Category Archives: old photo assignment

A Russian Assignment

The art of lacquered papier mache´ goes back to the 13th century in China. It eventually came to Russia in the 18th century by way of Japan, Persia, India and western Europe. Today’s miniatures may be found in museums and private collections worldwide.

Generations of skilled Russian miniaturists having worked through the centuries on icon painting shaped the art today known as the Russian lacquered miniature. With the Revolution of 1917 came the decline of hand-painted icons. The skilled artisans turned from sacred themes to the rich heritage of Russian folklore and legend.

Four villages represent four art schools that produce this ancient art each one with a distinctive style. The villages of Palekh, Kholui, Mstera and Fedoskino are northeast or north of Moscow. The beauty of Palekh is known throughout the world for the masterful and inspired work of its artists who’ve carried on the glory of an artistic tradition for five centuries.

In January of 1991 the premier artists representing each of the villages came together in a dimly lit and dusty room in Moscow. They each brought with them their finest works. I joined them along with my client to photograph these wonderful samples of the best of Russian artistic culture. We were to prepare a book that would accompany the American exhibits in New York, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco.

While shooting for two days in the crowded room with the artists, interpreter, client and my Russian assistant it became clear to me that an art cooperative isn’t always so cooperative. In fact, as the days progressed, the conversations got louder and more tempestuous with each artist clamoring to have his work featured. I vividly remember one artist holding one of his boxes in front of my view camera’s lens and trying to remove a competitors box already in place. Either one of those treasures could command a place in one of the world’s finest museums. I was astounded by the egos displayed by each of the artists and even more surprised that we were able to avoid fist fights.

When the shoot was finished we all shared a celebratory meal and exchanged gifts and vigorous hugs. It was a memorable exploration of the warmth of the Russian soul.

About Fisherman and Fish by Vladimir Bushkov, 1990, Palekh Casket

About Fisherman and Fish by Vladimir Bushkov, 1990, Palekh Casket

The Snow Maiden by Nina Lopatina, 1990, Palekh Casket

The Snow Maiden by Nina Lopatina, 1990, Palekh Casket

Russian Troykas by Boris Kukuliyev, 1990, Palekh Casket

Russian Troykas by Boris Kukuliyev, 1990, Palekh Casket

Ruslan and Lyudmila by Alexandr Gelishev, 1990,Palekh Casket

Ruslan and Lyudmila by Alexandr Gelishev, 1990,Palekh Casket

Russian lacquer miniature

Russian lacquer miniature

Lid of Box by Oleg Dukhanin, Palekh

Lid of Box by Oleg Dukhanin, Palekh

 

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Black Eyed Peas

With the Black Eyed Peas’ nomination for a Grammy award this evening it reminded me of a brief meeting with them a few years ago.

Because of my relationship with Ravinia Festival, I was asked by ABC/Disney to photograph two tapings of the Live With Regis and Kelly Show. The show was going to be shot at Ravinia’s pavillion. Although most guests were from Chicago, the Black Eyed Peas were the musical guests for the show.

My job was to document the taping. A few of the photos can be seen here but a more complete gallery can be found on our Facebook Fan page.

Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa



Black Eyed Peas with Regis and Kelly


Gary Sinise with Regis and Kelly


Jessica Biel with Regis and Kelly


Scotty Pippen shoots a basket for Regis and Kelly


WGN's Dean Richards interviews Regis & Kelly between tapings at Ravinia Festival.


Kelly shows her improvisational skills with Second City group.


Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert discuss Chicago's role in film with Regis and Kelly.


Kelly and Regis answer questions from the audience after two tapings.


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The Mojo Man

When I was young I lived in a small town in the deep south. Occasionally my father would walk me down the long, winding path to a back-woods shack that served as the area’s juke joint. As I watched my father dance and drink his troubles away with his friends, it must have presented a funny picture to anyone that cared to look – a four-year-old white boy sitting in the corner watching his dad and a room full of black men & women dancing to a blues band. This may not exactly be Norman Rockwell’s picture of the early 1950’s, but it was my picture.

The reality of this is that I remember very little of it. Although my mother filled in the details many years later, my memories of those occasions were of the music itself.

Even to a four-year old the blues was as seductive as it was sad. In spite of its sad name this predictable and stylized American music form remains for me a source of optimism. I think this is its seduction. Its only purpose is to make people feel good by creating courage from helplessness.

In 1976 – more than twenty years after my juke joint experiences – I revisited the blues as I photographed Muddy Waters at one of his last concerts. He, Pinetop Perkins – currently the oldest performing bluesman at 96 – and their band at the time held a concert in a small park in Water’s hometown of Westmont, Illinois.

Although “The Mojo Man” needed the help of fans and friends to get off the stage after the concert, his voice was strong and clear as he sang most of the songs that made him an inspiration to not only several generations of rock & roll performers, but to a young photographer.

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Muddy Waters


Muddy Waters with his band


Muddy Waters and his band


Pinetop Perkins


Westmont, IL crowd enjoying Muddy Waters and his band


The Mojo Man, Muddy Waters


Muddy Waters' hand and guitar


Muddy Waters


Crowd enjoying Muddy Waters in Westmont, IL


Getting help from friends and fans after Muddy Waters concert


Muddy Waters talks with friends and fans after concert


Holiday Inn


Pinetop Perkins


Also posted in black & white photography, portraits Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A Final Portrait

Not long before he died, Ken Taylor needed a new photograph of himself for a magazine. He apologized for the brevity of our time together and the lack of an “inspired” location – his office.

It was not unlike him to spend our time together worrying about how he should pose. This session, like most with him, was over before he thought it had begun. It was easy to capture images of this truly humble man.

I had photographed him a number of times over the years and I suspected that this would be our last shoot together. I could not feel badly that he didn’t wish to spend more moments of what little time he had having his picture taken.

This particular photo has not been published before and I like it because – although a silhouette – it reveals much about his personality and his life. As the author of the Living Bible he could have been a very proud man. Instead he remains a humble servant in the shadows of the God he represents.

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Ken Taylor

Ken Taylor

Also posted in Bible, black & white photography, portraits Tagged , , , |

A Chicago Minute or Two

By most measures, this is a rather ordinary photograph of an extraordinary orchestra.

The plan was for me to arrive with my equipment during the intermission of a Saturday concert. After their concert I would photograph the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. What could go wrong?

I was told by the Orchestra’s marketing representative that I could do a test shoot at their practice two days before the concert. That way I could adjust the lighting at Orchestra Hall the way I needed it for the shoot. I could also establish my shooting position. I could shoot a few sheets of 4×5 film using the same emulsion batch – and exposure – that I would use for the final shoot. This would allow me to run the film to Gamma Photo Labs, wait for the film to be processed and assess the results.

The test film looked the way I had hoped and allowed me to be confident in the entire process that would be repeated for the real shoot.

Upon arrival at Orchestra Hall I was met by the marketing person who told me that it was imperative that the photo session end at 10:30 P.M. Because of union regulations, each orchestra member left posing for a picture even one second past 10:30 would cost the Orchestra significant overtime fees.

After coordinating our watches to “Orchestra time” we both nervously listened to the remainder of the concert. When it ended at 10:15 I was really getting nervous. I still had to wait for the hall to empty, go to the second floor balcony I had used for the test shoot, position my tripod, focus the camera and take the photos.

With the Hall empty I ran up the two flights of stairs and opened the doors to the balcony. At that moment I summoned the courage to glance at my watch. EXACTLY 10:28. As I adjusted the camera and loaded the first film holder, I shouted out a greeting – and a few orders in the same sentence. I exposed three sheets each of color transparency and negative film. With the last shot I said, “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. We are now finished.” A glance at my watch – and a thumbs up from the marketing person told me that it was exactly 10:30.

Sometimes even the most mundane assignments require meticulous preparation.

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Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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Booo!

Untitled-1

Also posted in black & white photography, experiments, Uncategorized Tagged |

See Rod Run

Rod Blagojevich has always liked to run… running for governor of the state of Illinois, running from cameras, running to cameras. Lately he’s been running from one reality show to another.

Here’s he’s running in the 2006 Fourth of July parade in Wheaton, IL. That’s the first time I saw him run.

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DSC_5798

DSC_5799

See Rod Run

See Rod Run

See Rod Run

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How Were These Done?

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It has been a practice of mine that when a client gives me an assignment, I attempt to give them more than they pay for. If there is time, it’s an opportunity to experiment with something new to offer an option that may surprise the client – hopefully in a positive manner.

Some time ago the creative director of a family magazine asked me to illustrate a story about the frustration that parents of teens feel when they are shut out of their children’s lives.

The AD came up with the concept of photographing a parent standing outside the closed bedroom door of such a teen. Signs were posted on the door to illustrate the level of frustration. A model “mom” was needed to set the scene.

magazine illustration

magazine illustration

To me the concept seemed valid but the challenge was in trying to make it look interesting. I used this as an opportunity to experiment with a lighting technique I had thought about using for some time.

This photo and the ones that follow all use the same technique and tool.  I’ve shot portraits, landscapes and illustrations and products this way as well.

I know that someone – probably a photographer – will write a comment below about exactly how these were done. If not I’ll let you know soon enough, but do know that there are clues in the photos.

Good luck!

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_DSC1213 copy _WKP2763_DSC1262 copy

Also posted in experiments

The Ubiquitous Mr. Kurtis

You never know where Bill Kurtis is going to pop up. Currently he’s everywhere on television doing AT&T ads, cold case stories, news items, and an occasional interview.

For the former television news anchor and documentary film maker, this is nothing new. While he had a full-time news anchor job in the 1970’s and enough side jobs to keep three people busy he always seemed to look for more. Even my brother remembers shooting an industrial film with him in the early ’80s.

A few years ago Ravinia Festival asked me to photograph a family Halloween event on their Highland Park, IL campus. They wanted photos of a couple of guest readers telling and reading scary stories to the children assembled in the darkened Martin Hall.

The dim lights revealed little of the dark figure seated on the stage among skeletons, flying bats and spider webs.  But as he began to read excerpts from Poe’s The Telltale Heart his voice betrayed him.

“… presently I heard a slight groan, and I know it was the groan of mortal terror.”

I almost expected to hear him say at the end, “…and I’m Bill Kurtis.”

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Bill Kurtis

Bill Kurtis

Bill Kurtis

Bill Kurtis

Bill Kurtis at Ravinia

Bill Kurtis at Ravinia

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