Observations on the practice, history, and aesthetics of photography and sundry other matters...
Chicago Blackhawks fans cheering at the Stanley Cup Parade, June 28, 2013. Can the Hawks bring the Cup back in 2015?
(Photo: cSteve Gubin 2014)
What a difference a year makes. Exactly one year ago today, on June 8, 2013, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Los Angeles Kings in double overtime to win the Western Conference series and make their second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in four years.
Today, Hawks fans and players can only sit on the sidelines to watch this year's Cup Final unfold between the Kings and the New York Rangers. After falling behind 3 games to 1 in the Western Conference Finals, the Blackhawks came back to force the Kings to a Game 7. After allowing Los Angeles to tie the final game with 9 minutes left in the third period, the unthinkable happened in overtime: a Los Angeles shot bounced off a shoulder and tumbled into the net behind Corey Crawford. On our turf. With only a single goal standing between the Hawks and a second consecutive trip to the Cup Finals. Alas, the old Blackhawks magic was not meant to be this year and we could only watch in stunned silence as the curtain came down upon our hopes.
If we care at all about the Cup Final, we can grouse about the way the officials robbed the Rangers in last night's Game 2 by awarding a goal to the Kings when they clearly interfered with New York goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. We can rage at the numerous penalties that NHL officials seem reluctant to call on the Kings, rant against the announcers who seem to waste no opportunity to tout L.A. as "tenacious", and watch in disgust as the media fawn all over them as this years Darlings of Destiny. It's like a script has been written by the networks and the NHL and that script demands an ending that shows the Kings hoisting the Stanley Cup. Sour grapes? Partly. But even impartial observers have remarked upon the poor officiating and media bias that seems to work in favor of the Los Angeles Kings.
But I'm not really here to complain about media bias and poor officiating...I'm here to praise and thank the Chicago Blackhawks for yet another exciting season, regardless of how painful its ending may have been.
From the banner raising at the United Center, through the Stadium series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a raging snowstorm, to the late season struggle when we seemed unable to finish off opponents or win in shootouts, and through the playoffs when we fought back to come within a hair's breadth of making it to the Finals -- there can be no doubting of the talent, the drive, or the special chemistry of one of the greatest hockey teams the NHL has ever seen. From management, to coaching staff, to players, to support crew, to announcer Gene Honda and vocalist Jim Cornelison, this Chicago Blackhawks team is a team for the ages.
Being realistic, however, even the most ardent Hawks fan has to recognize that Chicago is still a work in progress and there are some areas we need to improve upon when we go into the 2015 season. In the 2014 playoffs we saw tougher repeat opponents in both the Minnesota Wild and the Los Angeles Kings. Our opponents aren't standing still and the playoffs revealed the need to shore up some problem areas. If we are going to make a serious Cup run in 2015, here's my brief wish list for key areas to improve:
1.) Another talented Center -- We only got to see Teuvo Teravainen play 3 games with the Blackhawks last season, but if he lives up to the promise he's shown with Jokerit Helsinki and the Rockford Icehogs he could be another Jonathan Toews.
2.) A dependable backup goalie for Corey Crawford -- I know there's a lot of Crawford haters out there, but I don't even want to go down that road. If a Stanley Cup win and a second trip to the Conference Finals isn't enough to convince the haters of Crawford's talent, then nothing will. In the playoffs I saw more goals that could be attributed to a defensive breakdown during chaotic net scrambles than could be blamed as truly "soft" goals allowed by Crawford. Crow needs better support from the defense, but he also needs a solid backup like he had in Ray Emery in 2013. Whether or not Antti Raanta can fill that role remains to be seen. And as much I appreciated Khabibulin in his 2006-2009 stint with the Hawks, he's just too long in the tooth to be the answer to the backup question.
3.) Bring back the defense -- I'm not sure what happened this year, but Keith and Seabrook in particular among our defensemen, seemed a bit off their usual game at critical times this year. It's easy for me to criticize when I don't have to be out there playing the game. But I saw a certain slowness and a tendency toward mental and positional mistakes that are not characteristic of the Hawks defensive players. Maybe there were injuries we weren't told about, but I'd sure like to see these guys return to playing the game we know they're capable of. I'm going to roll up my desire for a return to improved penalty killing into this same category.
4.) Increased physicality -- The current Chicago Blackhawks are known for their speed and finesse style of play, but I think they still need to bring an increased level of physicality to their game. Chicago doesn't need to change to a bruising style of play, but they do need to do a better job of consistently finishing their checks...at least in close games with physical teams where the speed and finesse style does not seem to be working. In the series against the Kings, I watched Los Angeles players check Chicago players off the puck time and time again. I don't know what Quenneville told his players in Game 6, but in the third period of that game I noticed Chicago players started finishing their checks and knocking the Kings off the puck. I don't think it was a coincidence that we won that game.
5.) Net presence -- One of the most popular Chicago Blackhawks in the recent past was Dustin Byfuglien. Who can forget "Big Buff" planting himself in front of opposing goalies and driving them crazy? I didn't see near as much of this kind of net presence in this playoff year as I did in the past. Brian Bickell would be a prime candidate to fill this type of position when called for and we need to see the Hawks bring more of it in 2015.
I have enough faith in the abilities of Blackhawks management to not even have to mention the necessity of a smart draft, good salary cap management, and the need to renew the contracts for Toews and Kane.
So, thank you Chicago Blackhawks for another amazing season. We'll be there cheering you on again when next season starts. Let's show the media what the word "tenacious" really means when we come roaring back to secure the Stanley Cup in 2015.
The Chicago Blackhawks raise the Stanley Cup banner at the opening game at the United Center, October 1, 2013.
Blackhawks vocalist Jim Cornelison sings the National Anthem during a snowstorm at Soldier Field. The Hawks beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 at this Stadium Series game held on March 1, 2014.
Left to right, Ken Ratajczyk, Frank Brinskelle, and Steve Gubin at The Madhouse on Madison, January 26, 2014. The Blackhawks lost to the Winnipeg Jets, 3-1. (I don't know who the kid is at far right, but it cracked me up the way he photobombed this shot!) cSteve Gubin 2014
The Blackhawks warming up at the United Center, January 2014. cSteve Gubin 2014
John McDonough hoists the Stanley Cup at Brooks Park, August 3, 2013. I was able to touch the Stanley Cup that day. Let's hope John gets to bring it back again in 2015! cSteve Gubin 2013
Gull and Wave, Foster Ave Beach, Chicago cSteve Gubin 2013
Let the summer of 2014 commence!
Although I was born in Chicago, I grew up in Los Angeles and San Diego and spent many years surfing the Southern California coastline. Sadly, there are rarely surfable waves to be found on Lake Michigan. But I still enjoy going to the beach. The beaches of Chicago are free (good luck with the parking in the summertime), but as a North Sider, the beaches of Evanston are a slightly shorter drive with more accessible parking.
When I moved back to the Chicago area in 2008, I was stunned to find out that between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Evanston, and certain other North Shore suburbs, require a fee for beach use. I was further shocked to come across beaches that are considered “private property”. That is a concept that would engender riots in California, where the beaches are free and everything below the mean high tide line is considered public property. The shores of all the Great Lakes could benefit from the kind of pro-public coastal activism of the Surfrider Foundation and the California Coastal Commission.
The north side Chicago suburbs of Evanston, Winnetka, and Highland Park are small, though affluent, communities and the reasons given for a beach access fee usually involve the costs of maintenance, clean up, and lifeguard salaries. All understandable, but one can't help but wonder if these communities also would prefer to keep out "undesirable elements". Snobbery, a display of materialism, and exclusivity are not unique to the North Side suburbs of Chicago -- think of Palos Verdes, Malibu, and Santa Barbara along the California coast -- but the latter communities of the Pacific have no choice in the matter of public access due to the California Coastal Act.
Beach access, of course, is a First World problem, and there are many more urgent matters that need addressing. However, one wonders if the time hasn't come for Lake Michigan, and the Great Lakes in general, to consider a more democratic, and all encompassing law regarding who actually owns the coastline, who gets to charge for access to it, and who gets to prohibit access to it altogether.
Elliott Park Shoreline, Evanston IL cSteve Gubin 2012
Summertime, Foster Ave Beach looking north cSteve Gubin 2013
Foster Avenue Beach, looking south toward Chicago skyline from lighthouse quay cSteve Gubin 2013
Lee Street Beach, Elliott Park, Evanston IL cSteve Gubin 2014
A small right hand wave at Foster Ave Beach cSteve Gubin 2013
A gull rests in the calm waters of South Foster Ave Beach on an early summer morning cSteve Gubin 2013
Analog v Digital, cSteve Gubin 2012
Garry Winogrand once said, "A still photograph is the illusion of a literal description of how a camera saw a piece of time and space."
Walking through the streets of Chicago (or the streets of any other city or town), camera in hand, documenting the visual ephemera of a never-ending human parade -- how do we discern the so-called reality of what the camera records?
Moments of sadness, joy, bemusement, seeming significance or banality, tension, symbolism, or interaction can all be echoes of what actually transpired in those moments, or they can be utter deceptions. Questions like this have fueled the discussions of many photographers (and many philosophers before them). For me, the photograph itself becomes its own reality, equally subject to the interpretation of the photographer, and of the viewer.
Scenes from the streets of Chicago, make of them what you will...
Randolph & Michigan, cSteve Gubin 2014
State & Wabash, cSteve Gubin 2014
Woman on Adams, cSteve Gubin 2012
Starbucks Reflections, Millenium Station, cSteve Gubin 2014
Couple on Adams, cSteve Gubin 2012
Three women on State St., cSteve Gubin 2012
La Salle & Randolph, cSteve Gubin 2012
Steps, Millenium Station, cSteve Gubin 2014
Lee Street during Snowstorm cSteve Gubin 2014
In Game Of Thrones, the Stark family motto is "Winter Is Coming". In Chicago, winter has already arrived. With a vengeance.
By January 3, nearly 12 inches of snow had fallen in the greater Chicagoland area, the most since the Ground Hog Day Blizzard of 2011. More snow is predicted for the weekend, to be followed by a bitter arctic cold that, with wind chill, could drop to 30 below in some outlying areas. This will be my sixth winter in Chicago. I thought I had seen it all, and after relatively mild winters in 2012 and 2013, had hoped that nothing would be able to top the blizzard of 2011. But the winter of 2014 is beginning with more overall snow, and more bitterly cold days, than any other Chicago winter in decades.
For a photographer, winter does provide its own unique opportunities, so there's some reason for optimism. Freshly fallen snow can sometimes transform the most banal objects and environments into scenes of white coated wonder. Empty beaches and shorelines can become melancholy reminders of hot and crowded summer days. Slush filled streets can take on a gritty, cinema noirish cast for those who have a taste for such things. Animal tracks, a single tree, a leaf, or barren weeds set against a large field of sparkling whiteness can provide opportunities for minimalist compositions.
So, if you're a photographer, you bundle up, trudge through the snow, and look for something of interest. Then you go back home, grab a hot drink and pray for an early spring. Or weep. Or put on an episode of "Ice Road Trucker". Anything to take your mind off the dreary days that stretch ahead.
Did I say something about optimism?
Deer Tracks in Chicago Forest Preserve cSteve Gubin 2013
Stony Island Ave, Hyde Park cSteve Gubin 2011
Abandoned House, Lehigh and Lincoln cSteve Gubin 2011
Snow Plow on Dempster Ave cSteve Gubin 2013
Foster Ave Beach cSteve Gubin 2011
Capulina Avenue cSteve Gubin 2014
Illinois Autumn cSteve Gubin 2011 (1.5 sec at f13)
If you mention the word "pan" to a group of photographers, almost every one of them will immediately think of the horizontal sweeping technique used to impart motion. You see this horizontal panning technique used most frequently in sports photography, especially in auto racing. In the example below, I focused on the moving car while moving the camera from right to left horizontally to keep pace with the movement of the car. The car remained in focus, while the surrounding terrain became blurred. This technique is effective when you want to create a sensation of movement in a still photograph.
Winter Road cSteve Gubin 2010 (Example of horizontal pan of moving car)
But what happens when we use this same technique vertically, instead of horizontally, and use it on stationary objects, instead of moving objects? If done correctly, it can create an impressionistic abstract (as in my photograph of a Chicago forest preserve at the beginning of this article), or it can be used to create a double exposure kind of effect as in the photograph "Ethereal" shown below.
The technique is fairly simple and only requires a camera on which you can manually set the f-stop and the shutter speed. For most applications of this technique, depth of field is of little importance. Most of the examples I have included here utilized high f-stop numbers as a method of controlling exposure rather than for reasons of increasing the depth of field. As a general rule, I utilize shutter speeds between 1.5 to 2 seconds. Depending on what time of day you take the shot, the long exposure times may require the use of a high f-stop. For focal distance (I almost always use primes) I would recommend something in the range of +/- 50mm.
For an example, I will use a stand of trees. For visual interest, I try to place myself at such a distance that I can include a fair number of trees in the frame. I set my focus at the base of one of the trees and, while still holding focus, draw the lens downward a few more inches. In a smooth motion, I then draw my camera upward in as straight a line as possible. As I begin this upward movement, I press the shutter. This ensures that the exposure begins while the camera is already in motion. I continue to follow through on this motion for a second or two after the shutter closes. Depending on how bright the sky is, it is generally better to not sweep the lens too high above the tree line. You'll know you have swept the lens too high when you look at the image to see that 1/2 to 1/3 of your photograph is nearly blank with a few anemic streaks running through it. If you are using a digital camera, it is easy enough to experiment with the technique until you achieve the desired effect. I have described a simple method to begin with here, but there is nothing to prevent you from starting your sweep at the top of your subject and moving downward, or even introducing a gentle zig-zag motion to change the effect. Practice and experimentation are key.
I mentioned in the last paragraph that I do not begin the exposure until the camera is already in motion. If you want to create a less abstract effect and keep a portion of the photograph recognizable (as examples, see below for the "Ethereal" and "House of Usher" photographs), you can begin the exposure while the camera is steady and then gently begin a vertical sweeping motion. The object you begin with will be the portion of the photograph that remains recognizable. This latter technique can sometimes yield results that look like a composite or a double exposure.
Lastly, the technique can also be utilized to create actual composites for various aesthetic purposes. In the photo "Netzotzim" below, I began with a vertical pan of a dense forest that looked into a clearing where a patch of sunlight was shining down. Using Adobe Photoshop Elements (rare for me, as I do 95% of my post processing in Adobe Lightroom), I added a layer with a photograph I had taken while covering a performance of the play "Fiddler on the Roof". I chose one of the images of the actor portraying Tevye as he pointed upward. I isolated the actor, matched the coloration of the base forest photograph, and "stretched" Tevye until he approximated the look of the trees. Then I placed him in such a way as to make it appear as if he was emerging from behind one of the trees.
The "Vertical Pan" technique can be utilized in many different ways, and can be a good method to spice up your photography and satisfy a desire for experimentation.
Ethereal cSteve Gubin 2011 (f16 at 1.5 sec)
House of Usher cSteve Gubin 2011 (f8 at 2 sec)
Netzotzim cSteve Gubin 2011 (f11 at 1.5 sec)
Dead of Winter, Chicago 2011 cSteve Gubin 2011 (f16 at 1.5 sec)