Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chicago's Water Tower

One of the most recognizable buildings in Chicago, the Old Water Tower presides over the north end of the Magnificent Mile and a lovely urban park. Constructed in 1869 of Joliet limestone, the Water Tower and the Pumping Station located directly across Michigan Avenue, were the only two public buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

Originally constructed to conceal a standpipe used to equalize water pressure from the Pumping Station, it is currently the home for City Gallery which features Chicago photographers and photographs. Buskers and street entertainers perform in the park surrounding the Water Tower while shoppers revive weary feet seated on benches near a fountain. Carriage horses still drink from a specially designed watering fountain on the park's west side and wait patiently for couples and families to hop aboard for a city tour.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chicago's LaSalle Street

LaSalle Street, the heart of the financial district in Chicago, is lined with numerous imposing edifices featured in numerous movies including the The Dark Knight - and rightly so. The stately columns of the Federal Reserve Bank and the art deco Chicago Board of Trade building form the southern end of the money district and the light often bounces from one to the other in an interesting way.

It's one of the best locations to shoot in the Windy City at mid-day as the light reaches the street in the canyon of buildings. After a year of maintenance, the clock on the CBOT building has been repaired and the scaffolding removed, so it's a prime point of interest once again.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Standing Firm

By now the secret is out that night and low-light photography are two of my loves - particularly in busy cities. It could be directly related to the fact that I am not a morning person.

Something about that time of day inspires my creative juices and my adrenaline as often the peak time lasts only for 20 minutes or so after the sun has set if the sky will be included in the composition. Other opportunities, such as the man directing traffic above on Michigan Avenue in Chicago are still available when the sky has turned black.

With a sturdy Gitzo tripod and cable release, I'm armed and ready. If you spot a lady with a tripod out after dark - that could be me.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River Bridge

Speak the words, "Michigan Avenue" and thoughts of great shopping come to mind. From Tiffany to Nordstrom to H&M and Borders, the Magnificent Mile has them all. Several architectural landmarks such as the Water Tower, Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower are located along this thoroughfare as well.

Another highlight is the double-decker bridge over the Chicago River with the second level below street level and providing access to Lower Wacker Drive. The bi-level street was made famous in chase scenes in the "Blues Brothers" and "Batman Begins" movies.

The scene above is a view of the Chicago River bridge taken from the center median across from the Wrigley Building and looking south toward Millennium Park and the financial district.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Marcus Luttrell - Lone Survivor

On May 19, 2008, Marcus Luttrell, author of Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 was interviewed by Ed Tracy before a capacity crowd at the Pritzker War Library. The sole survivor of Seal Team 10 involved in Operation Redwing in Afghanistan, Marcus wove a fascinating tale as he described the hardships of SEAL training which prepared him well for the excruciating pain and deprivation he experienced as he battled with and fled from the Taliban with three broken vertebrae and other injuries.

Luttrell's story highlighted the comradeship between Navy SEALs, the difficult moral choices faced in a battle zone and the mental determination required for survival. Lining the second floor balcony was a cadre of cadets from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center who will soon begin the training program that will winnow their ranks down to the 10-20% who will become SEALs like Marcus and his twin brother. One can only imagine the thoughts running through their heads as Marcus shared his story.

A podcast of the interview is available here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Standard Time Began in Chicago

How many times I have walked past this plaque in the Financial District of Chicago and never noticed it, I could not tell. But this particular day, I did notice and learned that the usage of the Standard Time System began in Chicago in 1883.

From the plaque, it seems that the railroads pushed for standardization of time as there were 100 local "time zones" developed by communities based upon the position of the sun in their location. Imagine the headaches trying to put together a timetable and tell when a train would arrive and depart with 100 such zones, and the need for such a standard is apparent.

Maybe the airlines will push for a different time system so that more of their flights are "on time".

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Chicago's Picasso

While the Art Institute of Chicago has more than 20 of Pablo Picasso's paintings in its collection, ask a Chicagoan where the Picasso is and they'll more likely point toward the Daley Plaza than Michigan Avenue.

Dedicated in 1967, the untitled steel sculpture originally a subject of controversy has now become a well-loved Chicago icon.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Chicago's Summer Festivals

Each summer the Mayor's Office of Special Events in Chicago hosts several festivals including Taste of Chicago, jazz, blues and gospel fests in Grant Park. When the weather cooperates the evenings can be magical.

Pictured above is a crowd enjoying the Jazz Festival on a balmy summer evening on the lawn. When lights in the skyscrapers surrounding the Grant Park come on and the sun sinks low behind the Sears Tower, a special ambiance spreads over the area as the musician's notes waft through the air.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Windows a la Edward Hopper

Last week I attended the Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. Homer's mastery of light as portrayed in his multi-layer washes and scrapings on watercolor paper are truly amazing. His ability to capture the nuances and reflectiveness of water is unparalleled. His pre-Photoshop habit of copying and pasting elements from one drawing or painting to another made me chuckle. There truly is nothing new under the sun.

Of the two artists, Edward Hopper was the most artistically inspiring. I admired Homer's technique and blending of his own watercolors, but Hopper's composition and portrayal of everyday city life better paralleled my own photographic interests.

Hopper's views through windows into the lives of others inspired me to shoot a few of views of city life through a window myself. I've posted one above. The exhibit will remain until May 10, 2008 at the Institute. Check it out and see what inspiration strikes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fencing Tournament

This past weekend, some 1200 fencers converged on the Rosemont (IL) Convention Center for a United States Fencing Association tournament.

Wielding weapons in the epee, saber and foil competitions, women and men from youth to the 60+ veteran division stepped and lunged up and down the 30+ competition strips arranged throughout the room.

Electronic lames, scoreboards and weapon tips recorded the touches with referees officiating each bout.

Viewing the competition offered me a chance to step back in time and imagine swashbuckling battles raging in a castle or two men dueling for a lady's hand while having a 21st century digital camera along to capture the action. Which is a challenge!

Swords are flying faster than the eye can see, the lighting is sodium vapor blended with fluorescent which turns the white uniforms a lovely blend of red and green, the concrete floor is mighty hard, and the multiple strips make a clean background nearly impossible.

Still, my Canon 70-200 2.8L IS lens was fast enough so that I could stop the action and the zoom options gave me a range of close--ups shots to full strip action. Are you a sports shooter looking for a new challenge? Search no further than your nearest fencing tournament. Touche!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bat Column Sculpture

One of Chicago's less talked about sculptures is the "Bat Column". Ready for play outside the Harold Washington Social Security Center on West Madison street, this giant column is less likely to be seen by casual tourists and visitors to the city. Venture west of the Loop to view this steel and aluminum structure designed by Claes Oldenburg.

Could the Cubs win with this bat?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ethnic Specialty Stores in Chicago

Throughout the Chicago metropolitan region there are enclaves of different ethnicities with retail stores catering to a group's food traditions and fashion preferences. Where once the enclaves were located primarily within Chicago city limits, they can now be found throughout the suburbs.

The storefront pictured here with signs in Spanish and clothing with a Mexican flavor is located in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb 30 miles due west from downtown Chicago.

No need to purchase a plane ticket to have that cross-cultural experience. Pop into an ethnic market and puzzle over labels on cans and dream up a dinner unique enough for Anthony Bourdain to enjoy. Wander down Devon Avenue and touch the silk saris in riotous colors, or sample Kosher baked goods and Pakistani delicacies.

Bon voyage!

Friday, February 15, 2008

PhotoShelter Widget

Thought I'd give the new widget offered by PhotoShelter Collection a trial run. I wanted to place the widget on the sidebar, but only the left half of the photos will show in the display.

Think it's a great concept, but will it make the cash register ring?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Chicago's Hidden Treasures

Hidden between Chicago's Millennium Park and Lake Shore Drive lies a Cancer Survivors Garden with wonderful flowers, benches and an ornate metal open-air structure.

One late summer day I stumbled upon this quiet place of respite and wondered how it had escaped my notice for so long.

For a moment of quiet amid beauty in the midst of big city hustle and bustle, walk due north from Buckingham Fountain through Grant Park or head across the BP Bridge from the Bean sculpture.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Who are the Flowers For?

While waiting for the traffic signal to change on Michigan Avenue, I noticed this young man with the bouquet of flowers staring resolutely ahead and wanted to capture the moment.

I wondered who the flowers were for, what was the occasion and why was he looking so serious? Was he going to pop the question to his girlfriend? Make up after a fight?

Hope it turned out well for him...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sears Tower through a Fisheye

Finding a new angle or perspective for a frequently photographed landmark building can be challenging. The Sears Tower in Chicago is one such edifice.

One day while out shooting on the west side of the Loop, I pulled my fisheye lens out of the proverbial bag and saw the Sears Tower and surrounding buildings in a new light. Now it appeared that the surrounding skyscrapers were bowing to the mighty giant and the hubbub of Wacker and Jackson Streets could be included.

Photo editors aren't often fond of fisheye lens photos because of the distortion, but the unique perspective can help in recharging the creative batteries - one of my resolutions for 2008.