Saturday, December 24, 2011

You may never see what's really here

I'm doing something with this post that I have never done before: I am leaving the most beautiful and exciting photographs out. To see what I saw, you'll have to speak with the man I spoke to, and learn about his quest.

All-new construction, like the great staircase, will blend into original work nearly a century old

Rosario Rosi is not the type of man who gets scared off when he faces 5-figure construction bills, harsh Chicago winters and apathetic city officials. This sculptor found a building worth saving, and he is going to save it, and Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood is going to benefit from his vision.

New supports for the new roof are here, new tile is coming

The building began its life about 100 years ago as a live theater, and it still contains one of the largest performances spaces on the North Side. That space went dormant long ago, though, when the owners sold their property to a car dealership.

The Great Depression was harsh on this dealership; ownership changed a few times, maintenance kept getting pushed back into "someday," and the two factors combined to leave the structure vacant, archaic and decaying. Even the front facade began leaning, until its top protruded 3 feet over the sidewalk.

The new owner will be glad to tell you about the technology that goes into support beams these days

Rosario saw the shame of what was happening here in the summer of 2008, purchased the building and started making things happen. He discovered after making his investment that he even has family history inside the performance space — ask him about it, it's a great story.

We all know what happened in the fall of 2008. Construction loans dried up, and government agencies and non-profit foundations that used to fund projects like this closed their doors. City officials tour the work that he and a group of volunteers are doing, love what they see, encourage the crew to keep going...and leave, having not a penny to share.

My group did exactly the same thing, of course — we were astounded by what we saw, and we did not have anything to offer Rosario.

He doesn't care. He just wants people to know what is happening in Edgewater. He wants people to know that there is new life swirling inside a building that for years looked like it was years past its death.

Give him a call — he will show you everything, and he will ask for nothing but awareness in return.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Trespassing with the Leflers

Sitting around the dining table, I asked the Leflers to describe their family to me. Virginia, the mother of two sons and grandmother of four girls, a former resident of rural Texas and Nebraska who uprooted herself and moved to Chicago long ago, let out a sigh.

"We're renegades," she said.

Nick, one of the boys and the father of five-month-old twins, did not see it that way.

"We are, uh, boring," he said.

I saw Virginia's assessment, but not Nick's. During the course of our morning photo shoot, various family members got concrete dust on themselves while posing in a nearby construction zone, climbed trees in neighbors' yards and got into a leaf-hurling fight in a stormwater-retention ditch (which was dry, thankfully).

When the family storytelling starts to center around the tales of the patriarch, Jim goes to his drum set.

Nick and Christine

Jeremy and Mwende...
with Samara, feeling camera-shy, ducking behind her mom, and Aiden capturing more leaves for her bouquet.

Lefler vs. Lefler.
This went on for quite a while, and appeared to center on Nick and Jeremy settling some unresolved childhood disputes.

Meanwhile, Aiden decided the best way to get more leaves was to follow Aunt Christine and Uncle Nick.

Grandpa just wanted some time with his littlest girls...

...and his main girl.
Trespassing and leaf-hurling aside, they think they have done a good job so far.

The results of that job agree.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How a new stage of life began

When Samantha's family and friends gathered in River Forest recently, they saw the girl they knew in a different light: as a young woman. Samantha celebrated her 15th birthday with a quinceaƱera, and dozens of well-wishers came out to introduce her to a world that had been waiting for her arrival.

Samantha starts her journey with plenty of love from her friends.

There were a couple of surprises for Samantha's guests...but there were also a couple of surprises waiting for her.

A surprise to none: Samantha and her fellow dance students at Local Motions put on a show.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Meet Joycelyn

Bennie and Nicky brought a beautiful new life into the world recently. They asked me to help them introduce her to everyone.

I'm glad — just meeting Joycelyn was a pleasure.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rem and Jeanette: Back where it began

The Rosemont Park District does a fantastic job of making their garden-and-waterfall attraction at the corner of Higgins and River roads gorgeous — and, as the result of their meticulous work, they handle a steady stream of permit requests from engaged couples hoping to be photographed there. My just-married couple, Rem and Jeanette, were the umpteenth permit-holders to have access to the park for half an hour on a recent Saturday afternoon.

But Rem and Jeanette didn't come to Rosemont just because of the great background. This is where they started to fall in love.

The two met in July of 2010, and on their second or third date, they found this garden unoccupied (a rarity) and decided to search for a parking spot (nonexistent) so they could enjoy its beauty for a little while.

A little while has since turned into a lifetime.

Rem and Jeanette wrote and read personal vows to each other.

"We must have sat there and talked for three hours," Jeanette told me.

"We've been best friends since our second or third date," Rem added.

Wishing to keep their ceremony private, the couple invited no guests — the only witnesses were the party, and the camera guy.

With no one to disturb, I got to shoot from all kinds of angles that I normally cannot.

This wedding was a treat for me.

I may never get to shoot a first kiss that looks like this again.

Thankfully, my subjects made my opportunity look magical.

The pair returned to the waterfall nearly a year later, this time as a newlywed couple.

They told me that the spark began at the Rosemont waterfall, but that most of their falling-in-love took place during the dates that followed, many of which they spent simply talking in coffee shops and walking together through nearby Caldwell Woods. They started walking last summer, and haven't stopped yet, even trekking through the winter and this year's cloudy, rainy and generally gloomy spring.

This couple works because of their simplicity, they told me. Rem said Jeanette is "so easy to talk to," and Jeanette said there are lots of things they like to do together.

"It's a combination of having a lot in common and wanting to be around that person," Rem said.

And finding a good place to be around that person.

Complete photo gallery


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Home alone — with 180 friends

For me, the biggest treat about working at the house where Chris Columbus filmed Home Alone was hearing all the production trivia from the owners. The Winnetka Historical Society held a fundraiser there June 4, and the residents told us a bunch of cool stories about what it was like living in a movie set.

• Michael Jackson dropped in one day to hang out with Macaulay Culkin.
• This was the third time that producer John Hughes contacted them in hopes of using their house. They turned down his first two offers (for Uncle Buck and Christmas Vacation), but accepted the third because they thought it would be a small film.
• The crew brought in enough Christmas lights to cover every house on their block.

I got to pose the guests in several areas of the house that were sets in the movie, including the stairs Kevin sleds down, and the living room.

In the backyard tent, the guests competed in a "Best Kevin With Aftershave" contest.

On her famous front doorstep, with the same wreath used in the film, our gracious host showed us her "crew uniform." Everyone in the crew had a shirt that identified what their role was — but she had to make her own,
so she had a little fun with it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Jason, Kyra and the secret letters

The story of Jason and Kyra is told in a pair of secret messages.

I haven't seen the contents of either of those messages, of course, but knowing how they came into existence is a story to share.

It begins with Kyra, about seven years ago — which is about five years before she met Jason — at a gift store in her native Kansas City. Sifting through the hundreds of varieties of Hallmark salutations, she found one that she had to have, one that she had to give...but she did not to who to.

The card contained only a drawing of a red heart, with a smiley face; on the inside, it read "When I see you, my heart smiles." That was the perfect description, she said, of the feeling she wanted to have.

She just wondered who would give that feeling to her.

She bought the card. Years went by. A few nice gentlemen came in and out of focus in her life; the card stayed with her.

Work brought her to Chicago, and in the summer of 2009, she attended a conference her church organized with sister congregations from other cities; Jason worshipped at one of those sister congregations, and went to the same conference. The schedule included a dance on Saturday night. In that room, one of them spotted the other, and felt a spark.

Now, which one caused that spark, and which one felt it, may long be debated in their new home.

"I walked in," Jason told me, "and this pretty blue shirt I was wearing caught her eye."

"Whatever, you asked me to dance," Kyra asserted.

They danced and talked, and at the end of the night, Jason gave Kyra his business card.

"He didn't ask for my information," Kyra recalls.

And the gamble was bigger than just hoping she would call: Jason had never set up his phone's voicemail, and had never received or sent a text message in his life. But Kyra did call, at a fortuitous moment when Jason was available to pick up, and their first conversation went well.

Their first date did not: Jason's Plan A fell through, then Plan B fell through. By August of 2009, he was on Plan C, which worked out, and the resident of Milwaukee took Kyra to the Wisconsin State Fair.

Plan C was a winner, more dates followed, and in October, Jason asked Kyra if she would officially be his girlfriend. He did not know it at the time, but he made the move on Sweetest Day. Though incognizant of holidays on which boyfriends are obligated to pander, Jason still told me that he is a natural romantic.

Kyra corroborates this assertion.

"Every time he looks in my eyes, he makes me feel like I'm the only person he sees," she told me.

Jason is funny, she added, and he gets really goofy when he's tired. He's tired because he hustles, and hustling is part of why she trusts him.

And when he puts his arm around her, she feels warm. All over.

Which brings us back to the card Kyra bought years ago in Kansas City.

"I saved it, because I wanted to give it to someone special."


"He was different than anyone I ever knew. I just felt like he was an answered prayer."

These days, Kyra calls Jason "My blessing."

And the natural romantic's pet name for the girl he was falling deeply in love with?

"Boo Bear."

But, Jason was falling deeply in love. He started praying about whether she should be his bride — and, every time he thought about her, he became more and more peaceful. Jason hustled at work and was goofy at play, but Kyra was the force that made him feel calm.

Which brings us to the other secret message, and the proof of Jason's romantic prowess: He wrote personal vows, with his own hand, on a scroll. He gave his bride that scroll on their wedding night, after they left their reception, in private.

Only they know what is contained within.

The complete gallery


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Daddy Ray's 75th Birthday

I've covered all kinds of birthday parties and family reunions, but I'd never been hired for a "family-be-union" until March 26. That night, I got to photograph a group of grown men and women coming together for the first time as siblings, to celebrate their father's 75th birthday.

An event like this does more than just scream "Awkward!" It sits in the corner, bottled water in hand, and texts "AKWRD."

That's what I was expecting, anyway.

What I found instead was a group of siblings who, though meeting for the first time in their lives, acted like they'd grown up together. With a father they all seemed to love.

Complete gallery