To receive 10% off all orders from the official Comeback Charlie online shop, please use the coupon code Holiday14 during checkout. Offer ends December 23rd.
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 how they looked 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. 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 give everything a sense of balance. This beautiful, calming photograph was the result.
Sunrise at Midway Village (Sterling Silver Edition)
This charming landscape photograph of the Amos W. Woodward Millhouse at 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 the Millhouse would be the perfect location to make a beautiful landscape photograph. Because this final result closely resembled a Thomas Kinkade painting, I decided to have it printed on canvas. The print featured above, however, is offered on Kodak Endura Lustre professional photo paper.
Lake Shore Drive No. 2
The Willis Tower Skydeck and Hancock Observatory have never been high on my list of places to visit. However, I was feeling particularly 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 what Chicago looked like from the Hancock Observatory, but I can honestly say it was worth the wait.
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.
A Room with a View
One of my favorite things to do in Chicago is randomly walk into hotels and take pictures out the windows. On a particularly sunny morning in March I decided to head up into a hotel on Wacker Drive. I went to the top floor and starting walking around looking for a window to shoot out of. Unfortunately, there were no windows in the hallway of this particular hotel. Shortly before heading back down I noticed a maid's cart sitting outside an empty room. "A-ha!" I thought! I'll just walk in, pretend I left my room key, take a few photos and leave. Maid wasn't having it. She kept telling me to leave. Frustrated, I attached a telephoto lens to my camera, walked by in the room, and fired off three shots of the John Hancock Center. What you can't see in this photo is the maid on the right and her vacuum cleaner moving below the frame. I wasn't able to get the wide-angle view of the city I wanted, but I did get a gorgeous snap of the early morning sun reflecting of the Hancock building.
Autumn on the Pier
I was extremely, extremely hesitant to try and make a vertical panorama of Navy Pier 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.
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 weren't many 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 such as the one featured above. However, once I saw the antique bust in the window, and the way the sun was hitting the American flag, I was quickly reminded of something: street photography is a way of life. It doesn't matter if you're in Manhattan or a small town in Mississippi, you can make street photographs anywhere. As for this particular photograph, what it stands for is completely up to you, the viewer. To me, it's not kitschy or vintage, it's American.
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 I chose to display 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.
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-demonational home for prayer. Also, they sell awesome homemade bread in their gift shop. The homemade cinnamon bread was calling my 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? Unique. The stream leading out of frame? Peaceful. The cows grazing on the hillside? Awesome. It was 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.
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. To ensure camera shake wasn't an issue, I made five exposures of Chicago's skyline shortly before dawn. After zooming in on them on my LCD screen, I knew this particular photograph was the winner.
ChicagoDowntown ChicagoLake MichiganSunriseTwilightSkylineChicago SkylineCityscapeChicago CityscapeLong ExposureNight PhotographyArchitecturePhotographic PrintsChicago PhotographyChicago Photo PrintsChicago TwilightAdler Planetarium
The Magnetic Properties of Light (Vagabond Clouds No. 2)
This is by far and away my most ambitious and expansive photograph to date. In June of 2014, I came up with the idea for a time-lapse photograph of downtown Rockford, Illinois. I didn't care if it was made at sunrise or sunset, I just needed heavy clouds to be rolling away from the camera. Unlike studio work, you can't control the elements when it comes to making a nature photograph. I went up to the parking garage next to the SupplyCore building a LOT between June and September, but never once did I get the clouds I needed. With transportation costs to downtown Rockford mounting, I considered cutting my losses and moving on to a new project. Luckily, everything came together on the morning of October 1st, 2014. It was a little chilly, but I could tell there was going to be a beautiful sunrise surrounded by rolling clouds. I set my tripod on the ledge of the parking garage and began making 1-2 second exposures shortly before the sun hit the horizon. After twenty minutes, I realized the clouds weren't moving. "You have got to be kidding me. I've come up here almost 50 times this past summer, and now this?!" I was so desperate to get the clouds moving that I started waving my arms like a kicker trying to guide a field goal through the uprights. Nothing. The huge clouds were there, but they just weren't budging, so I decided to make yet another plain 'ol sunrise photograph. Fast forward another twenty minutes and the clouds have begun moving towards the sunrise. Bingo! These time-lapse shots usually require 200 photographs over a 15-20 minute period, but this one? 1139 separate images over a 2 hour and 49 minute period. As soon as I got home I made three backups of all the images. After making the backups, I proceeded to individually load each image into Photoshop and stack them on top of one another. This would turn out to be a 13-hour process in and of itself, but I HAD to make sure all the images were aligned properly. After all 1139 images were stacked on top of one another, I began cleaning up the final image and prepping it to be printed. But wait. What was I going to title this titanic piece of artwork? The clouds are moving to the left, and the sun to the right. It's almost as if the clouds are being drawn towards the sun's positive energy, and right over downtown Rockford no less! And thus, The Magnetic Properties of Light was finally realized.
The Discreet Charm of Midway Village (Vagabond Clouds No. 4)
What you're looking at is the Amos W. Woodward Millhouse on Midway Village's Severin Lake in Rockford, Illinois. Though it looks like a heavily post-processed image, this is simply a time-lapse of a sunrise on a nippy October morning in 2014. After composing the scene to align the millhouse with the Finonnaci spiral, 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 and a photographer second. To ask him to pose for the camera would have ruined his personal moment. As for the restaurant itself, it was my favorite. To be able to say I captured one of the last images of the restaurant before it officially closed its doors means a lot to me.
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
Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of cold weather. But these Midwestern winters? From an aesthetic point of view, they're stunning. As for this photograph made inside Rock Cut State Park, what's really interesting about it is the metaphorical, diverging pathway. It almost feels like a Robert Frost poem come to life.
This monochromatic photograph of a defensive rock formation at low tide was made in the summer of 2014. 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 images. 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 ebb and flow of the tide cascading 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 variable 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 shallow enough to keep the water a little out of focus. 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.
(When The World Was Still) Black and White
This is a fine art photograph of my mother's hands. It came about when, in October of 2013, my mother informed me she had to get rid of some of my childhood belongings. Because I didn't want her to throw something important, I decided to come over and see what she was pitching. While sorting through these items, I noticed a clear plastic jar filled with seashells. At first I was confused, but then I remembered I'd collected them for my mother while on vacation in the Bahamas in 1991. As soon as I opened the jar, my olfactory senses were bombarded with tropical smells. Sand, salt water, coconut oil - my mind was immediately transported back to a simpler time, when the world was still black and white.
Two things happen when the nucleus of a town or city has reached the point of becoming either a ghost town, a better version of itself. Because of its perfect proximity to downtown Chicago, Galena, and it's position on the Rock River, downtown Rockford, Illinois will come roaring back to life. It'll take a few 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, 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 coming 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 the Loop. Truth is, nobody really lives in the Loop. Maybe Oprah or Michael Jordan, but that's about it. So, 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. 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.)
It was a cold and windy March morning when I ventured out to Adler Planetarium to photograph the sunrise. With my camera directed toward Chicago's skyline, I turned and noticed a young woman with a smartphone heading for the top of the planetarium stairs.
With the sunrise in the background, I knew that what I was about to photograph was going to be visually appealing, if not stunning. I snapped a couple shots, headed back home, and loaded this image into Photoshop. Wasn't as powerful as I'd hoped, so I tossed it into a folder and forgot about it.
A month or two later I purchased Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and started going back and re-editing photos, this being one of them. I dramatically increased the contrast, specifically the blacks, and that's when this image went from being ho-hum to "OH, WOW!"
It looked like 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. The world isn't conspiring to keep you down. And it never has been. It's not you versus the world, it's you versus... yourself.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I've always referred to the area around Ping Tom Park as Chinatown. Seeing as how I hadn't yet made a photograph of the city from that vantage point, I decided to walk out there at around 4 AM on a cool summer morning in 2014. The baseball diamonds at Ping Tom had just been mowed, and the smell of freshly cut grass was everywhere. Just then, the sky began to warm up and the sun appeared. It was, suffice it to say, breathtaking.
This photograph was made on a chilly September night in downtown Chicago. After spending the entire day walking around making street photographs, I had no desire to make a cityscape image... until I noticed the color of the sky at dusk. Because I was near the Hancock building, I decided to run down to the beach and set up my camera near the lake. Waves were crashing over the sides and I thought, "This is perfect!" Though my camera was weatherproof, my tripod wasn't heavy enough to withstand the waves crashing up and over the sides. Fortunately there was a thirty-second window where there were no waves and I was able to make my long exposure.
ChicagoDowntown ChicagoLake Shore DriveLake MichiganJohn Hancock BuildingChicago SkylineCityscapeNatureOutdoorsLandscapeNight PhotographyLong ExposureDuskNavy PierFerris WheelPhotos of ChicagoPhotographic Prints
This is where the Magnificent Mile ends, on the Michigan Avenue Bridge, overlooking the Chicago River. This is absolutely stunning view was photographed on a warm summer night; I wish everyone could experience it in person at some point in their lives.
Tangerine Dream (First Edition)
For quite some time, this long exposure of the L snaking its way through downtown Chicago in the middle of the night was the crown jewel in my Chicago at Night collection. I'm not someone who enjoys looking at their own photographs, but this one? I could stare at it all day. As for the actual making of it, the story isn't very interesting. I was walking past the Merchandise Mart just after midnight when I noticed a familiar green parking sign. (Funny thing is, all the parking signs look familiar.) To me, parking garage signs in Chicago scream, "There's an awesome view of the city at the top!" But the view from the top of this particular parking garage was truly breathtaking. Obviously, I was beyond excited to photograph the city from this vantage point... until I realized I hadn't brought my tripod with me. No bother, I'll just set my camera on the ledge. (It seemed rational at the time.) I ended up making two awesome cityscape images, one titled "Night Moves," and the other, "Tangerine Dream." The title for this photograph is based on music playing during the opening credits of 1983's Risky Business. The credit sequence features an establishing shot of an L train slowly moving through the city. It's an awesome sequence with awesome music by... you guessed it. Tangerine Dream.
More often that not, I'll walk around Chicago with a tripod attached to my camera bag. Though my primary focus is on making street photographs, I always have my eyes peeled for opportunities to make unique cityscape images. On this particular day in September of 2013, I was scheduled to meet a woman for our first date... in Rockford. At 9:00. I'd completely lost track of time, and once I did realize my predicament, I started speed-walking in the direction of Ogilvie Transportation Center. Then I caught a glimpse of what you see above and thought, "Once she sees this, she'll understand." I opened up the tripod legs, screwed the camera on, and started to take light readings. I waited for the L to make its way across the Wells Street Bridge, but saw nothing. A minute later I heard the faint sound of the L thundering down the tracks. It was getting closer. And closer. And closer. The anticipation was killing me. By now, I knew the train was going to appear from behind the buildings at any moment. As I waited, it dawned on me that I didn't need to photograph the train, I needed to photograph how it made me feel. So, I slapped a variable neutral density filter on my camera and set the timer to 3 seconds. The train appeared, and I immediately tripped the shutter. As I was about to trip the shutter again, I noticed the preview on my LCD screen. The image was almost entirely white, with only the darkest sections of the Chicago River and bridges visible. With the aperture already maxed out to f/22, I had a tiny window of time to decide whether to lower the shutter speed to two seconds or rotate the ND filter to a darker position. I chose the former because I knew if I made the filter darker, there'd be a purple color cast over everything. I tripped the shutter, the mirror flipped up, and the train began to disappear into a sea of skyscrapers. The longer the exposure, the longer it takes the LCD screen to show me the preview image. "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! One time!" The preview popped up, and I zoomed in to make sure everything was sharp. "GOT IT!" I tossed my camera in the bag, strapped my tripod to my back, and headed off to Ogilvie Transportation Center. (I was late for my date, but she forgave me.)
My Blueberry Nights
This past summer I decided to photograph Chicago's skyline from both the Willis Tower Skydeck and Hancock Observatory in the same night. My first stop was the Skydeck where I quickly made my way to the windows facing Lake Shore Drive. Only problem was, there were already people lined up against the windows and they weren't moving. Not wanting to be rude, I didn't squeeze myself in, but rather waited for an opportunity to park myself as close to the window as possible. It's now twenty minutes later and the sun has already fallen well below the horizon. Which isn't a bad thing, seeing as how some of the most beautiful natural colors occur during blue hour. After an excrutiatingly long wait, I managed to carve out a small spot for myself near the corner of the building. Not having a tripod meant I was going to have to rest my camera against the window and hold my coat over it to ensure there were no reflections in the image. After making nine long exposures, I decided it was time to make way to the Hancock Observatory before it closed. Before I left the Willis Tower Skydeck, however, I took a couple minutes to soak in the views. Amazing. Truly amazing.
It was a windy afternoon in late July when I decided to go for a walk with my camera. One hour turned into two, and then three. Before I knew it, the sun had gone down over the city. As I was walking back to my car, I noticed the sky had taken on these calming blue tones. I decided to set up my camera equipment on a portion of the bike path that juts out over the Rock River. I took some light measurements, adjusted the settings on my camera, and began to make a sixty-second exposure. A warm, derelict gust of wind hit me just as I was finishing the photograph. I checked the LCD screen: Rockford's skyline looked as if it had been wrapped in a blanket of sapphire and cornflower blue. With hints of periwinkle giving the city a warm afterglow, I felt as if the photograph was cool, but not too cool. It was... medium cool.
Return policy: If you're unhappy with your print of gifts, for any reason, SmugMug will reprint or refund your order, whichever you prefer. Simply send an e-mail to SmugMug within 30 days of receiving your order.