What's Going On?

My start in photography came way, way back when I landed a part-time job as a reporter at the Ingham County News, a small-circulation weekly in my home town. I was an idealistic student at the time – a journalism major, inspired, like many in those days, by the excellent and serious reporting of the Watergate era. The staff was lean, so taking pictures was part of the job. 

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But I soon found the work wasn’t quite what I expected. I was assigned to mostly human-interest stuff, a guitar-playing foreign exchange student, a first-person report on a cross country skiing school – not exactly hard-hitting news! They even sent me out one day to photograph a wood pile, made “news” by its pun-y sign: “Wood Knot for Sale.” Silly. But real.

I also photographed the wrecks that documented a 3-month stretch when 18 teenagers died in car accidents in and around our small town; and covered the court case of an abused woman who set her own house on fire, husband and all. Sad… but real.

To some it was small potatoes, but the job taught me to dig for – and chronicle – our community's reality. Today, I think it’s more important than ever to seek out what’s real and true – silly, sad, serious, or otherwise. And, photos play a more powerful role than ever in our visual, social culture where it's often hard to know whose reporting to trust.

I’ve lived in Chicago for nearly 40 years now, and reality at the grassroots level still captures my eye. Here are some images I've been collecting as evidence of the good going on in my world.

Whenever I See Your Smiling Face...

If the eyes are windows to the soul, then a face must be the front door. I’m always honored when people invite me in, to photograph their faces for social media profiles, portfolios, or to commemorate personal milestones. But it’s daunting too, in today’s selfie culture, to be asked to capture a personality’s best side with an image that’s better than an iPhone snap. I’ve been working on it....

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And while I’m light years from Annie Leibovitz, I’ve learned one key to capturing effective portraits is to make the shoot an interaction, not a pose-fest. When you find a way to engage people, they relax (a little) … and their true colors light up their faces. Not that it’s easy. I’ve taken many pictures of people's very best fake smiles before finally capturing one that's real. And a relaxed posture helps, but people often need help with what to do with their hands, where to look, and whether to "squinch" or not to "squinch" (that could be a whole 'nother blog!) I’ve also been humbled by harsh shadows and found out the hard way that some camera angles really don’t flatter anyone (regardless of their strength of chin!)  My number one tip for success? Have faith. Chances are good, if you've done your best, there will be at least a couple good shots in the mix….

What else? Diffused natural light is kind, and so are the people who take a chance on me. Here are some of my favorite faces.

Be Wolves...

As many of you know, I’ve been a dedicated soccer mom for more than a dozen years, navigating the ups and downs of girls’ soccer from the adorable days of AYSO U5, through seemingly endless club soccer driving and drama, Olympic development optimism, ID camps, showcase tournaments, and school team city championships (four!) But this year was different.

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My daughter tore her ACL early in the fall, had surgery, and spent 6 months in physical therapy, unable to play. Hoping to be back toward the end of the spring high school season, she supported her Lane Tech Varsity teammates at nearly every practice, meeting, team outing, and game…from the bench. I think I was more impressed by this than by any of the amazing things I’ve seen her do on the field.

What’s this got to do with wolves?

The Lane soccer season began with a team excursion to the Goodman Theater for the award-winning stage drama about girls’ soccer, “The Wolves.” The Chicago Tribune called the show “an honest and sympathetic study of what it feels like to be an adolescent girl. Living and moving in a pack.” Wounded but no less fierce, my daughter supported her pack. And they supported her, keeping her close in their midst while she was "weak."

On the other end of the season, which culminated in a fourth consecutive city championship for Lane’s Varsity, soccer superstar Abby Wambach urged the women of Barnard’s 2018 graduating class to be the wolves. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” she said. “We will not ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ our way through life. We will unite our pack, storm the valley together, and change the whole bloody system.”

Instead of goalkeeper, my girl became pep squad, videographer, and on-the-bench counselor this year … she was a total wolf! Here are a few of my photos from the season.

Neighborhoods Project, Part 2

While my exploration of Chicago’s neighborhoods will likely go on as long as I can lift a camera, Women in Focus/Chicago’s exhibition of photos from our 12-month adventure in 12 Chicago neighborhoods closed on Friday. If you came out to the Hairpin Arts Center to see the show, thank you! If you didn’t, stay tuned: we’re planning to turn up again soon in a neighborhood near you!

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The Chicago Neighborhoods Project is the culmination of a year of work by WIF photographers who visited a different neighborhood each month, capturing thousands of images representing the people, sights, and culture of Bronzeville, Chinatown, Downtown, Historic Pullman, Hyde Park, Lincoln Park and the Lakefront, Logan Square, Pilsen, Rogers Park, Uptown, the West Loop, and Wicker Park.

Curated by Richard Cahan and Charles Osgood, two well-known experts on both photography and Chicago neighborhoods, the full show made its debut at Hairpin, following a preview exhibit at Café SelMarie in summer 2017 and inclusion of select works in Jackson Junge Gallery’s “In the ‘Hood” show over the 2017 holiday season. The full project includes 74 archival fine art photographs, representing each of the 12 neighborhoods with 5-7 photographs. Here are my contributions:
 

Exploring Chicago's Neighborhoods

In June 2016, a group of mostly white, mostly middle-aged female photographers embarked on an ambitious project: to photograph a different iconic Chicago neighborhood each month for a full year. The project was a visual adventure, an introduction to new friends, a love affair with our beautiful city, and an investigation of lives beyond our own, dramatically underscoring the pros and cons of gentrification. For me, it may never end!

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The twelve-month trek took me to places I’d been many times but hadn’t really seen at all. And, while I’ve lived in Chicago more than 30 years, it exposed me to the extremes of wealth and poverty in our city, well beyond my own experience. It opened my eyes to work to be done….

After a year, our group – Women in Focus/Chicago – shifted gears to cull through the 1000s of photos we shot in preparation for a series of public exhibitions. The first full show of the work, featuring 72 shots as curated by Chicago photography experts Rich Cahan and Chuck Osgood, opens Friday, April 13, from 7 – 10 p.m. at The Hairpin Arts Center. Here’s a selection of my shots that didn’t make the cut. You’ll have to come to the show to see my best!

I've Got a Basketball Jones

I never played basketball. While athletic and somewhat tall, I was a pre-Title 9 kid. When the law passed to empower female athletes, I was too busy juggling school and my job as a shoe store “handbag girl” to try out for my high school team. No regrets, really. I’m still very good at finding just the right handbag for any pair of shoes. But sometimes I wonder what might have been….

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Instead, I have been an avid fan of the sport for as long as I can remember. Beyond avid. I have many fond childhood memories of watching Michigan State games with my dad in thunderously loud Jenison Field House, well before the Spartans entered the Izzone. And when I was a student at MSU, another local kid (Earvin Johnson) fueled my addiction to the game all the way to an NCAA championship. Moving to Chicago after college, I became a Bulls fan just in time to root for Artis Gilmore for a couple seasons, and later, to celebrate six national championships. I marveled at Michael, studied Tex Winter’s triangle offense, and practiced the zen of Phil Jackson. I even dated a high school coach and married an FOA (friend of Artis.)

But all of that is background. When my daughter started playing basketball in third grade, I began my own training as a basketball photographer, harnessing all that pent-up enthusiasm. I know what you’re thinking: crazy sports mom. But I did the hard work. Basketball is not an easy sport to shoot. Most gyms are dingy and dark, with widely spaced fluorescent lights. The action is fast, and there always seems to be a ref in my line of sight. I persisted. And although my daughter isn’t playing this year, I’m still at it.
If Jordan missed more than 9,000 shots in his career, I’m probably close to that already. But like Mike, through failure I succeed. Here’s a quick chronology:

What Democracy Looks Like

On January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration, I joined 250,000 people marching in downtown Chicago – and hundreds of thousands of people around the world – to give voice to a variety of issues in danger of being overlooked or subverted by the new regime in Washington. Women’s rights, gay rights, human rights, black lives, religious freedom, immigration, freedom of the press, healthcare, gun safety, global warming, education… these are not solely women’s concerns. They’re issues with the potential to impact every man, woman, child, animal, and plant on our planet. They are worthy of our defense.

It was a beautiful day, and heart-warming, as mothers and daughters, sisters, friends, husbands, and brothers came together in peaceful solidarity against campaign promises about to become real. Armed with thousands of colorful signs making the case for each cause, the marchers challenged our leaders to listen and truly represent. The moment was optimistic, and has already inspired more people to action in response to a new POTUS than any other time in history. Here are some of my favorite shots from that day.

What’s In a Name?

I had no idea how difficult it would be to name my own photography business. Many photographers just use their own names, maybe tacking on “Photography” or “Studios” at the end. But I couldn’t do that – every imaginable URL featuring my name was in use by another photographer somewhere.  Even my grandmothers’ names were already taken! There are a lot of photographers out there…

And anyway, I wanted something better, a name that would make the marketer in me proud. So I embraced the quest like a high-end consultant: creative brief, market research, competitive analysis, brand architecture, soul searching, word association, six hats thinking, literature search, more brainstorming, crowdsourcing…. I explored every possible strategic and creative avenue, and came up with what seemed to be the perfect name! Mission accomplished, I unleashed one of the best graphic designers I know. 

The next day, a brew pub opened in the heart of my carefully-staked-out market with that very name. Arghhh. I went in for a pale ale. And back to the drawing board. 

The struggle was worth it. Pivot Photography emerged as the name, and I think it's even better than a brew pub. 

Pivot may be memorable because it makes fans of old “Friends” reruns scream “Pivot, pivot, pivot” on cue; or because it resurrects a hope that our Twitter-happy leader will make a rational and moral “pivot” a bit to the left. Or, maybe Pivot will be sticky because everyone knows I love basketball; or because photography is a new direction in my career. If these are the reasons, great. But they weren’t intentional. 

For me, Pivot is the perfect name because it reminds me every day what a great photo is and does. Photography captures vital moments, establishes connections, and causes shifts in thinking. It is pivotal. 

Company name? Check. Next challenge: work hard to produce photos that live up to the name. 

Someday

I moved to Chicago in 1979, after growing up with Ernie Harwell on the radio and a once-a-year visit to Tiger Stadium – usually on free bat day. It took a while for Cubs fever to strike, but when it did, I got it bad. Delirious highs, devastating lows. Carefree day games in bleacher seats, celebratory nights haunting the watering holes at all four corners of the ballpark. 

By 1984, I was a diehard and was crushed to the core when Steve Garvey’s thick forearms stole our show. I hung in, through a Cub-filled courtship, scorecard training, and many sunny Saturdays in Section 242. I was there to see the first night game rained out, and back again the next night to revel under the lights.

As more years went by, I entertained clients in the box seats, cursed that poor guy Bartman, hugged my soul mate and danced with our beautiful daughters way down the left field line. Like every other fan, I willingly traveled the long and treacherous road that led to this year’s triumph for the World Champion Chicago Cubs. Long may they reign (and not suck!) 

Here is a smattering of Wrigleyville photos taken on the morning of World Series Game 3. Holy cow, someday actually arrived. Can’t wait until next year!

Philadelphia Story

What did you do on your summer vacation? We went to Philadelphia on the day after the 2016 Democratic Convention. The mood was upbeat, the streets luminous with a red, white and blue afterglow and a palpable sense of history in the making. We were #WithHer and we weren’t worried as we set out as a family to retrace the streets of my husband’s boyhood. We bought a collectible campaign button featuring a porcelain throne (for our friend Cole), and posed in front of the bunting.

We weren’t on a political mission, but it wasn’t a totally tourist-y trip either. We visited the Liberty Bell, walked the boardwalk along Front Street and toured the Ben Franklin Museum. But we were more interested in grittier things like Girard College, the orphanage where Dave spent kindergarten through 8th grade, and the Eastern State Penitentiary (which he managed to avoid!), now offering historical tours. Our two city girls loved the cobblestoned back streets, freedom to wander, the Italian food and friendly Uber drivers. Looking back now, I wish we had knocked on doors, argued Her case, taught our girls to take action. We didn’t. Lesson learned. But here’s what we saw….

R.I.P., Jazz Record Mart

When you’re married to a musician, you find yourself a great record store and become a frequent shopper. It takes the stress out of anniversaries and birthdays and makes the yuletide merry, all while feeding your own selfish soul. That’s why I was so devastated at the demise of Jazz Record Mart, a Chicago institution. It’s gone, gone, gone, and I’m singin' the blues.