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Learning: when your life gets to be like constantly studying for a final exam. In math.

What's that like for person with a brain that is heavily unbalanced towards the right side? Here. Upon coming across the one math course I took undergrad, "Math as a Human Endeavor" I thought, "Hell yes! This is going to be the easiest math class ever!" and I signed up. No. Two grades of equal weight: a midterm and a final. 200 students in a lecture hall. One not-so-easy-to-understand professor who insisted it was easy. One math term I will never forget: olive-knot?! I have no idea how to spell it. I have asked my math teacher friends about it; I have googled it. It's like I have made it up, like it never existed! So I took the midterm. I tried. I cried a little. I wrote, "I DON'T GET IT!" across the front and turned it in. I was devastated. I had never earned below a B in any class. Ever. So I studied like heck for the final and earned an A. I have no idea how. And then that nice, nice, professor allowed me to write a paper about a mathematician. I ended up with a B. Moral of the story: writing is important! Ha! YES for writing! 

But I know learning is good. And it's a damn good thing that I have always loved to learn about a huge variety of things. 

I know I would not have an abnormally high knowledge of state capitals, weird facts about how different countries bury their dead, Native American Mythology (wolves are important), MLA Citation rules, on which page and in what paragraph Mrs. Dubose tells Scout she is a "dirty little girl" in To Kill a Mockingbird, where the Shameless house is located (thanks, kids!), how to do an image transfer 10 different ways for 10 different effects, and strangely enough with music: a song, the artist, the grade I was in, year it was, how old I was, and parts of the music video when a majority of the songs in my lifetime came out.  I have to try two favorites.

Example 1:  "You Might Think" by the Cars:  5, 1984, preschool. I remember a huge fly in the likeness of Ric Ocasek buzzing around a very 1980's colorful and cheesy setting while bothering a woman I assume he liked. I think maybe there was driving a car involved too. Or that could be the album cover they had with "My Best Friend's Girl" on it. Or maybe because they are the Cars? I guess I'll find out. But for sure, the fly.

Example 2: "Under the Bridge" by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. 11, 1991?, 6th grade. I loved, loved this song! Still do. Anyway, I remember Anthony Keidas never wearing a shirt, but that was ok because he was buff and had a nice tattoo.  I also remember him sprinting towards the camera and thinking, "Man, he's fast!" I remember Flea under a graffiti bridge that looks a lot alike one I have a picture of myself. I also remember a winter hat I wanted! 

Hopefully I'm right about these. I don't know for sure. I didn't cheat and I haven't seen these videos in years. Is there anyone else out there that can do this like I can? Had to do it to test myself. I'll look later. Sorry. So. To the things I've been studying and learning: 

Learning Goal #1: Uncertainty

Recent learning has all been about advancing in what has now definitely become my second career and something I'm in love with, photography. I've been doing a lot of research lately, different types of shooting, making contacts where I can, and trying to plan what needs to be done. I've always been a planner, and for some reason I can't plan this, so it's been driving me nuts. This means NO SET PLAN. I have always been a risk-taker, but I have always liked to have some kind of plan, too. This is different, and when you're at an age where you think you should probably have more figured out and you don't, it can't be unsettling. That's where this idea of uncertainty comes in. Maybe it's not such a bad thing. I recently read a part of a book that claimed uncertainty is actually a good thing. I think I'm with that. I think uncertainty actually drives a person who wants success as long as that person doesn't get so scared they end up stopping and getting too comfortable. No idea if that makes sense. Instead of fighting it, I'm doing my best to accept it and maybe actually welcome it someday. When I'm like 80 probably. One simple idea that I remember from that book is true: "The only thing we know is that we know nothing."  Nothing is guaranteed. 

Learning Goal #2: Setting up a studio and preparing for an intern

Studio 204D: Soon to be finished! Come on April 28th!

I'm finally into a studio at Starline Gallery, sharing one with my wonderful friend, Peggy Gannon. She's an amazing artist. We will be open for the first time during this month's 4th Fridays, April 28th. We want to pack our new place. So come! We are excited. But setting up a studio is not easy. No, it's not even closeti done.  But it will be soon. Plus I have also agreed to take an intern who is majoring in fine art this summer at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. She seems creative and great. But it will be a learning experience. I think we'll both learn a lot.

Learning Goal #3: Fashion, which is funny considering I am all about comfort

I love this coat. This one is a flip coat. It can be worn one way so that it is shorter in length, but flip it upside down and it can be worn so that it is longer in length. Crazy!

Also, I'm studying up on fashion from Pinterest to find and look at the work of the best fashion photographers I can around Chicago and the rest of the world, tearing out pages of both American and European fashion magazines, looking through books of designer art, finding models, and collaborating with many different people.  I have learned so much about fashion as an art. It's fascinating what concepts designers come up with and their creative processes associated with them. I'm blown away by the ideas one creative designer I've been lucky enough to get to know. I often ask, "How did you come up with this?" Her answer is amazingly similar to how and when I come up with stuff: when I'm really not thinking about it - running, in the shower, sleeping, etc.  Plus it is intriguing and almost comforting to hear about what someone has to do vs. what she really wants to do.  I've only thought about fashion photography a couple of times: when other photographers have mentioned I should try it. I think I might actually love it.

Lesson 4: Dealing with Discomfort

Speaking of new people, I have had to meet and speak with many new people about new and important stuff: opportunities, critiques, budgeting, second shooters, lighting, taxes, travel expenses, running a small business, having access to things I need at the time, "how to" questions … you get it. That's always been hard for me. Can I do it? Yes. Do I like to? Umm, yes and no. I have terrible anxiety at first, for weeks if I know something is coming up. The good news is that it fades once in action.  Contrary to popular belief, I am not an extrovert. I think I am an introvert who can demonstrate extroverted qualities at times. But I always need time to recharge or I'm in for a whole lot of trouble. "But you're a teacher!" Yeah, I know. Teaching students is different than meeting with potential clients or pitching ideas to a roomful of people when you've never had that experience before!

Lesson 5: Being grateful and learning from others (if you listen. Note to self: fricking listen!)

I have always felt great appreciation to people in my life, and I have tried to express it. But I have learned a ton about people in general, and I need to say thank you to the few people I contacted through email, messaging, or personally because all of you are very busy and very successful people who have been generous with your time and answers/suggestions when you could have easily told me you were too busy to help. It helps me so much to have some information before I make major decisions. I'd love to thank specific people for making even just a little time for me, but I'll feel like a jerk when I forget someone, but everything has helped in some way. Reaching out and asking is the hard part. I have never liked to ask for help, but I also never give up just because it's not easy. What is there to lose? You never know until you ask. I started realizing this the last few years when I finally found enough courage to ask, and I wish I would have understood earlier.

Wish me luck. I'm heading downtown and it's an important day. Step 2 in probably what will be a long process. I'm going to have to pull some of this learning together and apply it the best I can. I am a little bit nervous, but I feel confident, and that's what learning does for me: it makes me feel like I can talk without sounding like a complete idiot. Mostly. Because I will spill or trip or break a glass at some point that day. I like to call THAT charm. 

Charming, yes?

Charming, yes?

Abandoned Factory Tour: Acme Coke Plant, Chicago. 2.26.17

Another place I have wanted to explore for a long time crossed off the list.

Panoramic view of the ovens and coal tower with Matthew, Nate, Aubrey, and Peggy. This gives an idea of the massive size of those ovens.

At the end of last month some of my daring photographer friends and I finally made it to the South Deering neighborhood of Chicago to explore what used to be the enormous Acme Coke and Steel Plant.  Thanks Matthew, Peggy, Nate, and Aubrey for a great day.

Coking, in case you are wondering, is the baking of coal in huge ovens and turning it into a cleaner and more efficient fuel used in old huge blast furnaces. Many of these furnaces were lined up along Lake Michigan but are now demolished; according to information I found, only one is still in operation at U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana. This area of the city was known for its steel production for most of the 20th century, and this particular plant opened in 1905. According to substreet.org, by 1909, the Acme Coke Plant spanned over 100 acres and had over 100,000 square feet of factory space.  In 2001 the factory closed for good, although it was saved for a short while in 2004 by the Calumet Heritage Partnership and provided them with enough time for them to collect historical artifacts, documents, and etc. for a museum. It was later mostly demolished, and what remains is what we got to see.

I'm sure the grounds are filled with lead, asbestos, mold,  coal (all over the place), and all other kinds of bad stuff, but seeing the grounds, going into some buildings, climbing part of the coal tower (it was way too windy to climb to the top for Nate, Matt, and me - a rare decision based on what we thought would be safe - see I'm not that crazy), seeing the ovens, finding old documents from as far back as the 1950's, and walking the grounds was interesting and worth the time and effort it took to get there. 

Proof that I was the chicken thanks to Aubrey. Yep, that's me cowering in the corner on the far right, not even standing.

First, we had to walk through some of the old buildings. It's crazy what is left behind. So many boots, hard hats, pairs of goggles, gloves and other items workers had used.

As we walked towards the coal tower and the coke ovens, which were what I really wanted to see, we saw what a wasteland the property had become.  We saw trash, of course, but also clothes, boots, a burned up truck, and half-standing buildings.

From previously seen pictures, I pictured the ovens and tower as taking up some space but not really tall and huge, like they were. The first set of ovens reminded me of tall ancient Roman ruins, except instead of white they were burned into colorful brick. The second set of ovens looked were shorter, but just as colorful. And even though it was a bright, sunny day, it was very cold and windy, so windy that it took me a good ten minutes to stand up on a platform  to look out over the grounds after climbing partially up the coal tower. Getting up there was hard enough - stepping on beams and sliding up through narrow slats until making it to the platform, but the wind was almost too much. I was afraid  to put my camera bag down. We found the yellow outer stairway leading to the very top of the tower, but Matthew, Nate, and I unfortunately and rarely decided it was too dangerous to climb to the top. See. I'm not as crazy as you think. Getting to the platform was good enough. 

Interesting, worth it, another good place to explore and photograph, and another part of history that could soon be forgotten. Thanks for a good day you guys, and thanks for the logistics, Matthew! 

 

Aubrey, Peggy, Nate, and Matthew around some of the grounds.

For more information on this factory, there are a bunch of places to check out, but here are a couple of good ones.

http://substreet.org/acme-coke/
http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/pshs02

Urban Exploring Adventure. Location: Southside of Chicago. 1.3.17

I obviously go exploring a lot, but not too often to huge factories on a planned trip with other people. Those adventures are pretty rare, but I had one on Tuesday, and it was a good one. Originally we were supposed to go on that really cold Sunday a few weeks ago, but none of us wanted to be outside for 5 hours in -14 degree real temperatures, so it was rescheduled for the 3rd. I finally got to meet Matthew (aka Steadlens) from Instagram; we have been messaging about places for a long time, and Jessi and Carolyn, two other photographers who love shooting and exploring also came with. Small groups are the best groups. Anyway, we pulled it off without a hitch (that's what good research does - thanks Matthew!) and it ended up being a great place. It  was a huge factory that used to manufacture mining locomotives but was then used to make parade floats and store them. Unfortunately, there was a recent fire, and a lot of the floats burned. Not all though. Pretty crazy. Actually, part of the intrigue for me besides the history is what gets left behind. I really don't understand it or what happens to it, and there is so much out there. This little hobby that turned into an all out obsession, and basically a second career of mine, has really opened my eyes to a lot of things I never thought about before. Another interesting part of going on "field trips" like this with other photographers is how everyone comes up with different shots of either the same thing or of things others missed. It always starts and ends the same way: we go find a way in together, walk around and ooh and ahh a bit, make sure it's an okay place to stay, and then become distracted with the things we find interesting individually. Then we usually end up on our own, and we don't even talk. It's funny. It's just about dead silent because everyone is so focused at first. For example, I was alone for about two hours by myself in there yesterday, but then we ended up finding each other in the same spot, which always happens and surprises me because usually we get there in different ways, and the buildings are huge.  So, here's some of what I came up with from yesterday's trip:

These first few are how we had to get to the property we were looking for. Much easier than expected. Just had to get to the back of the building somehow.

The next few images are what we saw as we walked closer: the place, up close to our destination, the now defunct railroad tracks that go through the entire ground floor of the building, and the only way to get in and out.

After we got in, this was where we stuck together and did the holy cow this is awesome thing! These were all taken on the first floor, before we got stuck on our individual journeys. By the way, the gears taken in these pictures were the so BIG. They were taller than me, and by a lot. 

And now for some of the rest of what I have: a combination of what I found when alone and what I took when we found each other. The only scary thing that happened to me all day was that a disgusting, small dog-sized sewer rat jumped out in front of me in the dark area you'll see. There was water in there, and that's the only time I really screamed. All I can think about is how it looked at me and about its long, gross tail. Eww. 

So that'll be it for me for awhile, as far as taking a major field trip like this. I'm wiped out, and that's because I am old and don't think or feel like I am, so I always overdo it! The next shoot will be before school starts back up, and that will be one more for the Yellow Glove Series, and I have  to say I'm really excited about it and where it will take place!