The hipster wilderness and a ghost of fencing past
As I had written in my last post, “Sabres to the right of them, sabres to the left of them,” shooting the 2014 Korfanty Sabre World Cup two weekends ago was on of the best photographic experiences I have had in a while. After pouring through thousands of images on my digital contact sheets, though, I was in need of a short break from fencing photography. In fact, I was in dire need of a break in general after such a busy and demanding week.
A warm and beautiful day this past Saturday provided me with an opportunity to retreat for a bit and roam around Chicago with my street-shooter, finding serenity in the chaos of city life. Initially, I had planned on staying in Hyde Park and walking out to the lake front as it was too damn nice outside to stay indoors. An impromptu invitation for a late lunch and beer at Revolution Brewing with a few friends, however, had me bolting off to downtown to catch the Blue Line ‘L’ to Logan Square.
When I arrived into the Loop, it dawned on me that I should had left much earlier to give myself some time to walk around and photograph for a bit. As usual lately with the erratic Chicago weather oscillating from dark, damp, and cold to sunny, dry, and warm, people were out everywhere basking in the sun. With the traffic, however, I was already running behind to catch the train. Amazingly, I found myself the first to arrive at Revolution, which despite of being in the heart of dreaded hipster territory of the northwestern Chicago area, is by far one of my favorite brewpubs to patron. The food and house-brewed craft beers are definitely worth having to endure the pestilent infestation of plaid, 1900’s style facial hair, and Zooey Deschanel wannabes in overalls or jorts. Then again, Revolution has historically offered me a few good photographic opportunities for anachronistic mustaches and beards . . . presuming that I would actually have a camera with me. Fortunately, on Saturday, I did.
After my friends arrived—and rather astoundingly, Calvin the Betrayer was not the last one to appear—we proceeded to enjoy the menu offerings, sitting right by the open windows which afforded me a good viewing spot. Despite trying to just relax with friends, I still found myself “working” so to speak, staying attentive for anything interesting. In my defense, however, fellow photographer Adam was doing the same with his compact camera.
Despite my annoyance with hipsters, which partly stems from the “lomography” movement that lead to the popularly of another insidious plight—Instagram—and among other things, I will admit that they can be interesting subjects to photograph on the streets themselves. I have had some interests in doing some reportage in the outer areas of Chicago, and what better place than a hipster wilderness. I would image the experience as some quasi foreign travel assignment. To get a feel for the area, after lunch I decided to accompany my friend, Katie, back on the train and disembarked at her stop at Damen to explore a bit (and to get some much needed midday, post beer coffee with her).
As we walked out of from the station and to a Starbucks around the corner, I stopped for a second to crouch down and photograph a street artist in paint-splattered denim selling his work on the sidewalk. While I was focusing and metering to take the shot, he started yelling out my name. “KHOA! KHOA!” Perplexed, I thought to myself how on Earth does this bloke know who I am? As I lowered the camera away from my face, the artist then yelled, “IT’S ME MUHAMMAD!” It was then that I realized that I was seeing a ghost from my fencing past.
Muhammad is a former clubmate from Windy City Fencing who had “vanished” three years ago. We met and became acquainted when I first started fencing at the club in the autumn of 2010. The last that I or anyone else at Windy City had seen or heard from Muhammad was in the summer of 2011 shortly before he moved away to either New York or California. It was both, apparently, I had ascertained after conversing and catching up with him at that sidewalk. He had become a painter during this travels and had returned to Chicago not long ago. To be quite frank and honest, several of my other fencing buddies and I had thought that he was hiding out in Mexico or had shuffled off his mortal coil. It was therefore a great shock and relief to actually see him alive and well. Of course, it is much more surprising to me even now given the random and unlikely probability of encountering an old acquaintance, after all these years, sitting on a sidewalk stoop off the Damen Blue Line stop, without any warning or expectation, while walking with a friend to get coffee. C’est la vie!
All images © K. Dao Photography 2014, all rights reserved.