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.