Observations on the practice, history, and aesthetics of photography and sundry other matters...

The Winter Streets of Chicago and the Return of Chiberia 2015

January 02, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Books A Million, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Winter arrives once more in the Midwest and the Greater Chicagoland area.  Except for a brief snowstorm in November of 2014, the weather has been relatively mild.  Will the Polar Vortex rear it's ugly head in 2015 and bring sub-zero temperatures and another April snowstorm?  Will Chiberia return this year?  Or will the weather gods be more merciful and leave us alone?

[UPDATE on current prediction models for the winter of 2015, along with some very rough explanations of the phenomena which will impact the weather.]

Some of the major factors that determine what kind of winter the Chicago area will have are the polar jet stream, the sub-tropical jet stream and either El Nino or La Nina.   The jet streams are high altitude currents of wind which normally flow from west to east.  When certain weather patterns occur, as in a large low or high pressure system, the jet streams can dip or bend from their "normal" area and have significant impact on the areas into which they intrude.  In 2014, for example, the polar jet stream frequently "dipped" below the latitude of Canada and brought with it a strong flow of cold-laden arctic air.  This was also combined with a phenomenon in which the Polar Vortex (essentially a large scale cyclone which rotates about the north and south poles) moved from it's normal position about the pole and meandered into more southerly latitudes, bringing with it a Siberian chill of sub-zero temperatures.  Hence the term, "Chiberia".

Strangely enough, Chicago weather can also be impacted by ocean currents thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean.  Primary among these is the El Nino Southern Oscillation (or "ENSO" as it is referred to by meteorologists and climatologists).  I do not claim to be a meteorological expert, but the El Nino effect depends upon whether the ocean current oscillation is warm or cool.  An exceptionally cool current creates the Pacific phenomenon known as "La Nina".  Roughly, La Nina brings with it much cooler temperatures to certain areas, and a lack of rainfall to others (particularly the southwest), while a strong El Nino brings warmer temperatures and a possible end to drought in certain regions of the US.

Some meteorologists have recently seen signs to indicate that El Nino is strengthening and may make a return in 2015.  This could bring a milder and drier winter to the greater Chicago area, and possibly end the drought conditions that have plagued other regions. 

The thing to remember is that all of these factors (and, in fact, factors all over our planet, not just in the Pacific or the northern hemisphere), are part of a highly complex and interrelated system.  Meteorologists can predict weather changes based upon previously observed data during certain conditions, but we still do not fully understand how they influence each other.  What causes a strong or weak El Nino?  What, if any, effect does it have upon the Polar Vortex, the polar jet stream, or the subtropical jet stream?

If nothing else, Chicago area residents may be able to realistically hope for a relatively mild winter in 2015.  The interpretation of some of the recent data indicates that we can expect much less snowfall than last year, along with milder overall temperatures -- possibly even including some spring-like temperatures in January or February.

(I obtained some of my prediction information from the website liveweatherblogs.com, Tom Skilling's extended forecasts, and the always informational Wikipedia.com)

On the photographic front, all of this may mean less dramatic photos of Chicago weather this winter. (Remember some of those amazing Polar Vortex shots taken along the Chicago waterfront from last winter?  None taken by me, alas, but kudos to the brave souls who ventured out to capture them.)  But that is a price I will gladly pay for a milder winter in 2015.

So take heart, my friends, and here's to an early Spring!       

Photographs from some early winter wanderings through Chicago and the collar suburbs...


Winter gloves, Michigan Ave, December 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Van Buren and La Salle, December 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Moose, Morton Grove 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Wabash and Van Buren, December 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


77 E Van Buren, December 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


November 2014 snowstorm, Capulina Ave, Morton Grove IL     cSteve Gubin 2014


One Way, Wells St, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Alleyway in snowstorm, Morton Grove IL     cSteve Gubin 2014


December on Van Buren, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Fact, Fiction, and Feeling in Street Photography

October 25, 2014  •  Leave a Comment


Joe in the park, Des Plaines IL     cSteve Gubin 2014


"...the black-and-white photograph is flat, monochromatic, motionless, contained within a frame, and descriptive only of a single point of view.  In fact, the medium so radically alters the world that the photographic image may be understood to have more in common with fictional descriptions than with tangible facts."

-Jonathan Green, American Photography, (1984)-


A street or documentary photograph is paradoxically both a fact and a fiction. It purports to be a literal record of a singular moment, but the reduction to only two dimensions, and the stripping away of the periphery by the act of framing, transmutes the image into something else. It is a fiction, yet also a reality unto itself, possessed of its own rules and potential consequences, imparting its own essence and truth. 

While none of this is particularly new, and has been expressed in the past via both words and imagery (most notably by John Szarkowski and Garry Winogrand in the 1960's), it seems not to have sunk into the popular imagination.  If the general populace even conceives of a photograph as being both a fact and a fiction, the metrics of popularity used on various social media sites ("likes", "+1's", "favorites", "follows" "love", etc.) distinctly point to a preference for photographic facts and fictions that are portrayed in as pleasant and colorful a fashion as possible.  "Eye Candy" is the term sometimes used to categorize populist photographic sensibilities.  Why bother plumbing the murky depths of Rosalind Solomon or Larry Clark when the crystalline shallows of the latest social media wunderkinds are so inviting and close at hand?  If Szarkowski thought he could pry the world away from the easily accessible optimism of The Family of Man, the photographic landscape of much of the internet says otherwise.      

Although popular taste has rarely made much aesthetic impact upon the art world -- unless it was served with a healthy dollop of irony, or as a form of social commentary -- the duality of fact and fiction still remains problematic for some.  Such expenditure of angst by so many photographers over showing what they "saw", over capturing "the truth"!  For some, it is the importance of "not disturbing the scene".  For others, the fact exists in intentionally engaging a subject (or subjects) and thereby allowing the essence, "the truth" of the subject, to willingly blossom before the lens.  Some may practice both methods, and every imaginable shade and variation in between.  And, of course, there is the opposing view which posits that no photograph shows the truth, that they are all lies, deceptions, and fictions.  But seeking truth and facts, or even lies and deceptions, in a two-dimensional simulacrum is a fool's errand until you come to the realization that the photograph is the fact.  A fact separate from whatever reality it is that the photographer thought they were capturing.     

But how are these facts discerned?  And who are they discerned by?  It is not a question of accurate color, or zone system, or histograms, or resolution.  That is the province of the technician....and leads right back to popular taste.    

It is the feeling.  The feeling the photographer experienced while they took the photograph, the feeling derived from the surroundings, and quite frequently, the feeling that was not revealed until the editing process took place (hours, weeks, or  even years after the image was taken).  It is the feeling the viewer derives from looking at the image.  And that feeling may or may not be similar to the one experienced by the photographer.  It almost doesn't matter.  What matters is that the reality of the feeling transforms the fiction of the photograph into a new "fact", a transcendent accuracy that reaches beyond empirical reality.  In theory, this can hold equally true for "eye candy" and "popular" photography, but it rarely applies because the popularity of such photos exists primarily in their easy accessibility, in their being exactly as what they appear to be (whether they are "true" or staged in a studio).  It is the more difficult photographs (possessed of ironic banality, deceptive simplicity, fantastical constructs, the seemingly mundane, the anti-decisive moment, etc.) whose significance requires feeling, accompanied by thought, to be revealed.  It is this method, the application of feeling to arrive at the "fact" of the photograph itself, that causes certain vernacular photographs to be recognized for a brilliance never intended or dreamed of by the person who took them. 

It is not something that everyone is comfortable with, because it is hard to grasp, hard to put accurately into words, and almost impossible to quantify.  And that is very nearly a sin in a world largely obsessed with the need to quantify everything and assign objective metrics as a measurement of value.  (Now there's a fiction for you...)  But it is important that this methodology, whereby feeling is utilized to guide and assist conscious analysis, is not construed as an all-forgiving relativism whereby anything goes and anything is significant.

As examples, it is the underpinning of feeling which gives strength to the more challenging photos, say, of Lee FriedlanderWilliam Eggleston, or Daido MoriyamaIntellect alone, discerning formal visual arrangements, or reading and assigning statements of social significance, are not enough to grasp the "why!?" of photographs like these.  (Compare this to the much touted and misunderstood "decisive moment" which, by itself, renders an image as nothing more than a one trick pony.  If that is all a photograph has to offer, then it descends nearly to the level of a cheap parlor trick.)  Much relies on the ability of the photograph itself (and thereby the intuitive and innate talents of the photographer) to convey the feeling, mood, or atmosphere wherein the "fact" of the image exists.  And it often requires a corresponding talent on the part of the viewer to ferret it out.  If good photographers are "born not made", then the same may be said for a gifted viewer, curator, collector, or critic.  Sometimes, the act of understanding requires as much effort as the act of creating.      


El Platform, Adams and Wabash, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Woman and man, Foster Ave Beach, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2014


S. Wabash Ave, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2014


Interior of an Irving Park duplex, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2012


Family under the El tracks at Wabash and Adams, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2014


On Crowded Isolation

September 20, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

West Loop Ephemera, "Forgive Yourself", Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Poem beginning with a line from Santayana

It is not urged against cuticles that they are not hearts
which venture forth in search of toenail clippings lost.
You and I seek no forgiveness for the masks we leave behind
like breadcrumbs leading back to where our rootless bodies wait
in crowded isolation.

Blindly, our private desires stretch forth public tentacles
to probe the lacunae of history:
Theirs. Mine. Yours. The yet unwritten and
the lost.

Gutter angels leer from street corners
on the periphery of our vision.
Unrecognized. Mistaken for passing demons
of no consequence, we hurry past
lest consequence occur.

They mind not, nor do we mind
the blurring of the line between now and
between mask and flesh
root and rootlessness.
Too late we see there is no line,
only an eternal quest for the face we wore
before our mothers were born.

cSteve Gubin 2014


Woman on Adams III, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Sunday on Michigan Ave, Chicago 2012     cSteve Gubin 2012


Man reading newspaper, Wabash and Adams 2012     cSteve Gubin 2012


Waiting for the Metra, Millenium Station 2013     cSteve Gubin 2013


Outside the Blackhawks Store, 325 N Michigan Ave, 2012     cSteve Gubin 2012


Ephemera from The Loop, "We Can't Stand You", Chicago 2011     cSteve Gubin 2011

Urban Beach Life on the Coast of Chicago

August 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Couple on the beach, Chicago 2014      cSteve Gubin 2014


Anyone who has lived in Chicago for a fair amount of time knows the feeling of those bleak, gray, snow-filled days of January and February when it seems as if winter will never end.  Everyone has their favorite season, but I'd wager that for most Chicagoans, summer is the most longed for season.  There's fishing, barbecues, trips to Wisconsin, long hot nights, and the siren call of the coast of Lake Michigan.

Here are a few glimpses into the urban beach life found along the sandy shores of this city.


Two boys playing in the surf, Foster Ave Beach, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2014


Woman under beach umbrella, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Boy with string, Foster Ave Beach, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Mother and daughter, Lake Michigan, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2014


Children at play, Lake Michigan, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2014


Three twenty-somethings, Foster Ave Beach, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2014


Three women with Tommy Bahama gear, Foster Ave Beach, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2014


Woman reading, Foster Ave Beach, Chicago     cSteve Gubin 2014


Sisyphus, Foster Ave Beach, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Forbidden Tower, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Gulls and Beach Crowd, Chicago 2014     cSteve Gubin 2014


Thank you, Chicago Blackhawks!

June 08, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

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