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Building A Park In A Day

Building A Park In A Day

It was a super sunny and warm day in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago.  6am and the volunteers start to arrive.  Putting together the tents. Laying out the t-shirts, water bottles, name tags.  All in preparation for the community and its’ partners to come together to take a once neglected park and turn it into a playground that the whole neighborhood can be proud of.  

Peace Park as it is now called sits at the corner of 104th and Corliss.  KaBoom!  a national non-profit dedicated to bringing play to children, especially those in underserved communities, teamed up with several partners including the Chicago White Sox, Paschen Construction and Chicago CRED.  The former Secretary of Education under President Obama, Arnie Duncan who now serves as the Managing Partner of CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) noted “when I asked the young men what they wanted from us in return for laying down their guns, they said they wanted a park for their kids. It was incredibly powerful. It also is symbolically important as it is a park that has been neglected. This playground will honor the leadership and commitment to peace that these young men have made.” 

Kids never played there. They weren’t allowed to but today there are a lot of kids at the park, excited to be there and helping in any way that they can. The mountain of mulch starts getting smaller as the day goes on. Kids make signs, painting the sun and smiling faces that will decorate the fence that runs along the border of the park. Weeds are pulled. Trees are trimmed. They bring in wheel barrow after wheel barrow of cement to secure the swings. And the whole time, the DJ spins. As hot as it is, no one ever slows down. 

 Being an event photographer in Chicago for close to 20 years, I’ve been just about everywhere in the city and covered just as much. This though, was different. It felt like that “Hope & Change” we all used to refer to a few years ago. The park was built on the idea of a truce between rival gangs and with the neighborhood kids’ designs in mind. This galvanized a community. As a mom who recently moved to the block with her young daughter said  “when you’re a part of something, you don’t want to tear it down.”  

 

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Corporate Lifestyle Photography for Praxis Life Sciences

Corporate Lifestyle Photography for Praxis Life Sciences

We were recently invited back to Praxis Life Sciences in Lake Forest for a full day of business headshots, corporate lifestyle photography and coverage of their annual meeting.  Our morning involved setting up for the corporate portraits on a white backdrop to replicate the headshots we’ve done for Praxis in the past.  I’m a big fan of using a white backdrop since it’s such a clean look and it feels less formal to me as well especially with the lighting scenarios we use.  Cross lighting with a parabolic umbrella as the main, medium softbox as the hair light, 2 reflectors on the backdrop and the Westcott Eyelighter as a front fill.  This handy tool creates such a beautiful wrap and spectral highlights that I use it whenever possible, even for environmental portraits.  After wrapping up the corporate portraits, we had some time before the start of the meeting, so we staged a few corporate lifestyle shots in the hallway and in the lobby as well.

Moving on to the meeting coverage my initial intention was to bring in some lighting for fill.  But as the day moved along, the sun made an appearance and we had plenty of available light to work with between the daylight streaming in and the overheads which worked out perfectly since the use of strobe would have proved distracting.  When covering smaller meetings, it’s critical that I’m unobtrusive and ideally, I’d like my subjects to forget that I’m even there so that I’m able to capture the candid and genuine moments and we certainly managed to do that on this round of images.

A shout-out to my Assistants Whitney and Chris who once again proved to be invaluable!  And of course to everyone at Praxis, especially Jamie who helped to coordinate, schedule and prepare so that our day went so smoothly!

On the Road for Manheim Auto Auctions

On the Road for Manheim Auto Auctions

Recently, I wrapped up a multi-day assignment for Manheim Auto, photographing several locations throughout the Midwest, East Coast and much of the Southern states.  Working with our Art Director, the goal was to illustrate a day in the life on the auction floor as well as the fast-paced action that happens during each sale day.  Manheim has locations throughout the North America, Europe, Asia and Australia and is the largest wholesale auto auction in the world.  Each location differs from the next and the goal of this shoot was to emphasize their innumerable offerings and personable customer service that is available at each auction.

There is so much going on once on the auction floor, from the drivers making their way into the lanes, auctioneers talking a mile a minute,  buyers competing for the best deal, the middle men and women mediating each sale.  It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s totally entertaining and the personalities are as big as the sale itself.

Photographing these assignments for Manheim is a contrast to any event I have ever covered and the corporate marketing materials I have worked on but the end game is similar.  Capture the overall vibe including the non-stop action and collaboration.

The Best-Ever CNA Textbook Photo Shoot

The Best-Ever CNA Textbook Photo Shoot

I know nothing about nursing.  Wait, not true.  My exposure to the medical field is limited to what I’ve learned from Grey’s Anatomy and my experience having surgery to remove some pieces and parts that weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing.  So, really, its a mixed bag of melodrama and what is probably most accurate: practical care.  I had a few overnights at the hospital and surprisingly, it was a very relaxing stay which may have been in part due to the morphine drip I was enjoying but for sure, it was the wonderful nursing staff that made sure I was comfortable, fully hydrated and they threw in the bonus of keeping me entertained when dropping in for a blood draw.  How fun!

 What I had imagined would be a few nights of impatiently waiting to get the hell out of there turned out to be a relatively decent mini-vacay from the world.  It’s really the nursing staff including CNA’s that can make or break patient care.  So, that much I knew when I was asked to jump on board as the photographer shooting a textbook written for high school and community college students about being a CNA.  

Chicago-based publisher Goodheart-Wilcox had been searching for stock-based images for the book and simply could not find the shots that accurately illustrated the techniques they needed to demonstrate and in some cases the available imagery was simply too generic for their purposes so they chose to take on quite the project and go with brand new photography. Not an easy task considering that we needed to shoot at a location that was or at least looked like a long-term care facility, required access to all of the equipment that CNA’s would use on a daily basis, would need to recruit and schedule the talent and of course, you’ve got to feed people.  Although this was their first time shooting custom photograph locally, GW pulled together the project like absolute pros as no detail was left to chance.  This kind of planning allows us to focus on doing what we do best and in turn the shoot turned out to be incredibly productive and an absolute pleasure to work on.

 

 

We covered everything possible.  How to make the bed.  How to turn a patient.  How to brush a patient’s teeth, wash their face, help them dress, the list goes on and on.  Of course, after a few days hanging out with people, you get pretty comfortable, ease up on the formalities and then the funnies start coming.  I love me a good out-take and my library is filled with many a classic moment.  For me, there’s nothing quite like knocking out hundreds of styled shots while giggling along the way.  

 

 

Many thanks to the team at Goodheart-Wilcox including Bob and Serg who brought me in on the project, Diane who managed the whole show and made it run smooth like butter, Mallory and Sue who know their miter corners like nobody’s business and my assistant Josh who handles all the other photo-related stuff which allows me to focus on taking pretty pictures.  

Competition Season with C-CAP

Competition Season with C-CAP

Every spring since 2009 I’ve been working with the Chicago team at C-CAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program) to cover the their competition season events.  After so many years, it still proves to be one of the highlights of the spring for me in that I get to see all of the familiar faces and am continually impressed with their students’ commitment to developing their skills in the kitchen.

C-CAP has been around since 1990 and is the idea of cookbook author Richard Grausman, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris,  who was teaching Home Economics classes in New York with a focus on home cooked meals.  The school system he worked in was in the inner-city with many of the students being underserved and consequently their college prospects and job skills were at a minimum.  To address this, Grausman founded C-CAP with the intention of providing the culinary and career skills needed for a future in the hospitality industry.

Over 25 years later, C-CAP operates culinary skills programs in several public school systems throughout the country including Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.  The program goes beyond offering skills in the kitchen.  A few of the benefits they offer in addition to job training are paid internships, college advising, donations to classrooms, career guidance and a whole ton of scholarships to some of the best culinary programs throughout the country.

 

A few highlights from this years’ benefit included the silent auction, a sampling of deliciousness prepared by the C-CAP students and admittedly my favorite part, the dancing.  

 

 

I do think I am a bad-ass in the kitchen and can whip up some delicious vittles but these students humble me.  For the competition, they have a timeline of 2 hours to pull together a main course and a dessert of crepes with homemade chocolate sauce and strawberry garnish. All while being observed by several top chefs in Chicago who serve as the judges for the competition and having me with my cameras consistently invading their space.  And still, they pull it off.   

 

 

When I first stared covering the C-CAP events years ago, the awards breakfast, specifically when the scholarships were presented, always made me incredibly sappy and needless to say, it is a challenge to shoot through the tears.  I have learned to keep it together over the past few years but still am always so impressed with the encouragement and opportunities that C-CAP brings to their students.  

 

 

Each year, C-CAP serves over 17,000 public school students across the nation and has raised over $50,000,000 (yes, that’s million) in scholarships since it’s founding.  They also place the majority of their students into internships that are paid.  To that I say…Bravo!  Their alumni have gone on to become Sommeliers, Executive Chefs at some of the countries’ finest hotels and resorts and have been featured on the Food Networks’ Chopped and Top Chef.  

From the Founder to the President, Chicago’s Coordinator Nicola who may have the best laugh ever, to the teachers who work tirelessly for their students and of course the students themselves who completely commit to the program and a promising future.  C-CAP is a fine tuned machine with a whole lot of heart. 

Spring Marketing Campaign | Portraits for COD

Spring Marketing Campaign | Portraits for COD

It has been way too long since I’ve had a chance to swing by the blog to do some updates.  Lucky me, I was asked by a client to do some traveling to various cities south and east of Chicago to shoot corporate lifestyle in the last months of 2016 so that kept me super busy though December (fill you in on those travels on a blurb to come). By the time I came up for a little air, I needed some time to binge on Netflix and check off some novels on my Good Reads list.  But now it’s time to get to it.

The last thing I shot prior to this travel assignment was for the College of DuPage, which is the largest community college in the state.  I’ve been working regularly with their marketing and communications team for the last 2 years or so and am always happy to get their call.  The assignments normally revolve around a series of environmental portraits of students who have made the most of their time at COD and then we catch them doing what they do.  We’ve worked in the computer labs, architecture classrooms, welding facilities, professional kitchens, hospitals and local fire departments.  Incorporating the students’ work space into the shots helps to tell their success stories more than a standard headshot and a few lines of text. 

It’s always a pleasure to meet with the students and talk to them about their plans, especially those who are returning to school in hopes of making a career change as I can relate.  After years of working at a staffing agency, I decided it was time to try to do my own thing and I thought photography would be a challenge and continually keep my interest.  I was enrolled at Columbia College in Chicago for a few studio lighting classes, learned as much as I could and started assisting around town.  Getting myself back into school was the first step in making the big change and kudos to anyone who takes those same chances.

Chicago-Portrait-Photographer

Here we are working in the nursing lab at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital.  Every day, every location, every subject looks a little different than the one that came before it which definitely keeps us on our toes. This project took us from the COD campus in Glen Ellyn to Elmhurst Hospital, over to Old Orchard Mall where we were treated to a fantastic lunch at Roka Akor and back to the campus library.   Looking forward to more of these kind of assignments in 2017 for sure.