Living legend

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The past week has been a rather productive and inspirational one photographically, despite the fact that I did not pick up an actual camera until the weekend itself.  I am glad to say that for the most part, things have been considerably well.  After battling and recovering from a creative slump and exhaustion, I am finally returning to satisfactory level of productivity.

The first great bit of news is that after toiling for countless hours in my digital darkroom, I have finally completed my most grand work yet: the wedding in Green Lake, Wisconsin back in July.  I met up with my clients, with whom I have become great friends, on Tuesday evening for dinner at which I hand delivered to them the completed photographs from that special day.  I shall write about and display some of those images here in the near future.  For now, however, I wish to leave the lovely couple and their families and friends some time for themselves to enjoy the photographs.

Jumping to Thursday evening, I found myself in the presence of a living legend in the realm of photojournalism.  After spending the bulk of the day at an Asian trade secret law conference (no, I am not making that up, that was actually a “thing”), I dashed off to the Roosevelt University Gage Gallery on Michigan Avenue for a reception and exhibit opening for the works of Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist John H. White.  For those unfamiliar, Mr. White’s career as a photojournalist has spanned over 35 years; arguably 55 years, however, as his father asked him to photo document the aftermath and reconstruction of a church that had burned down when he was only 14 years old.  Mr. White has photographed everything imaginable, from children playing in the snow, to Mohammad Ali training, to Nelson Mandela’s release from incarceration, to Pope John Paul II visiting Mexico.  He has charmingly said, “If it happened, I was there.”  It was therefore an utter shock when in May 2013 the asshats at the Sun Times laid off not only Mr. White but the paper’s entire photojournalism department.  I myself have very strong opinions about the Sun Times’ incomprehensible decision and their claims that untrained individuals with iPhones can substitute Mr. White’s eyes, but I defer to his own sentiment of the matter when he said, “I will not curse the darkness.”

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Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Mr. John H. White, a living legend.

Mr. White delivered an incredibly inspiring presentation about his love for photography, for people, for the human spirit.  I myself was completely awestruck during the entire evening, from when while walking to the lectern he stopped right in front of me and shook my hand, to his views on life, to his actual presence and inability to put his camera down—indeed, even at up front at the lectern, he would still lift his Nikon to his eye and photograph the people who came to admire his works.  I made sure to not repeat the mistake back in December when I was in the same room with Alex Webb and was too hesitant to introduce myself, and approached Mr. White after his presentation to talk to him.  I had told him of my recent creative slump and asked if he had any advice to prevent something like that from happening again.  He told me to email him sometime to meet up for coffee or tea to discuss such if I wanted.  If I am honest, the prospect of sitting down one-on-one with such a giant, no matter how inspirational and approachable, is still bloody damn daunting, especially given my limited experience as a photographer.  I would consider it less intimidating to talk to a justice of the United States Supreme Court.  The man has been doing this for decades, have been shot at while on assignment, and has photographed the Pope.  I, on the other hand, have been photographing semi-profressionally for only two years, the most physically threatening thing to have happened to me is almost getting tackled by  flèching fencers, and the most famous person I have photographed is half of Mark Wahlberg’s face, which is nothing about which to brag.  Then again, there was that Klingon that one time . . . .

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Camera with him always.

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My only regret that evening was that in a room full of DSLRs and at least one Leica (a film M6, at that), all I had was my iPhone 4.  Ironically, the only photographic tool available to me  was the very same device that the aforementioned asshats at the Sun Times callously argues can replace talented photojournalists.  Suffice it to say it definitely felt odd every time I pulled my iPhone out from my pocket.  Nevertheless, I left the Gage Gallery that evening feeling empowered of my own abilities, adding onto the sense of triumph I was already feeling from the reactions I have received for my work on the wedding just days before.  It is a sense of great pride and confidence, something that I had not felt in a while.


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Based on how many cameras were going off that evening, I do not think anyone read the sign.


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A gift from Mr. White to all who attended, a signed print of one favorite photograph.

On Friday the following day, with renewed vigor, I grabbed my street shooter and a few lenses and set out into downtown.  Instead of wandering around looking for “decisive moments,” I had a very particular target in mind: the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue.  Friday was the release day for the new iPhone 6, and I had wanted to document the insanity of it all, similar to when I went out to photograph shoppers on Black Friday back in November.  It still astounds me just how fickle people can be, having the need to possess the latest unnecessary gadget and feeling inferior if they do not.  While I myself am a user of Apple products, and I have and still will speak highly of their quality and industrial Bauhaus design that combines form and function so well, I cannot subscribe to the absurdity of having something just for the sake of social status.  I use Apple products because they work for me and allows for a fluid, harmonious workflow–not for a superficial image, not to showoff to others.  That is why I use a MacBook that is three years old, an Apple Cinema Display that is ten years old, and an iPhone 4 that is four years old.  And I am perfectly happy with using them for years to come, even if my iPhone 4 is deemed “obsolete.”  I prefer, and in fact dare, to “think different.”  (On a side note, unlike the new absurdly large iPhone 6, my comfortably small iPhone 4 is not an ergonomic disaster; that is my own opinion, though.)

While I was satisfied with the photos I took of the frenzy on Friday, I still wanted more.  I fear that we as a society are all too comfortable seeing people wait for hours in long lines just to put something shiny in their pockets (presuming that such a feat is possible with the iPhone 6 Plus).  And so on Saturday, I decided to head to the Apple Store in Lincoln Park.  It just so happened to be raining that day, and despite the downpour, people were still queuing, huddling under umbrellas.  I do have to ask, though, who is the more foolish: the fools standing in the rain waiting for something they do not need, or the fool juggling an umbrella and camera photographing them?

Afterwards, I returned to downtown around Michigan Avenue and took advantage of the scene of people walking around in the rain.  While still fumbling with an umbrella in one hand and camera in the other, I wandered up and down the street looking for interesting subjects, keeping in mind Mr. White’s “three f-words”: faith, focus, and flight.  As usual, the people of this great city never disappoints.

All images © K. Dao Photography 2014, all rights reserved.