Occasional Moments of Brilliance

Photography that is always great, and occasionally brilliant.

Posts from the ‘Culture’ category

New Venue, New Inspiration

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I am excited to announce that I will once again be partnering with TEDxNaperville to photograph this year’s conference. The 2015 speakers and performers are an impressive group including scientists, Olympians, inventors and leaders. I anticipate an exciting challenge as the conference shifts to The Yellow Box in Naperville after several years at another venue. As with previous years, I will be looking for the big brilliant moments, small personal connections and everything in between that make TEDxNaperville an awesome experience. Hope to see you all on November 6!

In the meantime, take a look at some moments from the 2014 conference.

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Cold and Colder

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I’ve had these boots for years. If fact, I bought the same ones again after wearing through the first pair. They’ve been my go to for hiking the mountains around Seoul, rainy season, and winters in a city that doesn’t believe in salting icy walkways. Not to mention having accompanied me on journeys throughout East Asia. Yet somehow, as I walked through the sandy puddles filled with icy slush at North Avenue Beach in Chicago last weekend, I forgot exactly how far up the waterproofing went. I only realized this as the double pair of socks I was wearing absorbed the torrent of cold water that came spilling in through the laces. It was 25 degrees, at 9am.

I had arrived early for the Polar Bear Plunge, which was to benefit Special Olympics Chicago. Each year, hundreds of people raise at least $150 dollars each for the chilly honor of jumping into Lake Michigan, in March. My feet still squished in my boots as giant backhoes made a final pass through to remove the larger chunks of floating ice. Fire department rescue swimmers in orange dry suits marched into the knee-deep water at the edge of the ice field in case anyone needed assistance. Fortunately, the only rescues I saw were of errant flip-flops and costume accessories.

I realized that even without wet socks, I still would’ve been cold despite all my layers. Just then, the first group, representing ComEd ran screaming down the sand. They were followed at 5 minute intervals by group after group, and people of all ages. I began to wonder what brought these people out here. Some in speedos or bikinis, but many in costumes including a team of Care Bears, Darth Vader, a contingent of brain chomping zombies and an assortment of other heroes, super and otherwise. I spoke with one plunger who had lost a bet to his roommate. The loser had to compete in the plunge wearing a costume chosen by the winner. The bet? That the Chicago Cubs would have a good season in 2012. The costume which he described as a “Fuzzy Footed Fox” involved a red adult sized onesie and a pair of giant novelty sunglasses.

One thing that caught my attention during the event was the participant’s expressions. As they made their way down the sand, many seemed tentatively enthusiastic. Others were sheer bravado. Some wore the most serious expressions, as though bracing themselves for the chill. There were a few who appeared genuinely scared. My favorite part was watching those who had jumped into the slush headfirst in the most brave and dramatic fashion emerge moments later stunned and gasping for breath as the water temperature shocked their bodies. Brave faces washed away, now only desiring warmth…and a towel, while I was off to find some dry socks.

From Dragon to Snake

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On a clear, cold Sunday afternoon I made my way to Wentworth Avenue, just south of the Loop in Chicago. I remembered as I walked, the only other time that I’d been to Chinatown. It was years ago. I was breaking in my new to me Mamiya 645AFD and I ended up shooting a couple rolls of Fuji E-6 transparency film. They turned out to be two of the, to date, less than 20 rolls I’ve put through that camera. Today the goal, and my entire perspective was quite different. I was going in to cover the Lunar New Year parade, this time through the lens of my years living in Asia. While in Korea, I often asked my friends about events in Seoul to celebrate the holiday. It turned out that during Seollal as it’s known in Korean, the city turns into a ghost town. There is a mass migration out of the city as families gather in their ancestral homes. It’s a good opportunity to photograph giant subway stations devoid of people, but not much else. This year however, I anticipated an energetic public event.

Known in China as Yuan Tan, Lunar New Year is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The parade was part of 15 days of celebration celebrating the beginning of the year of the water snake. The snake represents the12 year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, and water comes from the five year repeating cycle of elements.

The parade itself was a lively event, and the sidewalks were packed. People cheered loudly for the Chinese themed presentations including beautiful two person lion costumes, fireworks and a long dragon, requiring several people to operate. There were also representatives from several local Chinatown cultural organizations, and seeming a bit out of place, local marching bands and of course Ronald MacDonald. After passing beneath the large archway over Wentworth Ave., the lion performers gathered around the marshall’s stage as the observers flowed in behind them for a brief closing ceremony and some fireworks. I was just looking for the parade staging area when I noticed all of the lion costume performers and a group of musicians leading a crowd down the street.

The lion costumes and dance performance comes from a legend in ancient China where a beast called a ‘nian’ would terrorize, and sometimes consume, villagers. The people soon learned that the color red, loud noises and light would frighten the creature away. Red is now seen as a symbol of good luck for the New Year. In modern times, firecrackers are in abundance and red is seen as a symbol of good luck. Gifts of money are often delivered in red envelopes, red lanterns are hung and good luck wishes are written on red paper.

The lion dancers and their accompanying musicians went through the streets performing for many local businesses. Their routine involved three bows outside, with a further performance inside to bring luck and prosperity in the coming year.