious reasons, it quickly became one of my favorite photographs.
Calder's Flamingo is a 53-foot tall sculpture located in Federal Plaza in front of the Kluczynski Building in Chicago, Illinois. It was a warm Spring day in the city and that meant people would be out and about - perfect conditions for street photography. However, while walking past Calder's Flamingo, I noticed this white contrail blazing through this incredible blue sky. Seeing as the Flamingo was right in front of me, I decided to tilt the camera in a way so as to make it look like the contrail was shooting through the structure itself. The first photograph didn't give me the symmetry I wanted, so I placed the Sears Tower in the corner of the frame to balance everything out. This beautiful, calming photograph was the result.
Sunrise at Midway Village (Sterling Silver Edition)
This charming landscape photograph of Midway Village was made the morning after the first snowfall of the winter of 2012. I remember it was a few days before Christmas, which meant I hadn't yet gone shopping for presents. Luckily, the sun was shining, the snow was fresh, and I knew Midway Village would be the perfect location to make a photograph to give to someone on canvas.
July 4th, 2013 was one of the most tiresome days for me in recent memory. After spending the entire afternoon photographing everyone at the family gathering, I proceeded to bring my equipment along to a family friend's house on the Rock River. (I'd never photographed fireworks before, and I just couldn't resist.) "Keep the tripod still and release the trigger after big bursts" are the only things that went through my mind as I watched the fireworks that night. I must have made thirty or so magazine quality fireworks shots, but at the time, I was too tired to care. In retrospect, it was an exhausting Fourth of July, but one I wouldn't trade for anything!
Lake Shore Drive No. 2
The Willis Tower Skydeck and Hancock Observatory are tourist traps, which means I try to avoid them at all costs. However, I was feeling nostalgic this past June and decided to visit them both on the same night. I'd heard professional photographers weren't allowed to bring tripods or professional equipment up into either tower, so I decided to bring a discreet camera in order to sneak a few long exposures. As soon as the elevator doors opened, I quickly made my way to the windows overlooking Lake Shore Drive. It had been almost twenty years since I'd seen Chicago from the Hancock Observatory, but I can honestly say it was worth the wait.
Brickbats & Fire Escapes
Making 35mm street photographs in Chicago is what I do best. On this particular day, however, I managed to get five exceptional shots on the same roll of Fuji Superia 400 film. This one might have been the most difficult because the scene was almost impossible to meter. Bright sunlight on the far end of the alley and heavy shadows in the front. Luckily, I knew the settings for this kind of shot by heart - f/8, 1/60, ISO 400 film pushed to 800. I quickly dialed my camera in to those settings and waited for the man to walk into the right part of the frame.
After hours of walking around the Loop, I decided to head back down Michigan Avenue one last time before the sun went down. It was an unbelievably cold and windy day in March, but I was probably the happiest man in the entire city. For whatever reason, I was seeing street scenes moments before they happened, and this one was no different. These two men were shielding themselves from the fierce winds outside the famous Allsaints when I noticed how cool (and cold) they looked. I quickly backtracked, aimed, and fired. As long as I didn't damage or lose the film on my way home, I knew this would be a keeper. And it was.
Into the Fray
This is the view of the Hancock building as seen from Michigan Avenue near the Corner of Wacker Drive. The crowd of people on either side of the street are headed towards the Chicago River to see it dyed green for St. Patrick's Day. Because the degree of difficulty wasn't particularly high, I dismissed this shot after looking at the negative on my light table. Upon closer inspection months later, I realized this was an exceptionally sharp, interesting photograph of downtown Chicago during the St. Patrick's Day parade.
In November of 2012, I decided I wanted to be as good of a street photographer as Garry Winogrand. In order to do this, I was going to have to practice with 35mm film in an area of Chicago with a lot of foot traffic. Though known for being a tourist trap, I selected Navy Pier to be my playground for the day. My choice would pay off. It was a visual smorgasbord of interesting scenes, however, this image featured above was probably the most memorable. At first glance, these women seemed to be doing nothing out of the ordinary. Once I noticed one of them was barefoot, I knew I had to circle back around to get a shot. The afternoon sun was incredibly bright, which meant they had no way of noticing me as I got down on one knee to make this intimate photograph. Upon seeing the negative a few days later, I knew I'd captured something special. (I wonder if Garry Winogrand would agree.)
Constructed between 2004 and 2006, Cloud Gate is a public sculpture by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. Affectionately known as "The Bean" for its legume-like shape, Cloud Gate is an extremely popular tourist attraction. Lots of tourists means lot of opportunities to make unique street photographs. That being said, I wasn't expecting so many people to be visiting this sculpture at sunrise on a cold day in late March of 2013. What you can't see in this photograph are a group of people doing yoga directly underneath The Bean. Not wanting to disturb them (and ruin the shot), I attached my 100mm f/2.8 lens to my camera and started snapping away. In order to avoid lens flare, I angled away from the sun. By doing this, the edges of The Bean looked like they were dipping into the buildings on Michigan Avenue. It was a gorgeous view, but missing something: balance. I made three photographs of the couple with their backs to me. The one you see above, one of them as they're walking into the middle of the frame, and one where they're on the right edge of the frame. The last one gave the scene the most balance, and it's one any professional would chose... which is why I opted for the first.
Wild Strawberries (Scenes from an Autumn Afternoon No. 1)
This traditional landscape photograph of a farm near Elizabeth, Illinois almost didn't happen. On this particular day in October, I was delivering a 30" X 45" Giclee Canvas print to someone near Galena when I decided to visit the tower which overlooks the entire area. Problem is, the tower wasn't there. A quick Google search informed me the tower had been removed in 2007 due to the fact it was handicap inaccessible. This meant I was might have to pull an Ansel and set my tripod on the roof of my car if I was going to keep the foreground free from clutter. Rather than actually stand on the roof, I simply integrated the foreground trees into the scene. Then, using the Fibonacci spiral, I placed the nucleus of the farm in the upper right hand corner. Because it was extremely windy and I had nothing to weigh the tripod down, it took a few tries to achieve maximum sharpness throughout the entire scene. Because I'm a big fan of traditional landscape photography with large format cameras, I gave the image a 4x5 crop. After seeing the finished prints, I'm 100% confident I made the right choice.
Street photography in Rockford, Illinois is extremely, extremely difficult due to the fact that everything is so spread out. (It's kind of like L.A. in that you have to drive everywhere.) This fact used to bum me out, until I remembered what William Eggleston did with his hometown. Many of Eggleston's images (or at least the ones I've seen) are made around sunset. By doing this, his images always had beautiful golden tones, which he then used to his advantage with the help of Kodachrome film and dye-transfer printing. This gave me the idea to make sunrise street shots and have the images printed on a super glossy paper like Fuji Crystal Archive. Because there were literally zero Rockfordians out and about on this chilly October morning, I had to make due with inanimate objects such as telephone poles, dilapidated houses, and storefront windows like such as the one featured above. However, as soon as I saw the antique bust in the window, and the way the sun was hitting the American flag, I knew this wasn't going to be your everyday street shot.
Unveiled in 1978, "Symbol" is a sculpture by artist Alexander Liberman. Its first home was at the intersection of State and Wyman in downtown Rockford, but due to poor public reaction, was moved to Sinninnissippi Park in 1984. I chose to position my camera on the Auburn Street and use a 100mm f/2.8 lens in order to make "Symbol" the cynosure of the photograph. The reason why I chose to keep this image, as opposed to making a new one, is because this was made the night before it was finally given in a new paint job in 2013.
Being a photographer means I'm always on the lookout for new and exciting photographic opportunities. As luck would have it, I'd find one on Spring Creek Road, across from Anderson Japanese Gardens in March of 2013. After climbing down the side of a hill, I managed to find just enough room to set up my tripod and photograph this clandestine portion of Spring Creek as the sun went down.
Long Night's Journey Into Day
The Adler Planetarium is one of Chicago's most visited tourist attractions. Photographers, like myself, especially love the views of Chicago's skyline provided to us from the planetarium's vantage point. The morning I made my trek out to the planetarium can best be described as a traditional Chicago morning: extremely cold, and extremely windy. Even at my size, I was getting knocked around pretty good by the healthy wind gusts coming in off the lake, so much so that I considered coming back another day. However, I pushed on. My determination would pay off in the form of juicy clouds and spiteful winds. After attaching a bean bag to my tripod, I stopped down my wide-angle lens to f/22. Though I was concerned about diffraction at that aperture, I felt soft-focus was a necessary trade-off in order to produce the longest exposure possible without using a cable release. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I dropped my cable release in Lake Michigan on the way there!) To ensure camera shake wasn't an issue, I made five exposures of 30 seconds. After zooming in on them on my LCD screen, I knew this one was the winner.
ChicagoDowntown ChicagoLake MichiganSunriseTwilightSkylineChicago SkylineCityscapeChicago CityscapeLong ExposureNight PhotographyArchitecturePhotographic PrintsChicago PhotographyChicago Photo PrintsChicago TwilightAdler Planetarium
The Discreet Charm of Midway Village (Vagabond Clouds No. 4)
Though it looks like a heavily post-processed image, this is actually nothing more than a time-lapse of the sun coming over Midway Village in Rockford, Illinois. I made 252 images over the course of 30 minutes and then stacked them all together in post-production. These photographic techniques help keep central elements of the image still while letting clouds, wind, water - anything that moves, really - run wild. It gives the final artwork a very surreal, painterly look.
The Long Goodbye
After 90 years in business, Maria's Italian Cafe closed its doors on January 1st, 2014. This is a photograph of Maria's longtime bartender taking one last look up at the sign shortly before the restaurant closed its doors on New Year's Eve. It should be noted that, like all my street photographs, I don't intervene in any way. I'm a human first, photographer second, which means that had I asked him to behave differently for the camera, I would have ruined his personal moment.
Tinker Swiss Cottage No. 3
Robert H. Tinker built this Swiss Cottage in 1865 after traveling to Europe. It's not only a landmark in Rockford, Illinois, it's one of the most beautiful homes I've ever seen. This photograph was made on foggy winter morning in December 2013. I spent a few minutes walking around the house to try and find a unique angle from which to photograph it. I eventually decided to plant my feet firmly in the snow leading down to the water and line everything up according to my usual methodology. Set the camera to burst mode, fired three shots, and much to my surprise, the third exposure turned out to be the sharpest.
Choosing the Right Path
Diverging, snow-covered pathway leading deep inside the woods of Rock Cut State Park. Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of cold weather, but I'd gladly trudge through another snow-covered forest to make images like this. What's really interesting about this photo is the fact that, in a metaphorical way, the walking path splits in two.
This monochromatic photograph of a defensive rock formation at low tide was made this past summer. Because my street photographs at the time were getting a little too loosey-goosey in terms of composition, I decided to start using a tripod for all my photographs. It made a world of difference. As for this particular image, what drew me to this rock formation was the fact that these rocks looked like the kind of dorsal fins you'd see on sharks. I was truly mesmerized by the way the ebb and flow of the tide gently washed over them. Knowing how long exposures give liquid a silky texture, I decided to try some 20-30 second exposures with the help of a graduated neutral density filter. Because I was using a telephoto lens, I had to use manual focus to make sure my depth of field was deep enough to cover the rocks, but still keep the water a little out of focus to add to the already blurry effect produced by the long exposures. Knowing this image would eventually be made into a fine art print to hang on someone's wall, I never ventured above f/16. (My telephoto lens is sharpest between f/11 and f/16.) After I got the image back in post-production, I converted it to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and added an almost imperceptible vignette to lead viewers' eyes to the center of the rock formation.
Autumn on the Pier
Admittedly, my weakest areas as a pro photographer are in product photography and post-processing. This is why I was extremely, extremely hesitant to try and make a vertical panorama of Navy Pier which I'd have to create in Photoshop so early on in my career (back in November of 2012). Not having a tripod meant I needed to keep the camera perfectly level for eighteen shots. Much to my surprise, everything came out perfectly. The real test, however, was seeing how well the image held up when printed to monstrous proportions. Sure enough, you could clearly see every little detail in every print up to 20" X 40". I was, and still am, awe-struck by this photograph whenever I see it on a wall. It features some of the best visual attractions Chicago has to offer, and I know people are going to go wild over it when they see it hanging in their home or office.
Grand Design (The Chiaroscuro Effect)
Much like "Autumn on the Pier," I was really nervous about making this vertical panorama of the fourth floor hallway in the Chicago Cultural Center. The degree of difficulty was already high, but to make my matters worse, my camera at the time didn't perform well in low-light. Luckily, I was able to keep the camera perfectly still for the sixteen handheld photographs used in this expansive fine art photograph. After making the photographs, I stitched them together and curved them all inward to invoke a sense of opulence encompassing the viewer. (It could be argued I was trying to make reference to noble spaces and those typically excluded from them, but, as always, it's open to interpretation.)
Sundown on County Road Z (Scenes from an Autumn Afternoon No. 3)
This photograph, and the rest of the images in the "Scenes from an Autumn Afternoon," were created in the same, hurried afternoon on a trip to Galena, Illinois. Sinsinawa Mound is not only home to an order of Dominican Sisters, it's a non-definitional home for prayer. Also, they sell the most awesome homemade bread ever in their gift shop. The homemade cinnamon bread was calling me name and I had no choice but to take a detour. It was absolutely worth it, however, it caused me to run behind schedule. Worried I wouldn't make it to Dubuque, Iowa before sunset, I quickly exited the Mound and took off down an isolated country road. Not forty second away from the Mound and I see the most gorgeous, pastoral scene ever out my window. I couldn't believe my good fortune. The side-lit, sun-kissed grass? Gorgeous. The tree that looks like it was painted into the landscape? BINGO! The stream leading out of frame? BANGO! The cows grazing on the hillside? BONGO! The perfect Midwestern landscape! I could print this on cheap computer paper and it'd still look amazing on anyone's wall. That being said, it's available in a couple different substrates of varying sizes.
Golden Hills of Galena (Scenes from an Autumn Afternoon No. 2)
No. 1 and No. 2 in this series are scenes from the side countryside, about a mile apart. Unlike the first image in the series, my telephoto lens was maxed out for this particular photograph. When maxing out a telephoto lens, a weighted tripod is absolutely a must in order to ensure tack sharp images. My biggest concern, actually, was making certain visible heat waves didn't interfere with the image clarity. Because the sun was directly behind me and beating down hard, I thought there was a chance it could happen. Fortunately, heat waves were a non-issue, and my image ended up being about as beautiful as I could possibly make it.
November of 2013 was an interesting time for me in terms of progressing as an artist. I'd begun exploring ways to incorporate elements of painting into my images after beginning to learn about the history of art. Romantic paintings were especially intriguing to me because I felt like the artist really put their heart and soul into their work, just like myself. This photograph was the result of me being stuck inside on a rainy day. After a couple minutes staring at this painting of a little girl, an idea leaped into my head: Watercolors. I couldn't bring the painting outside, but I could bring the rain inside by photographing at. Seeing as how you can't just photograph rain in mid-air (at least not without a flashgun), I decided to take a large mirror off the wall, bring it outside, and photograph the reflection OF rain. As soon as I saw this finished result, I knew I'd captured the ephemeral nature of youth, time, and art. To wrap it all up in a perfectly poetic bow, I chose to make it available as a Giclee Watercolor print on fine art paper. (In terms of archival quality, the Giclee Watercolor print offered here will probably look better 200 years from now than anything else I currently offer.)
In 2012, I was pretty self-conscious about the fact I was using a 35mm camera. Everyone else on photo sharing sites had awesome digital cameras and I was over here with my Minolta X-700 trying my best to improve. That being said, the images I made with that Minolta X-700, like the one featured above, were truly exceptional. This photograph was made on November 1st, 2012. I remember the date because the sunset was out of this world beautiful. Shortly after the sun fell below the horizon, I noticed the Rock River had a beautiful Sky and Alice blue patina. Seeing as how I wasn't going to waste a 35mm exposure on something too vanilla, I looked around for something to juxtapose. And that's when I saw these beautiful tree branches hanging over the river. I stepped out onto a small rock formation, dialed in the right settings, held my breath, and fired.
By November of 2012, I was using, and having problems with, a digital camera. For whatever reason, I couldn't stop myself from taking twenty photographs of the same scene with my digital camera. Not only that, but I had no access to Photoshop. (Even if I'd had it, I wouldn't have known how to use it back then.) Rather than goof with digital, I stuck to using 35mm film for my street photography. And boy, did my images really shine. This one in particular was made shortly after a light, late-afternoon rainstorm made its way through downtown. Petrichor and puddles were everywhere, as were reflections. It felt like I was walking around on a sea of mirrors. Anyway, I saw these two approaching me and I decided to subconsciously frame the scene in a very Cartier-Bresson fashion.
I vividly remember what went through my head when I first saw this man's tie: Bold Minimalism. The white dress shirt made his already prominent red tie stand out more than it would with any other color. Why do doctors wear cyan scrubs? It absorbs the color red, thereby making blood less distracting to the eyes. But white with red? You're making a statement. Regardless of the statement this businessman was trying to make, I knew I HAD to photograph his tie. Knowing this image would be sold in print, I set the camera on a tripod, dialed my camera to read ISO 100, f/8, and 1/30 sec., and fired three shots in burst mode. The second image was the sharpest, so that's the one I ended up sending out for a test print. I loved it in camera, and I loved it even more in print.
As much as I'd love to tell you I reflected deeply on this photograph before making it, I can't. I simply aimed the camera upward, placed the Sears Tower in the corner of the frame, and fired... out of boredom. It was only when I got home and imported my images for the day into Lightroom did I realize how exceptional this was. And that happens. Sometimes I work really, really hard to make a beautiful photograph, and it turns out poorly. And sometimes I point the camera upward and shoot. With photography, a lot of it has to do with luck, and being in the right place at the right time. Anyway, this photograph? In print? It's hypnotic.
This is one of my more unusual candid street photographs. It's unusual because I used a telephoto lens to zoom in on the window washers. It was an exceptionally pedestrian March day on Michigan Avenue when, while sitting in the back of a cab, I noticed something dangling from a building. It was only when I attached my telephoto lens to my camera did I get a clear view of these brave men (and possibly women) cleaning the windows of a skyscraper. I ended up positioning the washers in the center of the frame so the sky on the far left hand side wouldn't be visible.
Two things happen when the nucleus of a town or city has reached the point of total abandonment: it becomes a full-fledged ghost town, or it comes roaring back to life. Because of its perfect proximity to downtown Chicago, Galena, and it's position on the Rock River, downtown Rockford, Illinois will obviously come roaring back to life. It'll take another 15 or 20 years, but I'll still be young enough to enjoy it. Until then, it'll be chocked full of beautifully worn buildings and colorful, vibrant people. One such beautifully worn building is the abandoned Elks Lodge situated near the Jefferson Street Bridge. While making candid street photographs on a freezing November afternoon in 2012, I walked by this abandoned building and jumped as high as I could to get a clean look inside. As soon as I saw the white chair sitting alone in front of the window, I instantly felt a huge rush of familiarity. Who had been sitting there? Where did they go? Are they ever going to come back? I slapped a circular polarizer on my lens to cut through the reflections, put the camera up to the window, and pressed the shutter release. I checked my LCD screen... Ellipsis.
Outrun the Sun
For one reason or another, people assume that because I make photos in Chicago, of Chicagoans, I must live in downtown. Truth is, nobody really lives in the Loop. Maybe Oprah or Michael Jordan, but that's about it. Instead of being neighbors with Oprah (and having her recommend awful books to me in person as opposed to tv), I'd drive 40 miles from Rockford to Harvard, where the Metra train runs into downtown Chicago, on Friday evenings. It costs $7 to ride the Metra all weekend, so, that's what I did. I'd make street photographs from Friday to Sunday, leaving on Sunday nights. After a particularly long, grueling weekend, I managed to get on the wrong train. Problem is, I didn't realize it was the wrong train until it reached the end of the line... in Elburn. If you've never heard of Elburn, Illinois, well, that makes two of us. Needless to say, I was furious with myself. I'd ridden the train from Chicago to Harvard an obscene amount, yet I paid no attention to the voice over the loudspeaker announcing unfamiliar stops. I was going to have to ride two hours BACK to Ogilvie Transportation Center, wait for the train, and then ride another two hours to get to Harvard. And then drive 40 minutes back to Rockford. As mad as I was, I secretly enjoyed these train rides. On the way from Elburn back to Chicago, I noticed the sun was behind us. I walked to the front of the car, aimed my camera out the window, and made this photograph. I loved it then, I loved it when I converted it to black and white, and I loved it when I saw the metal print. It reminds me of how far I've come in the last two and half years, and how far I've yet to go. It's also a reminder than not every journey is a straight line. (And to check to make sure I'm on the right train.)
This was made on the same morning as "Long Night's Journey Into Day," the other photograph from my trip out to adler Planetarium. My camera was directed toward Chicago's skyline when I noticed young girl with a smartphone reading for the top of the planetarium stairs. With the sunrise in the background, I knew that what I was about photograph was going to be special. I snapped a couple shots, headed back home, loaded this image into Photoshop, felt it wasn't as powerful as I'd hoped. A month or two later I purchased Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and started going back and re-editing photos, this being of them. I increased the contrast by a LOT, specifically the blacks. And that's when this image went from being ho-hum to "OH, WOW!" It looked this woman was taking on the entire world, which is something I can relate to, especially in my younger years. Odds are stacked against you and no one's giving you a chance. Everyone and everything seems out to get you. Until you get older and realize, it's all in your head. There is no collective group of people in collusion to keep you down or speak negatively about you. And there never has been. It's not you versus the world, it's you versus... yourself.
Pull My Finger (Brainwashed No. 3)
Fine art photograph of wall art on Lake Shore Drive. (The color codes of the original photograph have been changed by me in an attempt to satirize the misuse of appropriation art for monetary gain.)
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