On being MIA (missing in action)

This is actually a repost and edit of something I shared some time ago. I had been MIA, missing in action….but not without my camera. With moving into a new house and renovating it, an incredibly intense job as the North American Distribution Manager for the company I work for, and family stuff which included some travel; I am reminded that I haven’t posted more than a single image or two since February.

In today’s world of social media and blogging, the act of posting things, images and words that are so much a part of our lives, some times the act itself becomes a burden….a task….an annoyance….or possibly an over site….or in this case an “under site”……

As a photographer I look at everything I see and evaluate it as a potential image. I look at the light and the form, or the faces, and talk to myself about the story they tell. That process never stops with me. I always look at things and always with a “critical photographical eye.” I cringe at the thought of how many images I have walked past, driven by, really not capable of forgetting the shot that got away. I could have been a fisherman with that attitude.

There are times in my business travels I may see something amazing, but due to the necessity of being somewhere on time, I keep driving. Or those family moments when you had to run out the door to pick someone up, take someone here or there, or you simply forgot to grab the camera bag.

My father used to shoot 35mm film like many of us, but he always had a Kodak Instamatic buried in his car for those moments when he forgot his Kodak Retina, his favorite camera of choice. Oddly, we all have cell phones today, and we take pictures with them, but I bet that Instamatic took better images than the iPhone or Android of today. I must make a mental note to add a camera to my car trunk accessories……one that I won’t shed a tear over if it gets dusty or wet or stollen.

Two years ago this August my wife and I began following a band. My wife was friends with one of the band members and naturally I took my camera to a gig. Eventually I became their sort of unofficial photographer. I posted a few of my pictures of them on Facebook. As time went on, gig after gig they looked forward to my postings on Facebook and seeing the images. In some way I became their official photographer….unofficially.

Pete Special, their amazing leader and singer, who previously lead the group “Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows” and then went on to play with the remaining members of  “The Band”, Levon Helm and Rick Danko, after Robbie Robertson’s departure, asked me to do a photo shoot. I was delighted and nervous. I was a candid street photographer, an image “gatherer” of everything from landscapes to city street scenes and people. I’d never done this before, and Pete wanted to use the images from the photo shoot for promotions, posters and such. My wife and I  were becoming fast friends with Pete and his wife through our friend David the drummer. I hoped the friendship nature of it all, would offer some understanding, if I failed to create the types of images he wanted.

In late February 2014 I gathered with Pete and his band for the photo shoot. Everything was easy. What was I thinking and why would I worry about anything involving these guys. I took a number of images and combinations, and different locations within the bar that we used as the setting.  One image was used for a promo piece, It felt amazing.

Over the next couple of months I went to gigs and shot pictures, drank a little too much whiskey and had an amazing amount of fun. The music was incredible, I’ll have to add a few links or audio files to this blog to set the tone. But the photography was always my first passion with the guys, the facial expressions and nuances, all seen through the lens…..with their unique mix of blues, rock, and American classics pounding in my ears….I’m not sure it gets better than that.

On May 10th 2014 we attended a party at Pete’s home. A celebration of Pete’s wife’s birthday, and a house warming after their being there a year. It was a day filled with fun and friends, old and new. The band played all afternoon with stand-ins from among the other guests who were predominantly musicians. It was the most amazing day…..I should have had that Instamatic in my car…..I had forgotten my camera bag.

The next morning,May 11th at10:30 AM, Mothers day…..We received a call. Pete Special had passed away during the night from a heart attack. It was all so raw and painful. My friend and favorite singer/songwriter had passed away in the blink of an eye. One of the musicians told me a few days later, “I’m thankful I got to play at his last gig.” I was blessed to be at Pete’s last gig, and that he and his wife thought so much of us to invite us to be part of such a special day…….It was sad and bitter sweet.

I had devoted so many months to following “Pete special and Yo Mama’s Boys,” taking pictures and hanging with the band, the other followers, and friends. And now it was over. My wife and I were devastated. Weeks went by and we found ourselves immersed in getting on with things we had laid to side, family, children, grand children. It felt good to be around family and beginning our home renovation, preparing to move, but I still personally felt an emptiness. I love photography, and I loved shooting the band. All through this, it had become my dream to photograph other musicians in the Chicago music scene as well, but now the emptiness and sadness left me lacking motivation and desire. I laid down my camera for a few months, taking a break. I rarely took my camera every where I went, even to family functions or events. Last August I went to a street fair in Skokie, IL and shot some pictures of the band “Kevin Pucell and the Nightburners.” It was good music on a hot summer afternoon. I got a bit more tan and got into the music. An old high school friend was the drummer, and after 40 years it was good seeing him.

Right after Pete’s death, I received an email from a production company. Some how a man named Brain stubbled upon some pictures I shot in 1978 with my first 35mm camera. I had just purchased an Olympus OM-1. I dropped my two year old daughter and my first wife off at the beach, and headed to Skid Row. Known as Chicago’s “West Loop” on the near west side, the neighborhood was not known for lofts, bars, restaurants and condo’s as it is now. It was old light manufacturing and warehousing district, flop houses, shot and beer taverns, and drunks sleeping on he streets and in transient hotels. There was broken glass scattered on the side walks, from all the liquor bottles tossed to the side by the drunks and wino’s finished them.

Brian explained he was part of a PBS (Public Broadcasting) project that would be aired in Sept. of 2014, about a Church in the West Loop, Old St. Pat’s Catholic Church. It would show how it was once a prominent Parrish that had fallen into decline with the surrounding neighborhood, having only 4 registered members. It would also show how a creative priest and those hungry for a vital downtown church, was raised from decay to be an amazing Parrish which today has over 8,00 members. My images taken in 1978, scanned and converted to digital media a few years ago, depicted skid row and the surrounding neighborhood perfectly. They wanted to use 5 images in the PBS documentary. It was amazing watching my images on TV. Those images can be found in my “The  Street” category, “Skid Row.”

Later that fall the music community in Chicago put together a musical tribute to Pete Special. It was held at the House of Blues in Chicago. I was pleased when those who organized the tribute, used a number of my images of Pete to promote the event, a poster, a tee shirt, and and a CD cover. I was blessed to once again contribute to an amazing cause with something I had photographed, a great man and musician.

For the next seven months my wife I and I spent more time in home centers, kitchen and bath stores, and sweeping up construction debris than I care to think about. Was I hiding my camera and new printer from the dust, or did I simply lose my passion for capturing a great image and the joy found in editing them?

I’m not sure, but I again feel a need to create. I am compelled to once again “look” at things. I find myself looking at the angles, the way light hits a subject, the metaphors in the imagery that has always compelled me to chase something. I feel it growing again, welling up inside of me. I feel the urges to run to some seemingly insignificant place to capture the way light is absorbed or reflected off and object. I caught myself staring at people recently, people looking away from me, wondering how and why the “looking away” has intrigued me so much. I always wanted them looking at me or towards me. I know I will not be looking away, but towards them, pondering the “looking away” from another perspective.


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