Archives for category: Photography

Magnificent Mile Male 2Today is Earth Day. The fortieth anniversary of Earth Day, in fact. Today I had the opportunity to accompany Whirl, Matt and Mary on some field research as part of the Chicago Peregrine Program. I got to tag along and climb up high on of the urban cliff sides where these raptors have adapted to living. It was thrilling!

Over the last several years I have assisted my child bride with her research regarding the peregrine falcons in Chicago. This assistance has always been in an impromptu volunteer support capacity. And always from the ground. She would come back from stories of walking around the abandoned Uptown Theatre, or scaling a building setback 40 stories above Wacker Drive and I would feel a mild pang of jealousy. I want to do that! What made today’s trip special was that I was part of the official Field Museum crew visiting a new nest site on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. And I got to go where eagles soar! (Okay, maybe not eagles — sorry, Misfits — but falcons!)

The museum had received a report of a pair of falcons nesting on a building where they have never nested before. Last week Whirl and Mary visited the building briefly and confirmed the nest. Today we returned with two goals: identifying the birds from their legbands and judge the status of the scrape. The first goal is more difficult than you might imagine. The second goal required letting go of any debilitating fear of heights.

Whirl spends hundreds of hours every year confirming and reconfirming the identities of the various falcon pairs in the area. The legbands are small and it is ideal to get photographic evidence of the bands. That’s some tough photography. Action wildlife photography. Action wildlife photography in a battlezone. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit with that last description. But only a bit. Falcons aggressively defend their nest sites. And these birds are well-equipped to do some serious harm to the unprepared.

Magnificent Mile Female 2When building owners learn of their new tenants there is often a period of adjustment. Sometimes buildings wholeheartedly embrace them, like the Evanston Public Library or 1130 S. Michigan. They set up nestcams and enthusiastically provide activity reports. Other buildings are more reticent. And for good reason. The birds are loud. They are messy. They leave prey remains littered about the ground level. Their presence often restricts access to parts of the building. A couple years back, a pair nested on the construction scaffolding of a high rise development, effectively shutting down construction on that section of the building for the nesting season. And some people are just scared of birds. Hitchcock knew this; he made a powerful film about that psychological fear. — There is that aggressive behavior I mentioned earlier. The reactions of the building management and tenants at today’s site are a mix of all of the above. As a result the building has asked the Field Museum personnel to keep the exact location confidential for a while. So the best I can tell you is that the nest is up high on one of the buildings on North Michigan Avenue. If you’re shopping for your prom dress on the Magnificent Mile today, look up. You just might see them.

The Peregrine Falcon Program has been a rewarding project and I’ve been happy to be able to assist in small ways over the past several years: a photograph, or a sighting or an idea here and there. Today was particularly special for me as I got a chance to be part of the day-to-day aspect of the research in a way I hadn’t experienced before. And I thought it was an appropriate activity, given the date.

So that’s my Earth Day 2010. I was somewhere above the Mag Mile looking out over the city trying to take photographs of aggressive, uncooperative models in skimpy outfits and thinking to myself: so this is what it’s like to do a photo shoot with Tyra Banks.

A Rose for LilyI’m four days into my week-long foreign exchange program to Lalaland. Work has sent me to Los Angeles to learn the facilities of The Times and assist with operational support here. While the primary focus of the trip has been work, I have had some opportunities to explore, and that’s always something I enjoy doing. I have been to LA once before in my life. When I was in fifth grade my family took a week long road trip from Colorado out to California for Spring Break. We visited Universal Studios, Disneyland, and Sea World. I was ten; my sister was nine.

So, almost thirty years later I’m wandering around Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles and trying to understand the signs I see in the Japanese mall. I was looking for a particular sushi bar. I got distracted by something shiny. In this case it was a video game arcade completely outfitted with Japanese games — most of which I’d never heard of before. The arcade was from another time and place, sandwiched between a Japanese version of GNC called “SUPER HEALTH” and “Max Karaoke”.

If you’re curious, I did finally find Sushi Go 55 — the place I was looking for — bellied up to the bar and enjoyed some of the best sushi I have ever had. This little shop, tucked away and out of sight rivaled any sushi I have had from Chicago, to San Francisco to Vancouver. This place was delicious. Small, quiet, unpretentious. Just great fish, perfectly prepared.

And it was not the first delicious place I have discovered since being here. A few other notable meals include:

Nickel Diner: I ran across this place while exploring the historic downtown area of Los Angeles. A number of warehouses, commercial spaces and office buildings being converted to upscale lofts in the past five years or so in an attempt to revitalize this historic area of the city. The process has met with mixed success. The bottom falling out of the real estate market has made things challenging and a number of these loft conversions are now being sold at auction. But scattered in and among this developing (or redeveloping) area are a number of galleries, bookstores, bars, clubs and restraunts. I went in for dinner two nights ago and went back for breakfast today.

Spitz: Another chance discovery, this one on Thursday night. Spitz serves Turkish Döner kebabs — an old favorite of mine, first discovered as a cheap, delicious meal perfect for penniless students, during my time in Berlin. This happening joint was a nice tribute to what I remembered.

Fisherman’s Outlet: My coworkers took me here for lunch on Friday. That was probably not our most carefully thought-out ideas, given that it was a Friday during lent and Fisherman’s Outlet draws a large Catholic audience. The place was hopping! Giant plates of fresh fried fish, french fries, crab cakes and all sorts of other things that ooze “I’m not healthy for you, but I’m damned delicious.”

The Edison 1My last recommendation is not someplace where I’ve gone to eat — although they do serve food. The Edison strikes me as a cocktail lounge. The main attraction of The Edison to me is the ambiance. The Edison retains many of the architectural and mechanical artifacts from its history as Los Angeles’ first private power plant. The place is dark; the primary visible lighting are these intense fixtures of large incandescent filament bulbs. Combine that with remixed period music and the pervasive projection of artistically colorized, obscure black and white films and you have a post-modern art deco wonder world.

Yesterday I met up with one of my friends, Vern, whom I have not seen since the summer after we graduated high school. He’s been living in Los Angeles for the past fourteen years and took me around some of the sites of the city I hadn’t been able to reach on foot — and then out to Redondo Beach where he lives. We had some lunch and beer and took in a couple of the NCAA basketball games before he brought me back downtown. We caught up with what each other has been doing, although I admit it is difficult to summarize twenty years of life into an afternoon. I take my hat off to all the storytellers working in this town. And speaking of storytellers, on the way back Vern drove me through Bel Air, Beverley Hills and down the Sunset Strip, where I got to a chance to see a little bit of place wihere the magic happens.

I’ve been fortunate that the Times downtown office is only two blocks away from the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. I’ve wanted to see the Hall since learning of it, and I’ve gotten a chance to tour the outside of it and take some photographs. Last night was particularly interesting, as a very light fog and a bright gibbous moon combined to give me an intriguing secondary element with which to to work.

While I was walking around I came across a professional photo shoot out on one of the quiet downtown streets. They had — what looked like to me — an ambitious set up: a huge carbon graphite arm hooked under the car they were shooting served as the mount for a medium-format camera. There were lights and gels and a water truck to spray the asphalt for that proper glow. To take the shots they used long exposures while the primary technician slowly pulled the car down the street. With the camera physically attached to the car and a long exposure they were able to provide a controlled sense of motion blur behind the car and generate a compelling sense of movement. The raw photographs were dumped immediately to an editor’s workstation for retouching. I chatted with one of the grips assisting with the process for a few minutes. He was a film student and this was his first professional shoot as well.

I’m here for another three days before heading back to Chicago on Wednesday. We’ll see how these last few episodes unfold.

Chihuly 6Five years have gone by since my brain injury. Five years. I’m more than a little amazed it has been that long. I mean, I know it has been that long, and I know I’ve been talking about it for the entire time. This journal is proof of that, if nothing else. The earliest entries chronicle the first few weeks and months after my emergence from the coma. I’ve tended to return to thinking about that injury around its anniversary. I don’t think that’s terribly unusual. I take stock of where I am today and try and compare to how I was feeling five years ago. And then there are the flights of fancy where I imagine some alternate timeline in which the injury never took place. I try to draw comparisons and form conclusions across that divide. As you might imagine, it doesn’t work out very well. My time traveling skills are fairly restricted. Fortunately that restriction keeps me more-or-less safe from paradox.

Ani at Bejing Noodle No. 9For the past five years my friends and I have traveled to Las Vegas on the anniversary of my injury. We drink. We gamble. We eat too much. We stay up too late. Generally we leave our responsibilities at home and enjoy the moment. This year was no different in that respect. We did have a smaller group out of Chicago than in years past: T., Smokes, Stingo, Sabz, Bitsy, Whirl and I were joined by some special guests. Frank and Shane joined us from the City of Angels. Whirl’s cousin, Ani, was coincidentally in Las Vegas organizing a conference at the Mirage for her company. And Bitsy’s friend, Jeanine, who lives in Las Vegas, came down to the Strip to hang out with us for at least some of the time.

As for gambling, I scratched that itch with some healthy doses of pai gow poker, craps and limit hold ’em. The highlight of my gambling this trip was the five hour session at the Bellagio playing low stakes pai gow. The fact that at the end of the marathon I walked away from the table up nearly double what I wagered is just gravy. What made this such a fun experience were our two dealers, Reza and Jeff. Whirl, Smokes, T., Sabz and I commandeered a five seat pai gow bonus table. Normally pai gow poker seats six. This version we found at the Bellagio featured a community dragon hand played the house way, limiting the number of actual players to five maximum. Anyone playing could decide to bet on the communal dragon hand as well. This differs from how the dragon hand is offered and played normally. In a more typical version of pai gow the dragon hand is only offered when there is an empty seat at the table and the dragon hand is played with a rotating right of first refusal. The dealer offers the hand sequentially around the table. If you want to play it, you match your original bet and set the second hand any way you desire within the restrictions of the game. At our table, with a maximum of five players the dragon hand was always available. You just had to bet. And everyone that bet, was betting on the same hand against the house. It was a nice twist.

Veer Towers and TramI enjoy pai gow because it is such a social game. It plays slowly with a lot of pushes where neither the player nor the dealer win the hand. And players can help each other with strategy and advise on how to play. The actions of one player have no effect on the actions of other players. (This is true of many table games, but there are far too many perceptions and superstitions surrounding games like blackjack to act otherwise.) In pai gow you cannot “steal someone else’s ace”, for example. Whether this actually changes the probabilities or not is irrelevant. Perception and superstition are king and queen in gambling.

So. The five of us belly up to the table at the Bellagio and proceed to play and play and play. The afternoon starts slow, and we strike up a congenial conversation with our dealers. Over the course of the next five hours they would teach us strategies to pai gow, how to play banker and let us in on some of their collected stories in Las Vegas. Reza has been a dealer with MGM Mirage for twenty-two years. He’s dealt at the Golden Nugget, the Mirage and the Bellagio among others. Each time Steve Wynn would open a new casino, Reza would move to the new flagship. He amazed us with his ability to read seven card hands displayed for mere fractions of a second. MGM Mirage often deployed him to deal with high maintenance players. He would deal for 40 minute stretches and then take a 20 minute break. His relief was a phlegmatic dealer named Jeff. Jeff was the dealer who instructed Whirl and Smokes on the rewards and pitfalls of playing banker in pai gow and offered particular advice on just when to split pairs.

The two of them had plenty of stories of their experiences working as dealers at the Bellagio and elsewhere. They were always discreet, never compromising the identities of their customers or relating events that were particularly incriminating. Two of the most memorable stories concerned the particular characteristics of high rollers. One story detailed how the Bellagio appeased a particular baccarat player. The unnamed high roller could not suffer the clicking noise emitted when cards were pulled from the shoe. The Bellagio staff constructed a special shoe that did not click, and keeps it in storage just for this player. Another story was from some years ago at an unnamed casino when the largest chips on the floor were valued at $20000. A high roller was playing blackjack at $120000 a hand and had animatedly (and inadvertently) spilled the tray belonging to one of the cocktail waitresses. Drinks go everywhere. It’s a mess. The player brusquely asked the waitress what her mortgage was. She responded with the monthly payment value and was rejoined with: “No. That’s not what I asked. How much is your mortgage.” She thought for a moment and then told him it was $93000. The player immediately grabbed a stack of five of these $20000 chips and tips the waitress. This caused an uproar in the casino. The casino demanded that all markers be paid before tips were paid out. The casino refused to cash the waitress’ chips. The amount of money this player had dropped at the casino over the years was astronomical and eventually the casino saw reason and reached a passable resolution. The waitress ended up having to pay taxes on the tip, but she kept the money. The casino kept the player.

The recurring theme with these stories was that Las Vegas holds a magnifying glass to the the personalities that come there. People do not fundamentally change when they visit; instead the become that much more of who they are already. Kind people grow kinder; meanness becomes moreso. I appreciate this observation more and more as I think on it.

I coached Sabz and T. at craps, one of my other favorite games. Craps is the polar opposite of pai gow. Fast-paced, hectic action. Highly volatile, craps runs on streaks. I’m still not sure what that says about me that I count the slow-paced leisurely game of pai gow and the frenetic chaos of craps as two of my favorites.

Flamingo Flamingo FlamingoThe third game I played for any significant length of time was Texas Hold ’em poker. I played in one tournament, and spent the rest of my time playing cash games. This year I avoided no-limit hold ’em and opted for the limit tables as a change of pace. I did well. Not “big money” well, but well enough that I could pay for dinner and a show with my winnings. A couple of notable moments came while playing at the Flamingo. Smokes and Whirl were playing on the table next to me. Smokes has a singular laugh. For those of us who know him, it’s a beacon. We can always find him anywhere in the casino. It cuts through the noise of the slot machines, the cheers of the craps tables and the clatter of the roulette wheel. My poker table noticed it as well. I explained to them that it belonged to my friend and when Smokes came over to talk to me later, I introduced him to his fan club. Smokes has a way of making friends wherever he goes. That’s one of the things I love about him.

The other poker story reminded me that there’s always someone playing an angle, even among the low-rollers like me. I’d been playing limit hold ’em for a few hours, mostly unsuccessfully. My head was still above water, but I wasn’t making much headway and was starting to consider going and doing something else. Getting schooled on the improper use of the term “set” for what is accurately described as “trips” hadn’t helped my self-esteem and likely had gotten my thoughts of departure started. A woman sat down and flashed her platinum players club card to the dealer. He read her name and keyed her into the table. As the dealer handed the players club card back, he asked if she was Vietnamese. She said she was and asked the dealer how he knew. He stated her last name, pronouncing it correctly: Nguyen. The player feigned shock. Shock at two things: one, the dealer had pronounced her name correctly; and two, that he had drawn the conclusion that it was a Vietnamese name. At this point our dealer, Rock, pointed out that Scotty Nguyen is one of the best-known professional poker players currently active: a five-time WSOP bracelet winner, including the 1998 main event. Scott Nguyen is also from Vietnam. While Ms. Ngyuen sat there shuffling stacks of 8-10 chips simultaneously in each hand and claiming complete ignorance, I quietly packed up and headed for places east. Of course she’d never heard of Scotty Nguyen. That’s just absurd. — Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Chicken and WafflesIn years past our group has consisted of a number of friends who enjoy buffets. We’ve been to several of the top buffets in Las Vegas. But after a while, I have to admit that all buffets start to blend together and none of them leave me particularly satisfied. This year the vocal buffet-goers were unable to join us, and we set out on a new direction with food. Whirl enjoys breakfast and did some research on some of the best breakfasts in Las Vegas. She found it. One of the most incredible breakfast experiences I’ve ever had was the chicken and waffles at Hash House a Go-Go at Imperial Palace. Sage fried chicken stacked with bacon waffles, hot maple caramel reduction and crowned with fried leeks. Truly a breakfast of champions.

The Crystals Grand StaircaseOne of my other fascinations with Las Vegas — besides food and gambling — is how it continues to reinvent itself architecturally. In December 2009, several key elements of the huge CityCenter development officially opened. We were able to visit the Aria casino and the Crystals entertainment and retail complex. I attempted to photograph some of this development from various perspectives. I’m uncertain of my success. The project is immense, the largest privately funded construction project in the United States, costing over $11B. While touring the spaces and dodging a Porsche 997 GT3 and a Ferarri F430, I happened into the Dale Chihuly Gallery at Aria. Whirl reminded me several times this trip about how much I appreciate Dale Chihuly’s art. He is one of my favorite artists. He had pieces at the Museum of Science and Industry a few years ago as part of “The Glass Experience”. The 1997 documentary Inspirations takes a in-depth look at his particular creative process.

Like our experience at the Bellagio, the gallery was empty. I had the place to myself, having arrived just a couple hours before closing. I made the faux pas of asking the curator of the gallery, “Do you mind if I shoot?” “Shoot?” he repeated back to me skeptically, throwing a glance to the glass sculpture that surrounded us. “Yeah. Shoot,” I start, then pause and turn crimson. “With my camera,” I attempt to explain hastily, punctuating with very nervous laughter. Earlier in the evening, I’d been asked to move along by security in The Crystals while trying to shoot the Grand Staircase. The gallery curator was much more congenial and finally let me off the hook with a well-intended caution to consider a less alarming verb when talking about photography around glass. I couldn’t help but remember Sean Connery’s line in Hunting for Red October: “Most things in here do not react well to bullets.”

I stayed in the Chihuly gallery until closing. I spoke at length with the curators about the pieces — all of which are also for sale, if you’re interested. We also talked about “Fiori di Como” the 2000-piece installation that forms the ceiling of the Bellagio lobby. I learned that the glass weighs over 40000 pounds, with an additional 10000 pounds of steel armature to support it. It continues to amaze me how Las Vegas can make this sort of fantastic artwork available to be experienced. The next day I had a similar experience as I spent a few minutes talking to Jennifer, the curator of the Richard MacDonald gallery at the Bellagio. MacDonald’s sculpture is inspired by the human form and the broad range of human emotion. MacDonald had been commissioned by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté to create several pieces inspired by the circus. I did not have my camera with me at the time, however some of the exhibit is available online.

As a cap to the trip, Whirl and I took in the Cirque du Soleil show Mystère at Treasure Island. I have seen several shows over the past years and this one was quite impressive. We both had a great time taking in some breathtaking performances.

So now I head back to the real world, refreshed, relaxed and inspired. After five years of hard-fought reflection, I suspect that’s exactly as it should be.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

A week ago today a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti ten miles south of the nation’s capitol, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake brought devastation to the entire country. Today the European Union, quoting Haitian officials, estimated the death toll at 200,000. 1.5 million more people have been left homeless. Tragedy of this magnitude cannot be adequately expressed in words. It is the power of images — of seeing — that begins to finally convey what has transpired.

I’m not a photojournalist. I like to wonder what my life might be like if photography were my career. I have worked alongside photojournalists. I admire what it is they do. And while I gain a deep and satisfying sense of accomplishment from my own photography, I cannot help but have a bit of envy for the talent, skill, fortitude and grace with which these journalists make their trade.

The power of the photograph — the noble lie a photograph tells us the viewer — can come in its depiction of reality. It is a lie because a photograph is anything but reality. Nonetheless it is a noble lie in that the photograph attempts the impossible in spite of it being impossible. And for a moment, for a fraction of a second, we choose to believe it has succeeded.

As much as Aristotle would have us believe we are creatures of language, we are creatures of vision. And in the wake of tragedy such as what has struck Haiti, it is with our sense of vision that we turn to attempt to make some sense of what has happened.

I want to share a few collections of images from Haiti. But more than just refer to these galleries — incredible in their own right — I want to highlight a few comments from some of the professional photojournalists I respect as they have shared some of their own thoughts on Haiti and photojournalism.

Hi-res: Earthquake in Haiti: Images from Los Angeles Times photographers Carolyn Cole, Rick Loomis and Brian Vander Brug.

Haiti From Above: A gallery of aerial photographs of Haiti collected by Tim Reese, Assistant Directory of Multimedia for the Sacramento Bee.

Earthquake in Haiti: A gallery of wire service images of the Haiti earthquake presented by Alan Taylor for the Boston Globe.

Haiti, Alive: A gallery posted to the New York Times photography blog, “Lens”, collecting glimpses of life in Haiti during the 20th century. The images were drawn from the archives of the New York Times and of the National Geographic Society.

Reflections: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune photojournalist, offers some quiet, respectful and considered candor on Haiti and the role of photojournalism on his blog, “Shooting from the Hip.”

Haiti: Chip Litherland, a ten-year photojournalism veteran based in Florida, adds some of his own thoughts about the tragedy and the power of the photograph. This observation particularly resonated with me:

The photos are what people are sharing. Twitter posts about journalists’ posts from the ground. Facebook postings with links to photo galleries. Photos. Not video. Not multimedia. Not a talking head in front of rubble waxing poetic about what a producer saw earlier in the day. Not showing up to the airport, setting up a live shot, saying you’re there covering the story and leaving. Photos. Photos that need no text. Just space to breathe and be seen.

Like Moths to a Flame: Matt Lutton and M. Scott Brauer present some thought-provoking opinions on the media’s role in covering tragedy on their blog “dvafoto”. The article begins by highlighting the psychological impact of the frenetic scrum around a recently rescued woman and continues to talk about the inherent contradictions involved in covering tragedy.

Through the GardenIt is time to introduce another installment of the Gingerbread Project. For more than ten years, Spencer, Templar, Whirl and I have gotten together around the holidays to build some sort of creation out of gingerbread. Previous constructions include a model of the Field Museum, “Gummi Bear Castle Under Siege from Marshmallow Men”, the pod race from The Phantom Menace, “The House of the Atomic Duck”, “Velociraptors Escaping the Zoo”, and numerous other whimsies and mistakes. As you may have gleaned from the titles, our reverence for the Christmas holiday often takes a backseat to a more insidious form of gallows humor.

This year’s project is entitled “A House Under Construction”. Spencer and Templar have spent much of the calendar year suffering under a series of home improvement projects conducted on their new house in the Oak Park. Some of the projects were necessary for the sake of livability; some were more accurately classified as design changes based on personal desires. All of them involved a disruption to the daily routine, contractors, dust and the associated discontent that comes with living under construction.

We wanted to reflect some of that condition with our gingerbread house this year. Spencer took up the role of general architect. She designed a two story floor plan with one wall cut away to reveal interior scenes. The original design included two matching round turrets atop the structure. This element revised down to a single square turret after our attempts at baking a gingerbread tube suffered multiple catastrophic structural failures.

Comic Mischief 2Hill oversaw the inclusion of several elements of “comic mischief”. At one point he installed a gummi bear boxing ring in the second story, had other gummi bears stuck entering or exiting various windows of the house, and included at least one gummi bear plummeting to his demise upon a pile of bricks. As he generously explained to me, “it’s not funny if it does not include some element of pain.” Spencer and I rescued the falling worker with some Twizzler-rope and a team of gummi bears to belay.

Whirl took it upon herself to develop the small details. She outfitted the gingerbread house’s kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen included counters and tables based on IKEA designs. The bathroom included a functional toilet. Whirl was even kind enough to provide an indisposed gummi worker with reading material while he went about his business.

Danaan and Hill also worked on the house’s garden. The garden included reindeer, a Christmas tree, banana trees and a stone fence. Hill later added a team of gummi gardeners and a squad of gummi hunters attracted by the promise of an easy reindeer hunt in the garden. The gardeners hoped to provide sufficient deterrent with their rakes and shovels.

Through Danaan's EyesWe incorporated several elements to illustrate the state of being actively under construction. I used marshmallows to represent a brick facade, leaving one side of the house incomplete and piling the marshmallow bricks nearby for completion. Whirl created a stack of lumber out of thin gingerbread pieces. Teams of workers and foremen swarm the construction site, although several are occupied by the marauding alligator trying to get into the house through a first story window.

This year’s project is smaller than the Field Museum from last year, but it still took the six of us about four hours to complete. It measures a little more than eighteen inches wide by about 30 inches long by about 30 inches high at the top of the turret. And like all of the projects, it will remain at the Perry’s house and serve as decoration, snack and dessert for the next couple weeks. The candy usually goes first, and then the gingerbread. Sacrifices to the spirit of Christmas sugar.

Windy City Rollers All-StarsMy friend, Scorey Feldman, has been on me for several years to come out and see the Windy City Rollers compete. I’ve meant to do so on several occasions, but the opportunity always seemed to have passed by the time I remembered that I wanted to go. A few days ago, I learned that the last home game of the 2009 season was scheduled for Saturday. Again, I meant to tell Whirl about it and ask if she’d like to go. And I got sidetracked. (This is becoming something of a theme in my life. I should do something about that.) So yesterday afternoon, a few hours before the bout, I asked her and some of my friends if they’d like to go. Whirl agreed; my friends had other plans. But Smokes suggested I should call up Scorey and see if I couldn’t get a media pass to shoot the bout from the floor. So I did. And Scorey hooked me up with a photography pass and a media access pass.

The little part of my brain that operates as a photography assignment desk sent over the instructions to the other little part of my brain that is a wannabe sports shooter: go to UIC Pavilion and make photographs that will cause Strazz to weep. (My assignment desk mind has some incredibly high standards.)

Hoosier Mama and Varla VendettaThe night was a double header. Two bouts. The first bout pitted the Windy City Rollers development team Second Wind against the Brewcity Bruisers from Milwaukee. The second bout — the main event — was between the Rose City Rollers Wheels of Justice and the Windy City Rollers All-Stars. The WCR All-Stars are the top-ranked team in the region and headed to the National Tournament in Philadelphia in November. The Wheels of Justice are one of the hardest hitting, physical teams in the nation.

So I had about an hour to try and get my act together on how to shoot this sport. Everyone I met was friendly and helpful. Gil Leora, the team photographer, suggested shooting positions and provided some very helpful advice on how to capture the action without becoming an accident of the action. Flash Hottie spent a lot of time with me explaining the rules, the strategy and highlighting some key players to watch. As I said, I’ve never been to a roller derby bout before. And now that I have been, I can state that I really had a great time. It’s a fun sport, with lots of action and strategy. Flash Hottie described it as a martial art mixed with athleticism. And while the redundancy of that statement amused me at the time, I think her irony was intentional. It doesn’t take itself terribly seriously.

Megan Formor 1The entire production is done by volunteers. None of the players or the support staff get paid for what they do. One of my co-workers, Tally Savalas, also works for the WCR as a statistician. He was amused to see me in attendance, and then further intrigued that I was there to shoot it.

As to the results of the bouts, the Second Wind lost a close-fought game against the girls from Milwaukee. The All-Stars game was extremely close for the first three quarters of the game until Varla Vendetta and Eva Dead broke it open and routed the Wheels of Justice 113-73. The breakout scoring all happened in the last twelve minutes due to hard-fought, physical play and some very speedy jammers.

And with that, the team is off to the Nationals.

If you get a chance, check it out!

Marina City, IBM Tower, Trump TowerIt is very difficult to live in Chicago and not recognize the name Daniel Burnham. We have Burnham Harbor, Hotel Burnham, Burnham Park. There is a yacht club and an elementary school named after him. His name is associated with a number of signature Chicago buildings: the Rookery, the Monadnock, and the Fischer Building are but a few that I particularly respect. Burnham led the team of architects and landscapers that put together the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago. His efforts spearheaded the construction and successful operation of the White City — an event that brought Chicago back from the ashes of the devistating fire just over twenty years earlier.

And in 1909 Burnham and his co-author Edward H. Bennett published “The Plan of Chicago.” The plan was the first of its kind: a broad view of the city to organize its design, its look and its structure. The 1909 Plan of Chicago marked the birth of the field of city planning. If you live in the city, it is impossible not to be aware of the plan’s impact: the open lakefront, the grid progression of streets and arterial boulevards, the outer park structure, civic and cultural centers.

2009 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Burnham Plan. As such a number of exhibits and events have been developed to celebrate the Burnham Plan Centennial. One of these exhibits is the Chicago Model City, presented by the Chicago Architecture Foundation in the Atrium Gallery of the Santa Fe Building, 224 South Michigan Avenue. The exhibit tells the stories behind the planning of Chicago and presents those whose decisions transformed Chicago.

LaSalle Street CanyonThe centerpiece of Chicago Model City is a 320 square-foot model of the Loop, Near North Side and Near South Side. It includes more than 1000 buildings. But the exhibit is more than just the breathtaking model. There are five sections to the exhibition: Global City, Connected City, Green City, Beautiful City and New City. For each of these themes the Foundation attempts to answer these four questions:

What did the planners see?
What did the planners imagine?
What was the plan?
What happened to the plan?

What is fascinating to me about this exhibition is how the presentation provides a much needed element of reflection upon the full meaning of Burnham’s often repeated quote: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Plans are good; plans are often necessary. Plans provide a framework of accessibility, understanding. Plans provide structure. The challenge that I find myself facing over and over again is to balance the benefits of planning against the vagaries of change. Flexibility, adaptability. Contention with the unforeseen. The survivability of plans once conceived and implemented in the world.

Soldier Field West ColonnadeAs tempted as I am to trot out a series of cliched statements about the benefits and detriments of plans or the lack thereof, I’m going to forego that tact. Instead I’m going to encourage you to visit Chicago Model City for yourself and allow the perspective of a hundred years of modern culture on a large scale to shape your own thoughts on the subject. I initially visited the exhibition to photograph it. I have collected several architectural photographs of Chicago over the years, and I was intrigued by the chance to try and capture these buildings in miniature. But as I reflect on the larger missions of both the Burnham Plan and the centennial I find more interesting, more personal perspectives than those gleaned solely through the camera lens.

Illinois Canyon 8This past weekend Whirl and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary at Starved Rock State Park outside Utica, Illinois. I have been to Starved Rock several times but I had not been back to the park since college and I don’t recall ever spending the night there. We stayed in the historic lodge (a lodge that is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary) and spent much of our time on the park trails exploring. We took the opportunity to haul a bunch of our photography gear with us and I am quite pleased with the results of having done so. (Even if my back is a little annoyed with me for asking it to lug that stuff up and down the canyons).

We had mostly great weather — comfortable temperatures and lots of sun — for most of our stay. Saturday afternoon was rainy and we stayed indoors after a leisurely morning exploration of Illinois Canyon at the far east end of the park. The rest of the time we tromped around the trails unencumbered by computers or cell phones or other people. It was a great opportunity for us to just spend time with each other doing something we both enjoy. And doing it together.

The Lodge was bustling with activity. At least three weddings, and two major family reunions happened while we were there. One of the women working the front desk remarked that they were booked solid through the end of September and had been steadily busy most of the summer.

American White Pelican Pod

As far as wildlife, we were far too late to see the famous Bald Eagles that winter above the Lock and Dam on the Illinois River. But we did see plenty of other animals. Dozens of Great Blue Herons, scores of Double-crested Cormorants, rough-winged swallows, chipping sparrows, wild turkeys, an Egret, deer (complete with a spotted yearling fawn), blue birds, Indigo Buntings, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and what we’re pretty sure was a muskrat swimming along the riverbank. Perhaps the most surprising sighting for me were these huge pods of American White Pelicans traveling west down the Illinois River. On Sunday we perched on Eagle Overlook above the Lock and Dam and watched as pod after pod flew by in formation. Most of the groupings were ten to twenty birds in size, with the largest grouping number well over fifty birds. Over the course of a couple hours we must have seen two hundred pelicans flying west along the river. Spiders, dragonflies and damselflies were out in force feeding on mosquitoes. The spiders provided particularly intriguing opportunities for macro photography.

If you’ve never been to Starved Rock State Park, I highly recommend visiting. It is a wonderful little oasis in the middle of the state.

Men C3 1The second annual Chicago Criterium ran today in Grant Park. The first race of the day, the Juniors race, started at 7:00 AM, so I trundled out of bed early and walked over to the park. Despite the smallness of the hour, this had a nice photographic benefit of allowing me to shoot in the warm morning light just after sunrise. Normally a Sunday morning at that hour is deserted downtown. The Starbucks by our house doesn’t get busy until at least a couple hours later. But today the Loop was busy already early in the morning.

Men C3 3Last year, I wrote about my experiences with the race. I reminisced about my experiences as a bicycle racer. What I did not mention was that I came to the Criterium without much of a plan. I just came to check it out and see what it was like. I used the excuse that I was going to take pictures to push me over there. But once I was there, I was somewhat at a loss. So I shot a lot of pictures of people I didn’t know and just soaked it all in. It was enlightening to me to be around bike racing again after so many years away from it.

When I posted the pictures I got a number of messages from people expressing interest in the photos or requesting permission to use them on other websites. So this year, I tucked a few of those names in my back pocket and made it a point to seek them out and say hello. One is the father of two boys ages 10 and 12 who are starting racing. Another is the skilled rider whose win in the Category 4s race last year advanced him to Category 3 where he’s raced successfully this year.

Men C3 7This gave my photography some direction. I sought these people out and tried to make interesting pictures of them in action. In effect I was my own photo desk: I gave myself a photo assignment and carried it out. Not that I have a particularly keen understanding of how that sort of assignment works in the real world, but I pretended. I also tried some other techniques. I tried to do some more panning shots. I tried to get a good shot of a start, and of a finish. I’m quite pleased with the results.

My only regret is that I decided to only bring one lens to the race. And it was the same telephoto lens I had brought last year. So I retread some ground, shooting similar shots from similar positions on the course. I wished I had brought my wide angle lens to try and get a different look of the race. I took notes as to what some of the other photographers were trying in hopes that next time I’ll come up with something new.

I had heard that last year’s Criterium was well-received by the cycling community. The announcers reiterated that fact more than once, that USA Cycling (formerly USCF) rated the Chicago Criterium the top criterium race in the nation last year. The rating was based on organization, the course, the schedule, the availability to transportation and a host of factors that might easily be used to demonstrate that Chicago is capable of hosting an Olympic-level cycling event. Several people I talked to expressed that they thought if Chicago were to win the Olympic bid we would see more interest in racing. And if Chicago lost the Olympic bid, they feared this may be the last year for the Criterium. I guess we’ll find out in October.

Dragon Boat Bow This morning Whirl and I took the El down to Chinatown to watch the Dragon Boat Races off Ping Tom Park. This was the ninth year for the Race. It’s presented by the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District. We’ve never attended them before. It’s quite an event, and I had a fun time trying to capture some of the excitement with photographs.

I had a number of questions about the sport, how the tournament is structured. What the rules are. And several of the spectators were more than happy to explain what was happening. While most of the teams competing today were company teams put together to raise money for Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Culture and Diversity, I was intrigued to learn that there are professional Dragon Boat teams. And when we saw a couple of these teams take to the river, the difference in skill and technique was easy to discern. They knew what they were doing and were serious about doing it.

Flying MonkeyTeams were comprised of twenty one crewmen: eighteen paddlers, a drummer, a steersman and a flag puller. The tournament began with a series of matched time trials that fed into a seeded elimination bracket. The course was a 1000 yard strait stretch of the south branch of the Chicago River. A typical race lasted about a minute and a half. I was most intrigued by the flag puller. The flag puller is a special crew position aboard the dragon boat. The flag puller rides aboard near the decorated dragon head, out of the way of the drummer. The race is concluded when the flag puller successfully grabs the float flag at the finish line. The flag puller must not miss pulling the flag, otherwise the boat is disqualified. Fellow spectators told me that the flag puller position is called “the monkey.”