Archives for category: Chicago


Yesterday Whirl and I attended C2E2, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. We met up with our friends Farmboy and Princess. The three-day convention covers comic books, movies, television, toys, anime and video games. The show floor plays hosts to hundreds of exhibitors if you’re looking to score some interesting loot. There are panel discussions and autograph sessions that allow fans access to artists, actors and writers. And the ever-popular sneak-peek film and television show screenings. This was the second year for C2E2. Last year was fairly lightly attended, but well-received.

I wasn’t particularly interested in spending three days at the convention, but I thought it would be a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And besides, I’ve always wanted to pull out the camera and see what kinds of cosplay portraits I could make.

We attended two panel discussions. The first was “The Walking Dead Q&A” with Jon Bernthal (“Shane”) and Laurie Holden (“Andrea”). This was very funny, with Bernthal running away with the conversation on more than one occasion. Farmboy remarked a couple of times about Bernthal’s apparent southern California origins. While I have no idea whether that’s true or not, I can attest to the fact that his choices of slang and colloquial idioms stagnated somewhere around 1989. Everything was “rad” and he was “totally digging” working with Frank Darabont. The highlight of the panel came about two minutes after all the press photographers filed out and Bernthal found himself trapped in a nearly three-minute long string of unintentional double-entendres. Each more embarrassing than the last.

The second panel was the “True Blood Q&A” with Brit Morgan (“Debbie Pelt”), Kristin Bauer (“Pam”), and Sam Trammell (“Sam Merlotte”). While not quite as entertaining as the Walking Dead panel a few hours earlier, it did provide some moments of levity and one crucial insight into acting from Morgan. While answering a question about contending with the various supernatural stressors placed upon the characters they portrayed, Morgan talked about becoming a sort of legal advocate on the set, with their character as their client and the director as the judge. The two women also agreed that Alexander Skarsgård is even more beautiful in person than he is on-screen. Trammell was conspicuously — and humorously — mute with his opinion on that question.

We walked the floor between the panels and took in the environment. There was a lot to see and photography was not only permitted, but actively encouraged. Aside from the challenges of making a frame with a halfway acceptable background, it was an exceedingly target-rich environment. The skill and creativity that went into a number of the costumes impressed the hell out of me more than once. I’ve published the full set of photos, but a few of my favorites include:

Muppets 1

The Chiditarod Urban Iditarod, a shopping cart race and mobile food drive, is an idea stolen from some folks in New York (who in turn stole it from some people in San Francisco).

Inspired in part by the Alaskan Iditarod dog sled race, an urban iditarod replaces dogs and sleds with shopping carts and costumed heroes.

Tobias Fünke 12011 was the sixth annual running of the race in Chicago and this year the start of the race coincided with the start of the Alaskan Iditarod race. The weather in the morning was cool with some light snow flurries and continued to deteriorate over the next several hours. Winds kicked up. Snow turned heavier and icy. Whirl and I dressed for the weather, packed up the cameras and spent the afternoon running alongside the racers on the streets of East Village, Wicker Park and Ukranian Village shooting the race. Whirl reprised her standout role as photo shoot producer, providing operational support and keen insight into composition and dramatic moments worth capturing.

She also was our navigator, which was no easy task. There were a total of twelve checkpoints. Each team had to complete a circuit of five of these checkpoints. So two given teams would not necessarily follow the same route, in fact no specific route is prescribed. Teams must appear the the assigned checkpoints in the appropriate order. That made it somewhat challenging to capture the entire scope of the race with a single camera. We tried!

The race did not disappoint. There were over 170 teams and the mass start was truly something to behold as racers streamed down the street and out into the surrounding neighborhoods to their respective checkpoints. We ran into one of Whirl’s classmates who had worked on one of the most incredible entries of the race, the immense ten-man Titanic entry. Their entry actually comprised two teams of five racers each. One team was the bow of the doomed oceanliner, one team was the stern. Of course the ship was appropriatedly broken across the beam.

Titanic 3We saw two teams of Muppets, three teams of Black Swans, Angry Birds, Gnomes, an Oregon Trail team — complete with a boombox broadcasting the appropriate 8-bit MIDI soundtrack.

The Chiditarod is not just fun and games however. It is a food drive that collects thousands of pounds of food for the Chicago Anti-Hunger Federation every year. Additionally, checkpoint hosts donate signification portions of their proceeds from the day’s events to charity. All of the teams, carts, costumes and creativity are donated — put together out of spare time, ingenuity and willingness to do something good for other people.

Devo 1 Derailers 1 Don't Tread On Me 1 Samurai 1 Finish Strong

Printer's Row Helicopter Lift 1

A week ago all the residents in Printer’s Row recieved notice of an extensive helicopter lift operation taking place in the neighborhood. Four new pieces of HVAC equipment were to be lifted to the roofs of the Printer’s Square towers on Federal Street and the old equipment lifted down and hauled away. While the rest of Chicago enjoyed an extra hour of sleep due to the end of daylight saving time, Printer’s Row had street closures and low-flying aircraft as our makeshift alarm clock.

I grabbed the camera and headed out into the chill morning to get some photographs. I’ve seen several helicopter lifts, but none ever this close. Some of the most memorable were the various lifts to place new antennas on the top of the Sears Tower several years back. As you might imagine, the lift attracted quite a bit of attention, and there were a number of amateur photographers out taking pictures — and then quite a few more people obliviously trying to make their way down Dearborn to get a cup of coffee. Chicago police were vigilant in keeping sleepy pedestrians out of harm’s way. The helicopter was flying as low as 100 feet above the street right next to the 22-story Transportation Building. Exciting stuff.

Unfortunately, the lift ended a little over halfway through the projected process. The final two pieces turned out to be too heavy for the helicopter and the task was cut short. Midwest Helicopter succeeded in raising two of the four HVAC pieces to the roof and lowering three of the old pieces down to the awaiting flatbed trucks.

Windy City Rollers vs. Oly Rollers 5
Last year I had the opportunity to shoot the Windy City Rollers All-Star squad shortly before they headed to the Declaration of Derby, the WFTDA National tournament in Philadelphia. And as much as I wanted to make some frames that would make Strazz weep with envy, I didn’t quite manage that. But I’m not one to just give up with one minor setback. They knock you down, you get right back up and try again. (Just so that it is said, I didn’t get knocked down. The girls did; I didn’t.)

When I learned that the Windy City Rollers would be hosts for this year’s WFTDA National tournament, Uproar On The Lakeshore, I applied for photo credentials. And got them! Although not for the entire tournament, I received a full-day press pass for the main day of action, Saturday. It was also the day the Windy City Rollers were guaranteed to compete. Being a single elimination tournament, teams only get one shot at moving on.

So, handy press pass in hand, I headed over to the UIC Pavilion yesterday morning and set about finding my way to the “digital darkroom”. This was serious business, this time around, with dozens of photographers from all over the nation covering the event. Team photographers, press photographers. The Derby News Network streamed all the action live online.

And then there was me jumping around trying not to get run over and trying to make some good shots at the same time. The whole style of the game has changed since last year. Last month, the Chicago Reader published an extensive feature about the advent of “slow derby” and its corresponding challenges to more traditional leagues like the Windy City Rollers. The tournament was a great opportunity to see these new styles in action.

Bout after bout the teams who best incorporated the strategies of the Western style came out on top, so I set as a goal for myself to try and capture some of the technique: the strategy of trading penalties, the massive walls of stopped blockers. And the ensuing frustration that played across more speed-and-power oriented teams.

I covered three bouts and stayed to watch the fourth and final bout of the day while editing what I’d shot:

Rocky Mountain Rollergirls vs. Charm City Roller Girls
Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Recap

Kansas City Roller Warriors vs. Philly Roller Girls
Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Recap

Windy City Rollers vs. Oly Rollers
Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, Recap

Rocky Mountain Rollergirls vs. Gotham Girls Roller Derby

Whirl had her birthday at the beginning of this month. Along with that particular event came “All The Unpleasantness” regarding gall stone attacks. So I wanted to do something fun for her for her birthday. While I was walking north up State Street one afternoon late last month, I noticed the name Ricky Gervais on the marquee of the Chicago Theater. He was planning three nights of stand-up in Chicago for the first time in his career. I said to myself, “Self, that sounds like a birthday present, it does.”

I stop by the box office, get my pick of seats, and in three minutes the deal is done. All without the obligation to contend with Ticketmaster “convenience” charges. (They keep using that word. I don’t think it means what they think it means.)

I first learned about Ricky Gervais nearly six years ago while working with Midway’s London office. The NBC television series “The Office” was set to premiere and my British colleagues were quick to disabuse me of the notion that this was original material. They quickly educated me about the original BBC version of the show and when later in 2005 while working in London and Newcastle I had an opportunity to catch a few episodes on borrowed DVDs. Whirl and I have watched all of the original BBC and the ongoing American versions of “The Office” series. We thoroughly enjoyed the short-lived HBO series “Extras” and his first standup tour recorded for HBO, “Out of England”. But we had never seen him perform live. He’d never come to Chicago to perform before last night.

Gervais’ show at the Chicago Theater was fantastic. I felt there was an air of authenticity to the show that broke through the perception of performance. And that’s not an easy task given the nature of the room. The Chicago Theater is an ornate space, one that reinforces with every turn and detail that the audience is here to be entertained. To see a show. But I never felt like Gervais was putting on a show. It just seemed like he was telling funny stories. Cringe-worthy, outrageously funny stories. Maybe it was because he occasionally broke up this structure to discuss the very nature of comedy, or to explain that there was a particular exclusivity to what we were seeing. After all, he was testing new material and would throw out the “shit bits” that didn’t work. We’d be the only ones to ever get to see that part of the act.

John Dugan posted an excellent review of last night’s show for Time Out Chicago. Chris Jones posted another for the Chicago Tribune.

They’re planning to film the performances tonight and tomorrow night. And when we spoke with the ushers before the show last night, the second two shows are nearly sold out. But if you get an opportunity to come down and see him, do. If you cannot, listen to the “Ricky Gervais Guide to The English” at The Guardian.

On photography note, the promotional art for the tour was shot by Dirk Rees in April 2009 for an article for Shortlist magazine. It was retouched by The Operators. The red cross on Gervais’ face is for St. George’s Day. I think it is a fantastic, inspirational portrait.

"Hoisting the Cup" at the Blackhawks ConventionThis morning Farmboy and Princess stopped by our house. This wasn’t a surprise. I knew they were coming. They were headed down to the Blackhawks Convention at the Hilton just a couple blocks away. Farmboy had asked me a few months ago if I wanted him to try and get some signatures on my Seabrook sweater. That was the ostensible reason for the two of them stopping by this morning.

They lied.

They had more insidious plans. They kidnapped me. Press-ganged me. Shanghaied me. I was snatched. Waylaid. Spirited away!

I walk downstairs to give them the sweater and before I knew it the three of us were off to the Convention. I’d left my wallet, my keys, my phone. Everything was upstairs.

And none of that mattered. Spontaneity and the excitement to see the players, trophies and fellow hockey fans carried me over to the hotel. For my efforts I got (another) quick peek at the Stanley Cup, was able to see all of the NHL trophies, chatted up Frank Pellico and had my sweater autographed by Seabrook’s linemate, Duncan Keith.

Spontaneous Saturdays are good Saturdays.

(Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

Patrick Kane fires a shot so fast that neither Whirl nor I nor the announcers nor Michael Leighton nor most anyone watching see the puck go in the net. The lamp doesn’t light. The bench doesn’t clear. Wachovia Center falls quiet. For several heartbeats everything is eerily still. Four minutes, six seconds into overtime and I hold my breath. Did it go in? Kane is cheering. Sticks are flying. Did it go in? Gloves are strewn all over the ice. Did it go in? The Blackhawks bench finally does clear. Did it go in!?

It did! It went in! Video review confirms what Patrick Kane already knew. Kane fired the puck beneath Leighton’s legs and wedged it underneath the padding at the back of the net. Game over: Blackhawks win 4-3! Series over: Blackhawks win 4-2! After 49 years the Blackhawks have brought the Stanley Cup back to Chicago.

I watched most of this season’s regular season games on television. And with a huge thanks to my friend, Farmboy, I was able to attend several playoff games at the United Center, both last year and this year. And it’s become something of a tradition for me to lose things at Blackhawks games. Watch, wallet, phone– voice. These have all been sacrifices of one sort or another I’ve had to make while attending. I am sorry for none of it.

I watched many of last three seasons’ regular season games since they’ve been broadcast on television– a fantastic development accompanying the changing of the guard from Bill Wirtz to his son Rocky. Before 2007 it was nearly impossible to watch the Blackhawks on television. If you wanted to see them play, you had to see them live. And I did that — not as often as I would go to see White Sox baseball. But certainly more often than I would see basketball or football. Hockey — for me — has mostly been constrained to a couple of weeks every four years when the Winter Olympics provide an opportunity to watch hours upon hours of the sport on television. So that’s what I did. I’d record hockey whenever the games aired and watch them whenever I had the chance.

I wanted to play hockey very badly when I was a kid, but my parents wouldn’t allow it. Given my tendency to find creative ways to injure myself, this may just have been a very wise decision. The father of one of my childhood friends took my to my first hockey game and taught me how to skate. I ended up helping to put together a broomball team with my friends when I was in high school. But broomball is not hockey.

It has been incredible to see the resurgence of interest in the sport in Chicago. There is an incredible amount of complexity and tradition in the game. I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been able to be a part of that: talking strategy and history with Smokes and Farmboy and Stingo. Yelling at the top of my lungs. Farmboy remarked to me in early 2008 that hockey never really left Chicago, but it sure is back!

Kiss the Cup!

(Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)

Dustin Byfuglien broke out last night. In a big way. That fits. He’s a big guy. He grabbed two goals and two assists on the Blackhawks route to a 7-4 win over the Flyers in Game Five. Game Six is in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Game Seven (if there is a need for Game Seven) would be back in Chicago on Friday night. Chicago has two chances to win one game. One goal.

That description came eerily close to the summary I had written in my head for Game Five when I was thinking about it the day before. You know, the game where I faced off against a bar full of Flyers fans elsewhere in downtown LA? On Saturday morning after that more miserable turnout with Game Four, I put my campaign into action. I was going to watch the Blackhawks win Game Five. I was not to be denied by the seemingly insurmountable sea of Great Unwashed LA Lakers fans, or Philadelphia, or anything else for that matter. They may have been conspiring against me, threatening to thwart my desire to watch Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals. They would lose.

And they did lose. They lost well.

Like the Flyers, the Lakers and their fans were defeated. Now I can’t take credit for Ray Allen’s record-breaking eight threes that helped propel the Celtics past the Lakers 103-94 in Game Two. But what I can take credit for is orchestrating unbridled control of the best television in the hotel bar and refusing to relinquish it until after the final whistle. NBC broadcast Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals at 5:00 Pacific. ABC broadcast Game 2 of the NBA Finals at 5:00 Pacific. I got to the bar at 4:00 Pacific. This after a two-day effort with the Front Desk to ensure that they would show the hockey game at all. I befriended the bartender. I bonded with him about Chicago. I impressed him when I spontaneously changed into my Brent Seabrook sweater and camped out in front of the “good TV”. And I tipped him. I tipped him well. — For my efforts he gave me the bar’s only remote control for the night. I never gave it up. It was mine. That TV was mine. After the first period I got an assist from the bartender when patrons asked him despondently, “When do you think he’ll be done watching that hockey game?” — “When it’s over. When are you gonna be done watching that basketball game?”

I cheered my team in full confidence of what I’d done while the basketball fans groused and grumbled and had to settle for seconds. Or go elsewhere. I played like Byfuglien. I got to the front of the net, I got in my opponents face and when the opportunity came to score: I did.

It was heaven. — Just one more.

Wacker Banding 07

Whirl and Mary invited me to come along with them yesterday to my first chick banding at the South Wacker site in the Chicago Loop. I took an extended lunch break on a quiet Friday before a three-day holiday weekend to meet them and make a few photographs to record the process.

What struck me most about the whole thing was the dramatic shift in atmosphere once we got into the mechanical room accessing the nest ledge. In the lobby of the building and on the way up it was friendly, fun and conversational. When we stepped into room everything went quiet, serious. Everyone involved knew their roles and they got to it. Matt geared up with the harness, helmet and safety line to go out and fetch the chicks 40 stories above street. Mary, Stephanie and Gracen set about getting the banding gear, blood vials and specimen containers set up.

I don’t often get an opportunity to observe my child bride working with her team of fellow scientists. Today I did. It was really cool. Read her more complete report in her field journal.

Wille-Van Dyke Wedding 03Yesterday our friends Brian “Steamboat” Wille and Melissa “the Hurricane” Van Dyke were married. They held the ceremony and reception in their home in West Lakeview, Chicago. Whirl and I were among the small group invited to attend. I first met Brian through Mooch in 1996 when Mooch and I worked together. Several years ago Brian brought Melissa around to a poker game to meet the usual suspects. That’s when I first met her: at that game at Mooch’s place.

The highlight story of that poker game involves Melissa naively digging through the discard pile to try and recall what she’d folded. Her first offense garnered a warning and a pass. The second offense earned her a full-throated series of harsh rebukes from most of us: the callous, self-declared leather-assed poker old-timers. We made Melissa cry. But Melissa picked herself up, came back to the table and never repeated the mistake. Two years later, she was winning tournaments at Binion’s Horseshoe. I was the one reduced to bankrupt tears over beers at the loser’s bar.

The effect Melissa has had on Brian has been remarkable. Early in their relationship, Melissa served as a stabilizing influence. She buoyed Brian when he got down. She encouraged him to try new things. She made him laugh. — I could keep the cliches coming, but I think you’ll appreciate it if I stopped here with a simple summary. Melissa made Brian happy. Brian with Melissa was a happier Brian than I’d seen in a long time. Happy was not a condition that I often associated with Brian over the many of the years I’d known him before Melissa.

It hasn’t been a one-way relationship with the two of them. The effects went in both directions. Brian’s intellect and introspection have challenged Melissa. She’s working full-time and going to school full-time and when she gets out the other side of all of this will be a force to be reckoned with. They bring out a level of competitiveness blended with cooperation and coordination that makes both of them stronger, better individuals.

The four of us became close friends. Brian and Melissa were there for me when I got hurt. We’ve traveled together to Las Vegas. Gone to Blackhawks games together. We’ve hung out with her family, her brother her parents. They’ve taken us out with them to poker games held in the suburbs by collectives of manga artists. I taught them about phở in Little Vietnam. Brian and Melissa have become instrumental members of our urban tribe.

So when they told us of their intentions to get married a few months ago, Whirl and I were ecstatic. The two of them had planned a simple ceremony for family and asked if I would mind being a backup photographer: they explained they had a relative to shoot the event for them, but if I wouldn’t object, could I get a few pictures of the reception. I agreed. Yesterday when I arrived, I learned that the primary shooter had decided against shooting still photography and wanted to focus exclusively on video. Tag! You’re it! I set about shooting the wedding. I’ve never done this before — not in any significant way. I’ve shot some personal shots at weddings. But this was me shooting the wedding for the bride, the groom and their families.

I did my best to set my anxieties aside and just have fun with the shoot. These are people I really care about during a watershed moment in their lives. I could have drawn a much worse hand with which to go all-in. I’d been invited to share in this experience — to share it in a two-fold sense: to be a part of the moment itself, and also to record it, to share it to the broader world on their behalf.