Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas portrait: simplicity

I have a tremendous fondness for good, hard simplicity. Things that just work. So do the Gawrons. So I have a tremendous fondness for this family now.

Our shoot was short and to the point. They only wanted one location — the couch. I tried to talk them off of it and into their nice backyard or somewhere else (simplicity is the joy of my life, but variety is the spice of it), to no avail. They knew what they wanted — and they were kind enough to tell me I delivered it. Merry Christmas, Gawrons.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On the border with the Taco Bell Caroling Crew

I never thought I'd be happy to stand in line for 10 minutes at a Taco Bell.

I eat too much fast food, but everybody has a vice. I know from experience that working fast food is a lame job, nobody likes it, and nobody wants to work there...except, apparently, for this crew at the Ogilvie Transportation Center.

I was just sitting at one of the tables, munching on the day's fast food of choice, Burrito Beach, shuffling some e-mails around on the handheld and waiting for the train. I heard this really annoying jingling sound, joined quickly by an equally annoying horn...and then caroling. "Jingle Bells," if I remember right. I looked up to see who these fools were and why they were harassing people in the food court.

Well, it's because they work there. Behold, the happiest, friendliest fast food crew I've ever encountered, rocking it for the lunch crowd at Ogilvie's Taco Bell. The lady on the right was "conducting" the chorus of three on the left.

They only jingled when they had no customers, so they only got about a quarter of the way through "Jingle Bells" before some guy craving a Gordita and some Baja Blast stepped up. I wandered over and told them I had to get their picture. I then had to wait 10 minutes, because customer after customer came through.

Finally, a break came, and I got them to jump back into form again. Yes, this picture was worth the wait.

Sitting still and performing C.P.R.

Marquette Elementary is using a new program to help its students learn positive methods of communication: The Circle of Power and Respect. Yes, the kids are performing C.P.R. on each other — and they do it mostly while seated.

Welcome to Miss Rogers' class, where the C.P.R. begins at 1 p.m. The exercise starts with the telling of knock-knock jokes...

...which the entire class, including Mark Criollo and Grisel Hernandez, seemed to enjoy.

The next activity was pairing up and sharing characteristics each looked for in a friend. Tyriek Kirkwood gave Valerie Diaz a few examples, hoping especially for someone who is "committed."

This is the class' message board, which Miss Rogers uses to convey different lessons during C.P.R.

Miss Rogers, presiding over her crew.

Another facet of C.P.R. was a game a bit like musical chairs, except that everyone had a chair. The student sitting next to the empty seat would recited the lines "I the grass...with my friend..." and then call on a classmate to cover and and sit in that chair (in this case, Joanna Mena). The student sitting next to Joanna's now-empty seat played next, and so on.

This game...I couldn't figure out what the heck was going on. It involved the class counting to 10, going around the circle, but whenever a student would say "Nine and a half," the next kid had to sit down. Here, some of the students are sorting out whether a kid is out or not...

...while Cassandra Gonzalez grins, because she's not out...yet.

After recording the final two kills, Matthew Cole broke out into dance — twice, after each elimination.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ben and Carrie: The rewards of patience

Ben and Carrie's wedding is an example of a business deal gone all wrong, and two longtime friends who got it right.

Carrie and Ben have been BFFs since before that term existed. They met 10 years ago through their church, and with time grew close. As with any boy/girl friendship, there were a few people on both sides telling them they would be so perfect together — in this case, those people turned out to be right, but Ben and Carrie had a good reason to doubt them.

Risk. Carrie spent years earning a Master's in Business Administration, and she will gladly tell you that the fundamental principal of economics is to maximize profit while minimizing risk. And the friendship was working status-quo, yielding a profit of enjoyment for both without the complications of romance.

But love is a merciless negotiator, and it moved on Carrie's heart and mind aggressively. She found herself attracted to Ben. And trying to remind herself of the risk.

Love cornered her, and Carrie eventually downsized logic off the payroll. The friendship started changing, and it became Ben who started thinking about risk — because Carrie was winning his heart.

He made some mental budget cuts as well. About two years ago, they started dating.

The risks turned out to be real. About a year and a half ago, they broke up.

They fell back on the old business model, and became friends again. Yes, just like how it was before — not "but we're still friends" friends or Facebook friends. They called each other, they talked, they hung out, and it wasn't all that weird. The friendship was real.

But the attraction was, too. In the time off, they didn't date anyone else. They didn't really think about anyone else.

They started thinking about each other again. The friendship started feeling like it was supposed to be a means to a more profitable end again. The risks were real, but living without each other's love got really risky too.

If they ever fell out of love the first time around, they fell back in love again. I can't say "they got back together" — even though they weren't dating, they hadn't parted in 10 years.

And for Ben, Carrie had become gold — everything else was a slush fund. On Saturday, they maximized their profit.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"The Other Grammys" at the South Shore Cultural Center

Being a photographer, I get paid to record the coolest stuff. This is part of that "coolest stuff."

This is The Other Grammys, a black-tie awards banquet for African Americans who are setting strong, positive examples for others — and a fund-raiser for the Jones African American Club. The students in that club are putting the money together to fly to Ghana for a spring-break sabbatical to meet students there.

The evening included poetry reading, tributes to singers Sade and Bob Marley, the awards and more. I was assigned to only one aspect of the show — the Youth Guidance Community Schools dancers.

They showed their audience dance styles from both the Caribbean and western Africa.

For dances, I often focus on close-ups, but I pulled it back quite a bit on this night, because of the facility that hosted the event. Hopefully my photos are conveying the beauty of the South Shore Cultural Center.

If not, you ought to find a reason to visit it yourself — it's part of my "coolest stuff."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas portrait: unleash the beasts!

I'm finding more families that want to add something extra onto the traditional posed Christmas photos. Tom and Carol told me they wanted to include their pets — and that they wanted to get some spontaneous photos as well.

Their kids, Joy and Luke, added plenty of spontaneity.

They have a rabbit, Apache, and two turtles, T-Rex (the friendly one) and Happy (she smiles while she bites you). We got the posed shots out of the way, then shined up the shells, brushed down the fur and brought out the beasts!

Apache hopped around a little, but once the carrot sticks came out, he settled down and munched.

T-Rex and Happy, however, could not be held back — only dragged back!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stephanie Rogers: soccer rocker

Stephanie Rogers says she feels like she's in the witness protection program sometimes. She leads a double life, and a growing number of people know about her dual identities.

Stephanie is a pop-folk singer and songwriter, who belts her music out in a soul/R & B style...and lives in the architecturally-exaggerated Wilmette home you see around her, with husband John and 9-year-old Charlie in tow. By her own admission, it's an odd duality.

"I'm a soccer mom/rocker," she said. "My father says I'm the most straight-laced rocker ever. I really can't stand the 'rocker' lifestyle."

Yet she is making her way through it — our photos are for the artwork that will go into her third CD.

Her music career began with the threat of her life ending.

While studying theater at Northwestern University, Stephanie was the vocalist in a "screaming and yelling progressive funk band," Fish Of Destiny. "I didn't know what the heck I was doing," she said, and the gig was mainly for fun. After graduating, she moved to Los Angeles to make it as an actress.

But in her mid-20s, thyroid cancer struck her. It is an operable cancer, and Stephanie moved back to Chicagoland for the surgeries.

"As I was laying in the hospital bed, I realized that life is short."

Stephanie decided she wanted to see what she was capable of musically. Singing, guitar and piano lessons followed — no more screaming, yelling and goofing around.

"I became a professional musician at the age of 30."

It was the beginning of a second identity for Stephanie. She founded her own record label and publishing company, and titled her first album "Your New Life."

She started writing pop rock with folk blended in. I asked why. She said it was realest to her.

"That's what comes out."

"When I sing live, though, I'm definitely drawing on the soul music."

Stephanie studies retro Motown and old gospel records for influence. Come and see her sometime and make up your own name for it, but whatever it is, it works. She sings to herself while walking around her home, and the little taste that I got was appetizing.

I asked her why she emulates music that comes from a lifestyle she has never touched. Her answer was a real as a soul singer's should be.

"I don't have tough life experiences like that," she said, but her appreciation is genuine. In January, Stephanie promoted, organized and taught a class on the history of soul music: At the Wilmette Theater, she put a 10-piece band together, set up a PowerPoint presentation and performed a full concert with lessons in between the songs.

Stephanie still takes acting assignments when the right part comes along, but John and Charlie are above all. Most of her days are spent as Stephanie The Soccer Mom In The SUV.

The license plate says "HIPCHICK." It's a subtle clue to this suburbanite's secret identity.

"It's like the witness protection program. I'm an undercover artist."

But with her next album, more of the truth is surfacing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Carol and Tina in the Singer Spotlight

Carol Simbler and Tina Jenkins Crawley rocked the house at Fitzgerald's Night Club.

Carol opened up with "It's Been You."

Another well-known, well-regarded facet of Singer Spotlight is "the band." Among Chicago musicians, all one has to do is say "Yeah, Fitzgerald's, they got that band..." Just listen to everyone start going "Dude, yeah..."

The hostess, Becca, normally ends the Singer Spotlight shows...but this particular night was Tina's CD release party, so she let her have the stage last.

She used it to the max.

This gentleman is Nick Bisesi, husband and sax player for Gayle Bisesi, the jazz singer who played right before Carol and Tina. I didn't get any pictures of her (sorry), because I just sat down and enjoyed her performance.

Tina got a standing ovation for her final song, "Don't Give Up."

Everything that happened that night can be seen here.