In the horned forest: Chicago Magazine

Multi-instrumentalist, Andrew Bird and instrument maker, Ian Schneller have again created sonic alchemy for another foray into the Sonic Arboretum. I shot an image with the both of them for this month's Chicago Magazine. See the Chicago Magazine story here on Specimen's website

Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller

The first time they explored this beautiful and dark place was in August of 2010 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum asked Andrew to perform in their famous spiraled halls for its new performance series, and like any artist destined for the history books, Andrew took itas an opportunity to try something new.

Photo: Specimen Products

He and his old friend Ian of Specimen Products have been experimenting with playing Andrews violins, guitars through his beautiful, handmade tube amps and horns. They quickly built and carefully shipped some 50 horns of various sizes to the museum and devised how each would transport Andrews music to a packed house.

Behind the scenes images by Esther Kang.

Andrew is playing again on the Sonic Arboretum on December 22 at the MCA Chicago with an ever larger array of multi colored horns. I am lucky to be able to attend and will post some images here after the show.

Watch the video of the Sonic Arboretum performance


Photo editor: Megan Lovejoy

Set design: Angela Finney

Retouching: Tim Blokel

Bio-fuel tech for Fast Company Magazine

When I bought my current car in 1999, I told the dealer that I'd drive it until someday I could reason to buy an alternative fuel car which could carry all my photo shit. That day hasn't come but it seems as though alternative fuel may instead be coming to my car.

Jim Rekoske of Honeywell's specialty bio fuel unit, UOP.

Fast Company Magazine recently assigned me to photograph a chemist for a feature on the growing field of bio fuel technology. Ethanol from corn is currently America's most common bio-fuel. It's used as an additive to gasoline to stem the use of oil. Corn is arguably a poor source of fuel so other sources are being explored.

I shoot Jim Rekoske at Honeywell who's perfecting making gasoline and jet fuels out of camelina, a non food crop grown in rotation with wheat. I visited Jim at his lab in Des Plaines, IL and he happily let me poke around his labyrinth of insulated pipes, gauges and cylinders. His lab was essentially a very scaled down version of what hopes to become large scale fuel production plant.

Jim Rekoske exchanging glances with HAL's younger cousin.

Photographing scientists and artists have been some of my most loved editorial assignments. There's a shared mind by both people. I can relate to how each looks at the world as an unfinished story with possibility for the future. To be either, I believe you need to have faith in new ways of looking at something old. (another post about a scientist.)

photo editor: Marian Barragan
retouching: Tim Blokel

Dark Matter Man

Discover Magazine photo editor, Randi Slatken recently asked me to shoot a leading expert in theoretical physics, Dr. Joseph Lykken. When not appearing on Nova, you can find Joe lurking around the proton- antiproton collider, better known as the Fermilab Tevatron. It's a device out of science fiction in which subatomic particles are smashed together in order to find God or "dark matter", whichever you prefer.

Theoretical Physicist, Dr. Joseph Lykken

Spread in Jan. 2012 issue of Discover (modified layout)

On an overcast fall day we drove an hour through flat cornfields, through prairie grasses and slender trees west of Chicago to the Fermilab campus. We arrived and saw nothing spectacular, except a cold war era building resembling praying hands and rising 16 stories from the red grass. There was in fact lots more to see but it was all happening underground.

Fermilabs main building, Wilson Hall designed by Enrico Fermi

The Fermilab particle accelerator built in 1967 had up until that very week, been happily smashing subatomic particles together in a massive 4 mile underground tube in search of the Higgs Boson and the reason for our puny existence. Now the larger and newer Hadron Collider is doing that work in central Europe.

I had unprecedented media access to the Tevatron because the accelerator was in the process of being shut down. Because of this coup in timing I was able to photograph for the first time, the detector; the exact point where the particles collide and are analyzed.

The Tevatron's collision detector.

What I enjoyed most about hanging out with Joe Lykken was getting closer to understanding the narrow gap between hard science and theology, and how we grapple with the misunderstandings of our very existence. Fermilab is in essence a cathedral to physics.

One of the most thrilling places I had access to was what i called, the "neutrino machine". It's a very loud, Lost in Space robot housed in a metal room used to generate the very subatomic particles that would eventually get smashed together in the Tevatron. A new and improved one is being built today and is not surprisingly the size of a Prius. They now shoot these subatomic particles or neutrinos underground to Minnesota and study how they change along the way.

Where the subatomic particles are made.

Despite the closure of the Tevetron, so much science is still happening at Fermilab on the frontiers of energy, cosmology and technology. If you're into science, they're always hiring.

Long nights up at the Pole.

This week's Time Out Chicago cover deserves a little coal for being bad. Not bad really, but naughty. Time Out Chicago's photo editor, Nicole Radja asked me to create an image where Ms. Claus gets an "upgrade" to her Holiday. Immediately this image of a shirtless St. Nick being admired by a more experienced Vixen came to mind.

Shooting got a little awkward for the talent when I asked Ms. Claus to put her right hand down the front of Santa's trousers. She game-fully agreed but couldn't keep a straight face. Who could blame her?

The issue was recently previewed here on Chicago's ABC channel 7.

Box of bodies

Here's some behind the scenes of an image I shot for my friends at Collaboraction Theater for their upcoming production of, Dark Play. The story is about a phenomenon all who have dated on the internet has experienced. I call it "ideal projection". It happens when the person you've just met on the internet but know scant about seems to possess all the ideal qualities you've ever been looking for in a mate. In actually meeting them however, you find that your imagination has sorely let you down.

In Dark Play the story is fortunately more disturbing than what most of us have ever encountered on the web. In conclusion, things are not what they've seemed and let's just say the end comes with a visceral twist.

Our set was conceived and built by Collaboraction art director, Sam Poretta in my studio. We needed to shoot down on a box of writhing white bodies lit from below. Luckily I'd just received an iPad 2 and it came just in time for shooting this scene where the camera necessarily has to hover on a boom 12 feet in the air. I directed, shot and reviewed the whole thing from the iPad connected to a computer running capture software. Can photography ever get more slick?

Ameriville for Victory Gardens

Marketing image for Ameriville opening at Victory Gardens in January.

I've been steadily working on shooting the season's marketing images for Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago. We've finished the second to last for the play Ameriville opening Jan 27.

It's been a labor of love for everyone involved including the actors who've braved cold wet pavement, masturbating upside down and drifting forgotten in a flooded world . Ameriveille will be an eye opening examination of whether we'd be ready for another Katrina somewhere in America.

I was inspired by German painter Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's famous 1851 depiction of Washington Crossing the Deleware as a symbol of American perseverance and courage.

Retouching: Fred Muram
Assistant: Tim Blokel, Sarah Linder
Set design: Brynne Rinderknecht

Masters Cup Winner

A few of my pictures were recognized in the 2011 Masters Cup international photography competition.

Butcher, won 3rd place in People category.

Dancing Man was a nominee in the People category.

In addition to this award I was awarded Best in Show in the 2011 APA Awards.

60 Second Portraits.

Some of my editorial shoots are over before you know it. If shooting a celebrity, or a CEO, (who thinks he's a celebrity) sometimes I get 15 minutes. It's important to stay well lubricated for these assignments. Below are 15 portraits each shot in 60 seconds or less. All were guests (except for one) at my recent Open Studio party.

(This is coded in Flash. My apologies to iPad users)

Turning 40 before I do.

My career was kickstarted back with the help of the Chicago Reader. For those of you who don't know the ways of Chicago, the Chicago Reader is the most bad-ass weekly politics and entertainment rag in these parts, and it's free. They celebrated their 40 year anniversary with a party at Chicago Urban Arts Society and asked me to show work I've shot for the them over the years.

Chicago Urban Art Society: Chicago Reader 40th Anniversary from Nick Brazinsky on Vimeo.

When I was just a wee shutterbug in Wicker Park, I started shooting weirdos for the Reader. After the first documentary assignment, they never gave me documentary again. They liked my work but knew I was too much the control freak to let things play out without having some directorial say in the matter.

For the party, I showed pictures of R&B Legend Syl Johnson kicking back in his house, a black cyber dominatrix in white hot suit and some female mud wrestlers tackling each other.

The party was a riot and ended with a mad dance party DJ'd by the equally bad-ass, Flosstrsdamus!

Your hydration choices are Gatorade or beer.

For photographing a portrait of a Walnut wood bicycle and its builder, I considered possible locations to shoot: the park, riding in the street or in the wood shop were all reasonable, but bored me to tears. So instead I indulged my affection for shooting at gas stations. I told Seth Deysach to meet me at the Ameristar gas station on Diversey and Pulaski, a shining beacon among dirty northwest side taco shops and funeral homes. I was honestly surprised he agreed.

Seth Deysach of Lagomorph Design

It was hot as Hell that day so I negotiated to use the gas station by buying from its owner, bags of ice and enough Gatorade to hydrate a whale. In exchange he gave me rein over his station as long as we didn't get hit by traffic.

It was late summer so of course I wanted to soak in all the vitamin D I could before winter, so I slathered up with SPF 50 and shot in the bright, hot sunlight. When I shoot I'm high on adrenaline and can be unfazed by the harshest elements, though I could see my subject was melting, so I moved us under the giant canopy shading the pumps. We could now all relax and shoot while dodging the cars of paying customers.

And if you are paying attention; No that's not Gatorade in his hand. The ice was for the High Life I got for Seth at the next door liquor store. Boy can drink beer on a hot day!

Fall 2011 cover of CS Interiors

THIS is the what.

A great New York photo editor, Kate Osba has this wonderful blog called THIS IS THE WHAT about photography and photographers. She interviewed me for a story posting today on her blog.


58 portraits each shot in 60 second sittings at open studios in my building October 14, 2011.

2011 APA Awards-Best of Show

You needn't remind me that reading while driving kills, but I was stopped in traffic when I peeked at my iphone. I was thrilled to learn that I was awarded the 2011 APA Awards-Best of Show.

My best of show image, PanAm-Pull, was entered in the Fashion category. You can see the individual category winners here.

I shot this picture as a campaign for Pan Am Brands, the company which sells those iconic travel products, and the namesake of the new TV series, Pan Am. You can read about the production and see behind the scenes here.

The APA awards were judged by a rock star panel of taste makers and taste breakers in the advertising, arts, and media fields. As part of my award package, I'll finally own that iPad I've been jealously bashing since it's invention.

The highlighted are official sponsor resources I use on a daily basis. I'm looking forward to using some new ones .

(Thanks corporate bro's.)

Client: Pan Am Brands
Art Director: Brice Cooper
Wardrobe styling: Heather Brooks
Hair & Make up: Cindy Shute
Talent: Ford Chicago
Assistants: Michael DeMarti, Sarah Linder
Retouching: Tim Blokel

Human Disco Ball.

On the final warm days on summer, you want to soak up all the sun you can. Not reflect it back into space! Man oh man.

North Avenue Beach. Saturday September 17.

Bag check for Pan Am.

Pan Am is back, but not exactly how you might remember it. Pan Am airways landed for its final time, bankrupt in the 90's selling its assets to Delta. After several reorganizations and name rights sales Pan Am has been reinvented as a brand that will harken us back to the glamorous days of flying, when hot food was set upon your tray table and you dressed-up for the airport.

Some of the bags we had on set.

Now selling travel accessories and gifts, Pan Am even has it's own TV show starring the lovely and strange Christina Ricci. It focuses on the lives of stewardesses and their adventures in passion, jealousy and espionage at 30,000 feet.

I was commissioned by Pan Am to help promote their line of retro travel bags by tying onto our memory of sleek, 60's era travel, though not with jumbo jets, but classic cars.

I was very young in the 70's just when all the great 50's and 60's design styles were being remodeled out. Though the memory of those clean rich lines are forever engraved in my mind as a kind of feeling. I remember flying those now defunct carriers like Eastern and Braniff and getting to visit the cockpit, mid-flight. The copilot pinning a pair of plastic wings to my proud cardigan. Making pictures with these design styles sure brings back some fuzzy feelings, like the muffled sound of afternoon soap operas filtered through shag carpeting while I napped. Oh, the age of innocence.

I'm not really that short. Really.

Shooting at a small airport outside of Chicago, we slathered on sunblock and shot images about a woman in a hurry to get the hell out! In the image above, she hits a snag in her plans on her way to who know where. Clothes were styled by the ever over-delivering Heather Brooks. Hair and make up by my new friend Cindy Schute.

A pristine 60's MGA with blood red leather interior. Droool.

Retouching and production stills by Tim Blokel

Pink my ride.

In the waning days of summer I find myself drawn to the open-air markets that springs up in empty lots on the west side of Chicago, selling everything from air fresheners to zebra skin rugs.

Pink Pony Bicycle $30. No tax

I especially love the kids bikes. Minimally bubble wrapped and displayed to be advancing like baby armies; their iridescent tassels waving in the wind like Chinese jewelry shimmering in the sun. I checked out these beauties near a mini-mall at the off-ramp of the 290 expressway at Sacramento Ave.

And for the money you just saved, they sell pop culture cartoon piggy bank heads .

No gnocchi. Solo pesce.

I had the gastronomic good fortune of shooting restaurant mogul Scott Harris, "the Don" of the growing empire of Mia Francesca Italian restaurants for Chicago Magazine. We shot him in the back room of his newest endevour, Salatino's in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood.

Food was styled by chef, Joeseph Farina. The 6 pound lobster (estimated to be +/- 25 years old) was eaten with butter and lemon. Lost to the crop were a dozen giant shrimp, pasta marinara, lobster tail and 6 other drop dead seafood dishes. On top of it all, the restaurant sent the whole crew home with their choices off the menu for dinner. Maybe being Calabrese myself does have its perks.

Styling: Angela Finney
Hair and Makeup: Morgan Blaul
Photo editor: Megan Lovejoy
Retouching: Tim Blokel


Evelyn is a character in a campaign I recently shot for Anthos (an International flower bulb association) with the fabulous Woodbine Agency. She's one of three lovely ladies, for who planting bulbs is the easiest way to rock their home spaces.

This was a hilarious project that spanned several days in studio shooting multiple print assets and my directing 6 motion/sound pieces.

Print ad for Anthos, Dig, Drop, Done campaign

Check out frisky Evelyn tell us about how her neighbors gardener "Roberto" inspired her to get those bulbs in the ground one day.

Agency: Woodbine
Art Direction: Vickie Canada
Styling: Lani Paul
Art Producer: Liz Stovall
Account Direction: Ashley Dillon

Directing "Dig, Drop, Done!"

I recently completed a week long motion and print project promoting tulips and bulb flowers with Woodbine agency in Winston Salem. We shot the project in a North Carolina studio where I directed each of three characters to represent different kinds of gardeners. Marcy is the young mom planting in her yard with the kids. Juliana is the single, urban fashionista who plants in pots on her patio. And Evelyn, our empty-nester also plants in her yard, but with the help of her gardener, Roberto. He's so hot!

The videos are a riot. Check one out below and be sure to watch them all . Click on it.

Stay tuned to see the very expressive print pieces running in magazines.

Agency: Woodbine
Art Direction: Vickie Canada
Styling: Lani Paul
Art Producer: Liz Stovall
Account Direction: Ashley Dillon

A city by another name.

There's water out there (Los Angeles), and there's water over there (New York), but what some forget is that there's also water right here! Chicago, or The Second City, has another lesser known moniker which is The Third Coast. (Truly I don't bother with either to describe this fine chunk of asphalt)

None-the-less, many take their own names from this reproach to The City of Broad Shoulders. Third Coast Percussion is one of them. They are a energetic and creative four piece percussion ensemble based in the Windy City. I may go so far as to call them Post Rock cut from the same cloth as bands like Tortoise and Explosions in the Sky.

I recently photographed Third Coast Percussion under threat of rain near their rehearsal space. They were clear not to be be shot playing, so my concept was to photograph them instead with their instruments magnetically raining down from above.

With the help of creative folks like these, today my Sweet Home is better known today for things like Oprah, Wilco and This American Life than being the Hog Butcher for the World and as far as I'm concerned, that's just fine with me.

Who needs books?

At a time when school libraries are checking out iPads and Kindles to kids, do we fear the loss of the printed book? This was the question posed by School Library Journal in a recent cover feature about the subject. I photographed all-star librarian John Schumacher with his (borrowed) iPad for the May 2011 cover.

Cows and ladders.

Along with being good for strong bones and teeth, Horizon brand milk can do other amazing things for children, like offer them the occasional height advantage. Here's one of two cute ads I shot for Leo Burnett with our custom-made cow.

We interpreted "Happy", the 2D airborn bovine on the packaging of Horizon milk as a sculptural piece standing on all fours. After weeks of design and building, Happy was shipped with her extra head to Atlanta where I shot. I'm happy to say that I'll be seeing Happy again this summer where she'll be making more cameo appearances in the developmental lives of children.

Leo Burnett creative team: Nick Fantl and Chris Julcher

Reader: Refreshed

I've been shooting for the Chicago Reader since it was a four section, black and white entertainment weekly. Back then, there was a whole section dedicated to classifieds! Over a few re-designs and three owners, the Reader is still available weekly but now refreshed as a color, single section with a new glossy double cover. Whoa!

Art director Paul Higgins and I collaborated on how to create an image about the Reader's redesign, our new mayor and city council and the coming of summer in Chicago. We settled on making one big splash.

With the help of Isa from the ChicagoLooks, we found Karen who was a super sport letting us hit her with two gallons of (warm) water over and over again. The image was expertly retouched by Paradigm Color. You can watch a sorter, 7 second splash video here.

Make-up: Jennifer Brown
Digital tech: Tim Blokel
Splash Artist: Derick Smith

Flipping the career switch.

Have you ever asked yourself whether you could abandon your successful but ultimately unsatisfying career to venture out in the great wasteland of and CareerBuilder to instead have a job you really want? It's not an uncommon question to ask oneself, even in a down economy when just having a job means great success. But sometimes the devil you know is worse than the devil you don't.

I was asked by the Chicago Tribune Magazine to contribute portraits to a cover feature running today about 3 women who have done just that. One was a journalist, another a Radio City Rockette and the other a lawyer. They've all traded in the old gig for something fresh and new.

I'll leave it up to you to guess which woman was what in her previous career. Answers are way down below.

Becky Bartsch, Fourth-grade teacher

Nora Jewett, Fashion Designer

Dr. Laura Michaelis, Hematologist

Photo Editor: Michael Zajakowski

Becky Bartscch was a Radio City Rockette
Nora Jewett was a lawyer
Dr. Laura Michaelis was a journalist