Portrait of the Artist: George Klauba

Maybe it's because I too have had a lifelong connection with the sea that I'm fascinated by the work of my friend, George Klauba. George has completed a near decade long romance with a great whale. For as long as I've known George, he's painted his interpretations of Herman Melville's saga, Moby Dick in his intricate, dark style.

Portrait of George Klauba

I've been documenting George's paintings for his catalogs and exhibitions since beginning in the photography business in the 90's. He's actually the reason why I still own a view camera with which I make his 4x5 inch transparencies.

George, a former Navy sailor and tattoo artist lives in Chicago with his wife Judith and visits my studio every few months with some new paintings.
I'm simply fascinated by the detail and narrative that he builds into his work. It's lonely yet alive and full of determination. So rich with that salty tradition, it has me craving New England clam chowder every time.

George's newest work Celestial Voyagers depicts the spirits of sailors who have been lost at sea. His work is represented by the Ann Nathan Gallery in Chicago.

All artworks © George Kaluba

Stopping The Moving Architects

It's been very busy in the studio this past week. Among a two day ad shoot, a couple editorial projects, and a pair of castings, I managed to shoot The Moving Architects.

Natalia Negron-Dancer

It was impressive to watch how these guys combine their bodies into shapes that both revealed characters and stories. Four hours of falling, leaping, and stomping left us with a formidable library of bodies frozen in movement.

Laura Vinci-Dancer

Free Ballet for Public Schools

I do much of my charitable giving each year through offering my time and services. Today I shot a dance class taught by the Joffrey Ballet at a Chicago public elementary school. The students are first and second graders who may never have experienced ballet before. With the help of private funding, this program is provided to the school at no cost to the students or families. Select students will be invited to continue their dance education at the Joffrey Academy of Dance.

I was asked to help document the class by Communties in Schools of Chicago who coordinates the partnerships between dozens of arts and enrichment organizations like the Joffrey Ballet with the public schools that lack arts education programs.

If education like this is meaningful to you and you are interested in how to support arts courses like this one, contact Communties in Schools of Chicago.

Improvisational impersonation of an anti-Imperial

It's not my rule to meet men at bars and bring them back to the studio, but rules are made to be broken. My new friend Aaron Alonzo agreed to let me make some portraits of him as a Latin American revolutionary. You know...for fun.

Aaron is a improv actor and can be seen in some funny videos with a group called Lady Parts.

Closed for Winter

I grew up on coastal New Hampshire next door to my father's seafood restaurant. His place was opened only seasonally and named, The Pirate's Cove Restaurant and Peg Leg Lounge. It was set directly on the beach with a heavy pirate theme, inside and out. On a recent visit back east I visited the tourist trap that is Hampton Beach, N.H., about 8 miles south, and encountered two related examples of this history of mine.

First is the only seasonal McDonald's in the country.

It's across the street from the beach and in the winter is barricaded from the lashing winds and sand that blow through this giant t-shirt stand.

The other is a block away, and hard to believe, I'd never noticed it before.

My Dad would have snatched this up and placed it in the center his parking lot, had he the chance.

Soul Drippin': Syl Johnson

I spent one recent weekend afternoon with legendary R&B artist, Syl Johnson for an editorial project running this week.

Cover of Chicago Reader

I started the shoot at his home on the near south side of Chicago (where he tends an amazing organic vegetable garden) then over to my studio to shoot the cover. His house is lined with gold and platinum records on which his music has been sampled.

Me and Syl Johnson

Syl's been playing since the 50's but his work has most famously been sampled by everyone from Michael Jackson, Cypress Hill, Wu Tang Clan to the The Beastie Boys.

"Severio. Good Job. Peace, Love, Happiness. Syl Johnson."
Cover of Different Strokes 67-69 featuring a platinum record from Wu Tang Clan.

Syl's energy for a 70 year old is vibratory and had me keeping pace with his erratic moves. We shot while playing his song Right on Sister from his record, "Is it Because I'm Black?", on continuous loop because it's the jam!

Your number is up.

This is my last post about a favorite annual project of mine, the Illinois Lotto Halloween Raffle. If you bought a $20 ticket and didn't win, feel good that you're supporting public education with your donation to the state.

Agency-Energy BBDO
Art Director-Tim Mikus
Art Buyer- Laura Feeney

Getting hooked on photography.

We all got started on photography at some point, usually when we were teenagers. This morning, I hosted a dozen high school students from Marwen Foundation at my studio with their instructor, Carl Sweets to show them a professional studio, my work, and to go take some pictures outside.

I coached them on directing subjects into a picture and how to creatively use available light . With half a dozen DSLR's shared among the class, they accosted Halloween costumed passersby and explored a garbage dump I took them to:)

Afterwards, I made time for their class portrait. Maren makes available excellent arts education for FREE to any Chicago child.

Now offering dance lessons.

I shot a cover on Tuesday for a weekly Sunday magazine. It was an athletic shoot for me, but especially for my talent. I squeezed him for all he had to give:) Check back on Monday November 8, to see the cover.

video: Sam Porretta

Chicago Reader Cover

I shot the cover portrait for this weeks Chicago Reader about the new Leed certified shared use, "Logan Square Kitchen". It's a culinary business incubator which has been caught up in Kafkaesque red tape with the city over zoning and permitting.
Cover design: Paul Higgins

One very scary, million dollars

It's almost Halloween and time to scare up some cash. (Yes. I said it.)
Here's some work I shot for the Illinois Lotto to promote their Halloween Millionaire Raffle on sale Oct 1. In addition to these classics, I shot NEW horrific portraits that you can see at gas stations or convenience stores all over Illinois.

Check out the old fashioned movie banner ad on the Lotto site.
Agency: Energy BBDO
Art Direction: Tim Mikus

Anatomy of: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Throughout the month of September I'm blogging about the making of a black and white project I recently shot with Ogilvy Mather, Chicago. The print campaign was for Steppenwolf Theater Company's 35th season entitled Public/Private Self. This is the last update in the series.

Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962) is a raucous story about a middle aged New England college professor and his nearly schizophrenic wife who engage in scathing, drunken tirades and physical battery in front of their two young house guests. Eventually their lies and abuses turns on their guests, none-the-less, the party rages on.

Final image

The objective was to create a moment in the mid 60’s, which our two unwitting houseguests are greeted at the door by the inebriated older couple, played by Tracy Letts and Amy Morton. The older couple has been drinking for hours, but embattled for years. The time of day is 1am. Our shoot had to be scheduled in the late morning however.

My pre-pro pencil

I was thrilled to be working with actors Tracy Letts and Amy Morton as my talent. They have established working relationship, most notably from Amy’s performance in Tracy’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, August: Osage County. Needless to say, they bounced off each other like Seinfeld and George.

Amy and Tracy take aim.

I learned that seasoned stage actors are not inclined to be the most natural photography models. Their forte is telling stories with their bodies in time. It's important that they get how their character arrived at this moment: A fair question. I talked to them separately about how I wanted to distill the various themes of the play into the single moment which they'll never perform again.

Me talking to Tracy Letts about the shot.

Location scouting took me across the city to find a Victorian era, wooden porch. I first investigated buildings with phone numbers attached to them; Bed and breakfasts in old Chicago neighborhoods could have worked. It was important that once the doors swung open, we saw plenty of interior space to position a small wet bar in view and none did the trick. With the help of a location scout, we found a private home that was willing to work with us.

Scouting shot of the location

Wardrobe styling was crucial to convey the right era. Our touchstone was the fabulously styled show, Mad Men. When my art director emailed me this wardrobe shot from the show, the hunt was on for a plunging neckline cocktail dress (middle). Not all too common in the early 60’s.

Styling period

The icing on the cake was a white fox stole which became my favorite prop in this story of an overdressed and aging debutante, flirting with her house guests.

La piece de resistance

My technical challenge was to create a lighting strategy to shoot under broad daylight but making it feel dark outside. To accomplish this, there were a lot of lights firing but not all at the same time. The talent was lit with several strobes positioned as if coming from the two sconces beside the door and trailing off into darkness.

Lots of gear to remove in post

Once talent was shot and released. I created the plates that would give us another cue of nighttime but on the house itself. Strobes were directed to strike the siding just how the sconces might at night. The quality and length of shadows needed to replicate how the tungsten lights would look to the eye.

What I like about the final shot is how Amy's character is upstaging her husband. And from him, we understand that it's not for the first time.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf opens December 2 at Steppenwolf's downstairs theater.

Directed by Pam MacKinnon

Equipment: Multiple Speedotron packs, Hasselblad H4D, Hasselblad 35-90 zoom,
Crew: Annika Howe, Brynne Rinderknecht, Mark Doddato, Morgan Blaul, Jabari Zuberi
Retoucher: Studio Satellite
Ogilvy Mather: Allie Armstrong AD, Gabe Usadel CD
We ate: Heartland Cafe.

Today's Faceblock

Faceblock. It should be a social media privacy app...but cruelly it's not. Ever since my nights of huffing darkroom chemicals in art school, I've loved what I would call, Faceblock pictures. They're those pictures where the photographer accidentally or intentionally, blocked a person's face by some object, decapitating them at the shoulder and obscuring their identity. Like America's funniest home video shows, I think they're amusing.

This week two of my more intentional Faceblock pictures are being used in the world. One nationally and one locally.

September 26, Washington Post Magazine, cover.
Photo Editor: Evan Jane Kriss

October 1, Fashion Mash-Chicago, poster.
Designer: Malcolm Felder.
Agency: Collaboraction

Anatomy of: Sex With Strangers

Throughout the month of September I’m blogging about the making of a black and white project I recently shot with Ogilvy Mather, Chicago. This print campaign was for Steppenwolf Theater Company's 35th season entitled Public/Private Self. Updates will be posted each Tuesday afternoon in the month.

In the play, Sex with Strangers, a young blogger's telling of his sexual exploits launches a hugely successful book-writing career. When his sex life intersects with that of a 30-something writer who’s career is on the rocks, the younger man shows his new love interest how to get noticed on the internet.

The final image

Using two characters and a laptop, the objective was to create a metaphor that told of a sexual relationship that gets corrupted by the desire for microfame. The picture had to be highly sensual but foreshadow the mistrust that later develops.

This production was the first in my series of photos for Steppenwolf's next season. I was then uncertain of what tone the pictures would take or how I’d work with the seasoned actors, most of whom don't do photo shoots. I felt a little out on a limb actually. My subjects, Sally Murphy and Stephen Louis Grush met me in a third floor bedroom of a bed & breakfast on Chicago’s south side.

An 1870's mansion served as the location.

In the tiny room, the walls were painted deep red, the heavy curtains drawn and a single yellow lamp was lit at the beside. As we talked about what I had planned, I quickly learned that Sally and Stephen were in fact strangers themselves. They’d never met or rehearsed whatsoever. This photo shoot was going to be an ice breaker and be their virgin professional experience together.

The room color was red. Very red.

After make-up, they both undressed on set and changed into the wardrobe we brought. Early on, Sally was wearing pajama pants but asked if I might want her to strip down to her underwear because it would be more realistic. The ice was already beginning to thaw. A few shots later, my stylist found a patterned pajama short and black tank worked best.

I used their reflection in the mirrored door of a hand carved armoire to be the source of their image. Much in the play revolved around ones own perception of self that the furniture's framing was at once beautiful and conceptually right.

Directing them required a different solution than most of my jobs. Their initial discomfort was of course felt in the room, but after a little giggling and joking around, I talked them through how their character’s were to be feeling. Using a slow monotonous voice I guided their hands around each others bodies, and their faces into expressions of pleasure and apprehension. Between takes we all climbed on the bed and looked at the shots on my laptop. It was an unusual place for a creative meeting but was a great way to bond.

A range of expressive positions were tried.

Back on set, I coached them to the point which they became familiar enough to take charge and try positions I had not asked of them. At which point my coaching only encouraged their movements on each other, and told what gestures I wanted repeated. My assistant joked that he had to remove himself from set because he was feeling like a 5th wheel.

The computer screen was shot dark and we had a few ideas how to treat it in post. Originally we considered presenting a naked torso and breasts, suggesting that the computer stripped Sally naked. For this I cast a traveling model from Dallas to shoot some nudes in my studio for later use on that screen, but it was later decided that an ambiguous glowing screen would focus the viewer better.

Not Sally Murphy

My retouching notes

I love the final execution because Sally's character is into it, but doesn't really know what to make of this new person she's becoming. I am especially looking forward to seeing this on stage.

Sex with Strangers opens January 20 at Steppenwolf's upstairs theater.

Written by Laura Eason

Directed by Jessica Thebus

Equipment: Multiple Speedotron packs, Hasselblad H4D, Hasselblad 35-90 zoom,
Crew: Annika Howe, Russell Lord, Mark Doddato, Courtney Rust, Morgan Blaul
Retoucher: Studio Satellite
Ogilvy Mather: Allie Armstrong AD, Gabe Usadel CD
We ate: Potbelly sandwiches and an ice tea bottle was

accidentally broken on the bathroom floor.

Anatomy of: Middletown

Throughout the month of September I’m blogging about the making of a black and white project I recently shot with Ogilvy Mather, Chicago. This print campaign was for Steppenwolf Theater Company's 35th season entitled Public/Private Self. Updates will be posted each Tuesday afternoon in the month.

Middletown (written by Will Eno) is a play about the universe of a small town to which its newest resident has moved to have her first baby. Her hopes of forming tight bonds with the town's people fizzle when she finds that moments of connection are shallow, and strangers remain just that. A central moment comes during a town walking tour when stopped at a simple stone memorial, existential questions of humankind are awoken and wrestled with by tour-goers and the tour guide alike.

Final image

This shot was one of the more ambitious productions in the series as it took place in three U.S. states, on location and in studio, and over a period of weeks. The art direction had the moment take place beneath an exploding starry sky, dwarfing the tour guide played by Alana Arenas.

I live in Chicago which is no small town. Finding quaint, open space within an hour of the city is a tough call. Instead of shooting close to home I chose to find the locations in New England while visiting my family. It was a great solution because New England is rife with open town commons, commemorative memorials and adorable centuries old homes.

While motoring through southern Maine with my fiance, I slammed on the breaks to shoot what would become the town memorial. A cemetery entrance built from ancient granite was the perfect, unadorned and average memorial I needed.

Monument shot in York, Maine shortly after sunset.

A week later, I drove to Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (with my teenage niece as an assistant) to shoot landscapes and architecture which would later make up the image's location. Maintaining a flexible vision for what I was making, I shot a library of structures and grassy public spaces. Night exposures are long, and tested my 14yr old assistant's patience.

This house appears in the left background of the final image.

With the landscape now shot, I retouched together different versions of a town commons landscape. The details were carefully chosen so to direct the cues to a small town common.

Two composited landscapes we considered for where the hero was to be placed.

Another week later and back in my Chicago studio, the last element I shot was our hero. We chose the landscape with the more dramatic, directional back-lighting and set up a similar lighting scheme.
It was important that her lighting match that of the landscape I'd already created. The floor was blacked so not to reflect, and directional edge lighting, key light fall-off and long shadows would anchor her to the landscape.

Alana shot as a separate plate in my studio

Each shot of Alana changed the tonality of the story so there was much discussion about which expression and body language best served the narrative. I chose this one because her look of wonder was mixed with an ounce of loneliness. She looks not only up towards the night sky but out to the town that surrounds her. Once all the elements were selected, I sent the parts to the retoucher to begin assembly and finishing treatments.

My retouching notes and a hero images switch.

After a last minute image switch, a new name plate was illustrated inspired by historic plaques and an old Jamaican coin.

An image I sourced on Internet used as guide for plaque.

Middletown opens June 16th at Steppenwolf's downstairs theater.

Equipment: Multiple Profoto 7A packs, Hasselblad H4D, Hasselblad 35-90 zoom, Canon 1DS Mark III,
Crew: Jabari Zubari, Annika Howe, Mark Doddato, Sage Reed
Retoucher: Brian York
Ogilvy Mather: Allie Armstrong AD, Gabe Usadel CD
We ate: Italian sandwiches and iced coffee.