Landmark Anchors

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Visitors walk beneath the Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis, Mo., Thursday, July 21, 2016.

Being born and raised just a stone’s throw from downtown Chicago, the iconic Sears Tower has always been a visual anchor of home on the horizon. If I may, before expounding any further, I will acknowledge that I just incorrectly referred to it as the Sears Tower. For, you see, there is only one person I’ll refer to as Willis, and his brother’s name was Arnold.

With my college education occurring just blocks from this stately edifice, I’ve seen her in just about every iteration one can imagine. I’ve seen her after she’s just opened her eyes, with her honey-splashed bronze windows squinting into the morning sun. I’ve seen her shivering in the dead of winter, with cotton candy clouds rising from between her twin ivory spires to fly with the “hawk” before melting into heaven. I’ve photographed her drenched, crying and screaming, waging a lofty melee with lighting bolts and biting gales. At times, I’ve watched as she’s softly slipped away from me almost entirely–all but her legs curling up shyly under velvety blankets of Lake Michigan autumn fog.

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A Gateway Arch stencil along the sidewalk.

The more I’ve traveled across our great planet, the more I’ve realized that everyone has their landmark anchor that keeps “home” from slipping too far adrift. For New Yorkers, it’s the Empire State Building. The Washington Monument nods a welcome to those returning to the “DMV,” and the Eiffel Tower calls, “C’est la vie” to Parisians in love. For St. Louis, The Gateway Arch is without question what yells forth, “You’re here” to lifelong residents and visiting travelers alike as they wrap their journeys.

There is no mistaking the Gateway Arch, no matter what light she’s present in when you first see her. We’ve met on five visits so far, and like the Sears Tower back home, she’s quite particular about her performance on a given day. She might appear as a grey, muted hump on a muggy horizon, draped in humid curtains thrown down from a blistering white Midwest sun. Other days, she might have stage fright, hiding all but a glimpse of her curves between downtown building walls. When she’s ready for the show, however, she’s sterling and bright! Sweeping up and down easy and free against a cobalt blue sky backdrop, her cast-mate visitors smile from ear-to-ear down below as their selfie-stick memories are sealed on her stage.

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Pedestrians walk past a reflection of the Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse.

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A blimp flies in the sky above the Gateway Arch.

For those not adverse to a bit of claustrophobia and vertigo, a trip to the top of the arch offers an unparalleled view. Those camera-toting strangers you glanced at earlier? They’re now your old friends as you press together leg to leg, shoulder to shoulder, inside near-miniature, five passenger tram cars. On the four minute trip up, the cars occasionally send a pang of terror through your soul, teasing your sense of safety as they lurch to and fro while self-leveling to compensate for the arch’s catenary curve.

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Visitors show their trepidation as they ride the north tram to the top of the Gateway Arch.

Once at the top, the cozy observation deck stretches forth ahead of you, with sixteen slits for windows (oft smudged with face prints from excited children) on each side offering glimpses of life east and west. I was delighted that the floor of the observation deck isn’t flat, but rather, follows the curve at the top of the arch–you truly get to enjoy the sensation of walking over the crest of this beautiful form at 630 feet up!

As my career begins to take more and more of a foothold beyond the familiar bounds of Chicago, I’m glad that I’ve started to strike up a relationship with some different landmark anchors across the world. Sure, some might be pensive at first. Some may not want to see me until I seek them out (thanks, Google Maps). Some are waiting with open arms for my arrival (“Big Ben” – we’re cool). No matter what the landmark, however, they’ve all helped in making my time on the road feel a little less lonely, and a lot more like home.

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Visitors on the observation deck at the Gateway Arch.

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A helicopter prepares to land along the Mississippi River below the Gateway Arch.

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Visitors peer through the windows on the observation deck.

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Visitors exit the north tram after descending from the top of the Gateway Arch.

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Detail of a weld on the Gateway Arch.

Posted in Photography, Photojournalism, Travel on July 22nd, 2016. No Comments.

David Sudler’s Chicago Igloo

001_igloochicago_010716David Sudler of Chicago works to fill the gaps between blocks of ice on the igloo he constructed on a median on Wacker Dr. at Columbus Dr. in downtown Chicago, early Thursday, January 7, 2016. Sudler, who resides in a high-rise near the intersection, is a retired boilermaker.

The Chicago media was abuzz today with an unusual tale of an igloo that seemingly sprouted up out of nowhere on a median on Wacker Drive. While it was first thought to have been constructed by a homeless person, it turned out that a retired boilermaker and local resident, David Sudler, was the craftsman of the wintery abode. Always a fan of the odd and out-of-place, I decided to take a quick drive up to the city and see / photograph the igloo for myself.

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Posted in Photography, Photojournalism, Thoughts On Life on January 7th, 2016. No Comments.

A New Understanding: 2015 Retrospective

01_guypoy2015_122915Mammatus clouds in the sky over St. Nicholas Church in East Chicago, Ind., following a thunderstorm, Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Mammatus clouds are formed by cool air sinking rapidly from the upper atmosphere.

For the past several years, whenever I’ve sat down to begin selecting my favorite images for this year-end blog, I’ve gotten an overwhelming feeling of worry. I’ve always second-guessed whether I’ve shot enough things throughout the year that stand out enough to be featured together in a best-of collection. Typically, my worries go unfounded, and I’m left struggling to narrow down 50 or more of my favorite images to a palatable selection.

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Floating Aloft

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Sergeant Chris Clark (right) and Sergeant First Class Teigh Statler with the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team jump from the team’s Fokker C-31A aircraft over Lake Michigan during their performance in the 2015 Gary Air Show in Gary, Ind., Saturday, July 11, 2015.

As the U.S. Army Golden Knight’s Fokker C-31A aircraft became light on its wheels and floated aloft from runway 12 at the Gary Chicago Airport, the team of skilled aerial performers seated ahead of me in the plane performed their ritual of donning their helmets in unison. It’s a ritual I’ve had the privilege of photographing each year since 2006 that the team has performed in Gary, Indiana, and I was thrilled to be back in the air for another opportunity. While theatrical lighting work this weekend prevented me from photographing and enjoying the air show as thoroughly as I typically would have, I was thankful to have a small portion of my schedule free to cover one of the Golden Knights’ morning jumps in this year’s 2015 Gary Air Show.

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Posted in Aviation, Photography, Photojournalism on July 12th, 2015. No Comments.