The gritty and storied streets of Chicago are only five hours away, by car and train, from our front door. Yet, it’s on the extreme other end of the spectrum as far as worlds go. Grit, characters, flashing lights, buildings—so many tall, beautiful buildings—honking and life.
Steam and smoke rise out of nowhere and everywhere. Then through it all people emerge wearing fashions that are 10 years away or more from our small town. It’s a lot to take in at first and it’s my favorite part about emerging from Union Station after we’ve exited our train and begin making our way to our downtown hotel.
It takes a second to process everything going on. It’s impossible to be a visitor and walk through downtown Chicago and without thinking about the history, the history that’s as thick and heavy as the steel you’re surrounded by.
A Photographer’s Playground
Chicago is a photographer’s dream come true. A person could spend a lifetime photographing the streets. The city was inspiring and influential for photo greats like Vivian Maier and Gordon Parks, to name only a couple. More importantly though, it’s been a city that has provided subject matter and creativity to countless artists who aren’t household names but are simply out there, on and in the streets, making amazing art.
That’s where you and me come in. A city like Chicago gets into your senses and that fuels creativity. Every block, street corner and foot of sidewalk can offer infinite possibilities for which to create. I enjoy watching a scene unfold before me, only have that scene change seconds later into something else.
Going to Get Coffee, Yet Still Photographing
One morning, I was leaving our hotel to get coffee. My camera was at my side and it was early. The light was beautifully subdued with some haze overhead. It was quiet on the streets and that’s about the only similarity to back home: early morning quiet streets.
Up ahead I saw a sign with the word ‘Park’ on it, in neon lights, in two spots. I made an image and moved on. Sometimes it’s nice to take the time to thoughtfully composes an image; sometimes though, it’s nice to follow your stream of consciousness, make an image, and move on.
This is going to maybe be different for you but there’s a sweet spot I’ve been discovering lately while making photos. It’s a spot that involves not thinking too much or too little about a picture, but right in between. It’s just something I’ve been paying attention to.
When we returned home and I received my 35mm film from the lab, I was excited, as always, to see how the photos turned out.
Once the photo of the parking-garage sign and street scene turned up, I was so glad I made the image. The light and neon had a classic, yet timeless feel. This wasn’t for a story so I didn’t have any editors to impress, it was only for me, which felt freeing.
I’m telling you this because there are some tips I have
One: I wouldn’t have been able to make this image without a camera on me. I could’ve walked out onto the streets and simply not wanted to be bothered with carrying a camera. If that was the case, there wouldn’t have been photos. It sounds simple but if you forget a camera even for a moment, you may miss out on an amazing photographic opportunity.
The joke that’s not a joke is that if you don’t have a camera, amazing things will happen. Don’t test this theory because it’s true, and you don’t want to miss out on photographic possibilities.
Two: Try to not overthink photography. It’s too easy to get in our own way of many things in life, photography included. Make the attempt to let go of internal dialogue because that an tend to obstruct or slow your process and decisions. I say this because I’ve done it and it’s an ongoing practice to not do it. Like anything, the more you practice at it, the better you’ll get.
Three: For an experiment, work on one image at a time. I used to get worked up thinking about all the photographic possibilities that lie ahead. This becomes overwhelming and can cloud the brain. If you take the opposite approach and only think about photography as one image at a time, you’ll find that at the end of your excursion, you’ll have a nice body of work.
But, this works better if you’re doing street photography or simply making images for the fun and fulfillment of making images. If you’re working on a photo story of any kind, you’ll find it’s the other way around. For stories it’s important to think about all your photos and how they work with one another.
These are some thoughts I had as I reviewed some of my photos in Chicago. You can apply these suggestions to wherever you are though, so I hope you’re able to utilize some of these ideas and maybe even use them to form some better ones along your photographic journey.