Seventeen in ’17
Shit! 2018 is only hours away . . .
I am just going to stop talking about getting back to regular blogging, because despite my intentions half a year ago, that obviously did not happen as much as I had wanted. Perhaps if I stop forcing the issue, I will return to blogging naturally. Of course, I was told the same about dating, which . . . anyways . . . .
But with 2018 upon us all, I find myself falling into the cliché of reflecting back on the year. In my pondering, I have found to no surprise that it has been a rather eventful year. I have the temperament of a beagle, apparently; easily bored, needing to be active and explore, prone to picking fights with the Red Baron. Whether it was running a 5K with co-workers, jumping into a pool in Mexico with my pants still on at a wedding after-after party in the middle of the night, or touring architectural wonders around the city, I certainly have been living a “strenuous life” in the past 364 days.
In keeping with my friends’ advice of being kinder to myself, I have been focusing more on the good things in my life. One of which is, of course, my passion for photography. I have come to accept the fact that it is an integral component of my being. I used to be self-conscious of being perceived to be “that weird guy who takes a camera wherever he goes,” but no longer. As I had declared in a recent Instagram post:
I am driven to document life, all of it, good or bad, for better or worse. I am a photographer; this is what I do, and I do it very well.
So in keeping with a cliché theme of New Years reflection and social media trends, I present here seventeen photographs that I made this year to illustrate a few notable moments in my life in 2017. These are in no particular order of importance nor entirely inclusive of everything that has happened, but they are worth mentioning, nonetheless.
Two more weddings
I consider myself primarily a street photographer who happens to also document events that includes weddings. Two wedding commissions bookend my 2017; one in the first week of January in West Loop, Chicago, the other in the first week of December a few weeks ago in Cancun, Mexico. I am still in the process of editing the latter, which itself has been an absolute beast of a task, but I am hoping to finish and deliver the final photographs soon.
The Mexico wedding was not just any wedding, however. Asides from the logistical challenges of shooting a destination wedding alone, which involved months of planning, this wedding was significant in that the bride also happens to be one of my closest friends, someone whom I consider to be family. Usually when I travel abroad, I try to make the best of my adventure by pretending to be Indiana Jones and exploring as much as I geographically can and immerse myself with the local scene, but in this particular case, the real adventure was being there to witness and document a
best friend “sister” going on a life adventure of her own with the man she loves. Of course, I still did have some opportunity to experience a bit of an Indiana Jones-like adventure, including seeing a fire show on the beach at night after the rehearsal dinner.
There once was a time that I shied away from photographing protests. Part of the reason was trying to remain politically neutral. I am a moderate and centralist, and I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum. So to keep the peace, I often try to do as Queen Elizabeth II would and abstain from political discussion. Alas, I felt the calling of my lenses. With all of the protests occurring in the past few years in Chicago, it was too hard for me as a professional photographer and an amateur historian to ignore. For a street photographer to stay at home while angry demonstrators are mooning the Trump Tower on a cold February day is like refusing a date with Felicity Jones.
The First Amendment
And from all of the protests I had been photographing spawned an idea for a photo essay that I hope will be my first gallery exhibition: a visual commentary on the First Amendment rights. I have been wanting to show my work at a gallery for some time, playing around with a few ideas. However, after being out at so many protests with a rangefinder camera this year, I have at long last solidified a theme for such an exhibit, one that bridges my photographic passion with my legal career and background. With any hope, 2018 will see my photographs hanging in a gallery in River North.
Looking for trouble
Of course, there are some risks involved in photographing protests, especially being an ardent practitioner of Robert Capa’s method of documenting life: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Admittedly, though, in some instances, it was the adrenaline high I got from the thrill of such risks rather than the drive to document that got me into such dangerous situations. I do not hesitate at all to brag about that time I almost got arrested along with protesters at a “Slut Walk” march in August, being caught right in the middle of shit hitting the fan. That high is rather addictive.
Not all of the conflicts I documented were so polarising and dire, however. It’s not everyday that one is witness to a mock battle between the Sith and Jedi. This was the second year that I met up with participants of the annual “May the Fourth” lightsaber battle flash/freeze mob. I found myself this year diving further into the world of cosplay and somewhat explored the culture behind it by going to C2E2 (Chicago “comic con”) in April dressed up as Dennis Hopper’s character from Apocalypse Now, and in playing dress-up, lived aspects of normal childhood experiences I never had. I had to become an adult to finally have the fun a kid typically would.
I cannot stand the banal and ordinary. Give me the colourful and extraordinary. Having been raised to conform to a dull communal status quo, I have grown to reject social conservatism. I have become a rebel so to speak, and as such, I will throw myself into situations where individuality is celebrated, where difference is embraced as strength. And so, I once again found myself at the annual Chicago Pride Parade in June. I do find it ironic, though, that I would get groped by women on a much higher frequency when there; I just cannot bring myself to disappoint them by letting them know afterwards that I’m actually straight.
A work friend and I got into a debate not long ago about the merits of live music. He believes that for the most part, studio recordings are superior as there are techniques that the musicians and sound engineers can impress into a recording that are otherwise not possible in a live performance. I like to live in the moment, so I find live music to be superior. For me, it is the experience. Yes, my 1987 recording of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is absolutely sublime, but listening to the Grand Park Orchestra’s live performance of it in Millennium Park in August made me actually cry—on both nights that I attended. On the flip side, though, I have had a blast of a time shoving a rangefinder camera into musicians’ faces at dive bars over the summer, being right up front of the stage with speakers inches away from my ears. I had thought about bringing earplugs to such performances, but what’s the point then?
I had quite a few opportunities throughout the year to practice what I see as the most difficult discipline in photography—portraiture. Whether it were commissioned engagement shoots or calavera clad girls at Día de Muertos celebrations, I added substantially to my portrait portfolio this year. Why do I hold portraiture to be so difficult? Because a portrait is not just a visual depiction of a face, but rather an expression of the soul behind said face. That soul is often masked when confronted with a camera, and thus the challenge is how to peel away that mask.
My circle of friends are everything to me. They are the ones who keep me grounded and in check. They are the reason why I do not feel as miserably lonely as I could being as hopelessly perpetually single as I am. This year I added to my circle of friends with a few good and fun people at my day job, something quite surprising to me given my tendency to compartmentalise. I also had the chance to reconnect with some old friends I had not seen in quite some time, including someone from my old pre-med undergraduate days whom I resumed contact recently after a decade-long hiatus.
In non-political matters, I am a man of extremes. I work hard; I play hard. And so, it is not unusual at all to see me with friends at a bar somewhere, a glass of whisky in one hand and a laughing smile on my face. And of course, I make it a habit to carry a camera with me. If my experience with alcohol has taught me anything, it is that things only get more interesting with every round.
Family can get complicated. In June, tragedy struck as my maternal grandmother passed away in New Orleans. I do not deal with death well; it is one of main reasons why I got out of medicine years ago. But from that tragedy came some reconciliation with my cousins, with whom I had less than ideal interactions while growing up long ago. The weekend of the funeral proved to be rather physically exhausting and emotionally polarising; on Saturday morning I served as pallbearer only to immediately afterwards drive my family thirteen hours from New Orleans back to Chicago so that my sister could attend her law school graduation commencement ceremony on Sunday afternoon. Tragedy and triumph all within the span of a few days. I do slightly regret not presenting the diploma to my sister myself as a John Marshall alum, but it was her own moment to shine.
Total Eclipse of the Heart
Eclipses do not happen everyday. While Chicago did not get to experience the totality of the eclipse in August, especially with clouds moving in at the peak 87% coverage, my work friends and I still walked out of our office and experienced as much as we could. A friend and his wife drove downstate to Carbondale where 100% totality occurred got much better photographs of the eclipse than I did, but I will always look at my photos and recall girls around me belting out “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” I should have mustered up the courage to go talk to one of them.
Less is more
For several years, I have spent the second weekend of October roaming around the city geeking out completely over architecture. Architecture fascinates me on many levels. The design of the structures and objects around us affects how we live considerably but rather subtly and subliminally. What little independent studies I have done in architecture and design has itself influenced how I do things now, from my choice of wardrobe to typeface preference.
So I got a tattoo back in April. I plan on getting another one soon. ‘nuf said.
Long live Leica
It can be silly to covet an inanimate material object, but since I taught myself photography over six years ago, there was one camera that was a constant desire: the Leica rangefinder. It is said that many of the most iconic images in history were made with a Leica. It was the tool of legendary street photographers and photojournalists. In the hand of a master, it recorded all aspects of life; peace, war, celebration, tragedy, love, hatred, joy, sorrow. Not that using a Leica will make the rote image quality of my photographs any better, but it allows me to connect with that decisive moment on a closer and purer level. And so, ever since I picked up my 1962 Leica IIIf at Tamarkin Camera back in July, it has been my personal camera of choice whenever possible and feasible, even serving as a third camera during commissioned shoots.
To thine own self be true
I can be rather hard on myself at times. As such, I have gone through life lacking in confidence in myself, prone to falling into bouts of self-loathing and pessimism. Though I may have had a few neurotic moments this year, I can say for the most part that I have made great strides in 2017 to be more confident in my abilities, to be more self-assured, to stand tall and proudly for being who I am. I have much to learn and much to work on still, but I close 2017 being a considerably wiser and more balanced person than I was prior.
Let’s see what 2018 has in store . . .