A Healthy New Gallery

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I just added a fifth photo gallery to the “Health and Wellness” section of my site, in this case largely consisting of healthcare photography. With just three sections overall on my site, the 5 health documentary photo galleries weigh pretty heavily.

Hmm, funny how things work. As the son of a Cuban doctor and a pre-med in my college days, I swear I’m not overcompensating for not going into the medical profession (or at least I think I’m not). None of my brothers became a doctor, but I did give it a try until I realized that the creative-associative way of thinking was how I was wired.

In the grand mysteries of the subconscious and the laws of nature (and the creative process I’ve written about), I’m sure there’s something that would explain these rather unusual convergences. What many photographers find is that projects choose them, they don’t really choose their projects.

Largely. I have realized moments where project ideas that I subconsciously let pass were then picked up by other photographers – almost as if life was allowing me first rights of refusal before showing what could have been.

Free will happens.

As 2016 gets underway, I look forward to more blogging (I’m shy about making resolutions…), so thank you for those who have stuck with me during my semi-hibernation from the blogosphere:-)

 

 

Come to Cuba with me and the New York Times!

Cuba-Travel-New-York-Times

As an independent photographer, little did I realize that you don’t actually have to be on staff at the New York Times to be a guide for a Times Journey. A friend there recommended that I reach out to be one of the “experts” for their educational trips to Cuba. To my delight, based on my background and experience, they accepted. I will be on the Feb 19-27 trip, giving short talks about various topics of Cuba while we make our way to various destinations. I say “our” because you’ll be there, right?

A Times Journey is very cool. The excursion brings you to a locale based on their institutional knowledge and contacts of the location. In Cuba, it’s 9 days and 8 nights. On the link above it takes you through what will likely be the itinerary, day-to-day, in Cuba. I looked through the itinerary and was impressed. I’ve lived in Cuba for some ten months starting since 1995 and was intrigued with some of the places that they’ve arranged.

For example, I don’t know how you could possibly get a tour of Granma, the party newspaper, without an organization like the New York Times arranging that kind of meeting. We’ll also visit the beautiful and eerily prehistoric Viñales Valley, as well as visiting Las Terrazas, a sustainable community in the mountains of Sierra del Rosario and a Unesco‐designated Biosphere Reserve. We will be busy meeting interesting people, including tobacco farmers, a world-class artist, Afro-Cuban dancers, a famous chef, an art historian, gender rights activist, architect and planner. In between we’ll be seeing the colonial architecture, the lush countryside and above all the people. I’ll see if my cousins and uncle can stop by… Once you get a flavor of Cuba, I think you’ll be planning your next trip.

If you’re a photographer, not only will you be getting an education from a New York Times tour, but photo advice from me in a small group setting. It’s not a photo trip per se, but we’ll have lots of time together, as I’ll be with the group throughout the trip, except when people want to go out on their own.

Obviously, above are the plans but they can change since there’s some time between now and then. That’s part of the adventure, right?

If you’re thinking about it, don’t take too much time to decide. The January trip is already sold out. One of my former editors at the Tribune already signed up, and I imagine Cuba is in everyone’s mind to visit, especially during the winter. (I don’t get paid anything for recruiting students, or by how many sign up – I’m only letting you know as a courtesy)

If I can answer any questions, shoot me an email!

Joining the NPPA Board of Directors

It’s an honor today to be appointed to the board of directors of the National Press Photographers Association by president Mark Dolan. I’ll be serving out the term of a director who is leaving.  The NPPA has been a powerful voice for photographers, finding itself on the front line of issues affecting the livelihood of photographers.  Most of the photography community at large probably isn’t even aware the debt it owes to the advocacy done by NPPA and its general consul Mickey Osterreicher on such contemporary legal issues such as Orphan Works and drone photography.  It’s a privilege to be a part of the organization, and I’m grateful for the invitation.

My involvement, which I’m sure was Mark Dolan’s intention, was to bring more voices of independent professionals into the room at a time where there are less and less photographers who are full-time staff photographers.  After I decided to leave the Chicago Tribune, I came to acutely understand the challenges of being an independent contractor while staying true to oneself as a storyteller. I join the ranks of many other photojournalists who either left their companies, took buyouts, or were let go.  The challenge for the NPPA is to help those photographers who wish to continue their important documentary work when the business model is in a tailspin.

NPPAboardSome perspective about the value of photojournalism – at a recent portfolio review, I met with several art buyers from ad agencies who with few exceptions started our conversations professing an admiration for photojournalism. They, like the world at large, understand that photojournalists are non-fiction photographers whose images have the ring of truth. Their clients and audiences are becoming more sophisticated about imagery and are demanding less spin and more authentic documentary storytelling. Like what happened in the wedding market, real-life documentary is a trend in the commercial world. This should come as some encouragement for those wondering if there a ways to sustain one’s career as a narrative storyteller.

From my perspective, there are economic trends in the market that cut both ways for photographers. But some may not wish to go down any commercial or corporate route, preferring to double-down on the editorial world. Others pursue the wedding market to support their photojournalism. The challenge is to support, encourage and strengthen the work of photojournalists however they wish to stay in business. As someone who has worked more than twenty years at newspapers, I hope to bring some ideas and energy to the association’s mission.

 

Loop Photos at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Center

©2015 Alex Garcia 708-824-7778

chicago el train from above in the lobby of chicago mercantile exchange

©2015 Alex Garcia 708-824-7778

When a real estate company asked whether it was possible for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Center to display photographs on my website from the Loop in Chicago, I was delighted. I’ve wanted to find a venue for the images for some time, but was more thinking about book form. After receiving permission from the Chicago Tribune, which has rights to most of the images from my series, we arranged nine backlit displays in their public lobby. The gallery is rotated about every year. As you can see from my main site, the images were composed horizontally, so there was some cropping to make them fit in the new format. But they’re huge! I was delighted when I stopped by last week. I was also delighted when a security guard came by to wave away my camera until I said was the photographer. Instead, I was able to wave away the security guard. How often does that happen? Please stop by if you’re in the Loop. The images are well captioned, giving a sense of the importance of the images to the importance and history of the Loop.

TedX Midwest Youth – Of Story and Hope

TedX Midwest Youth – Of Story and Hope from Alex Garcia on Vimeo.

I have a heart for high schoolers and the decisions they have to make, especially on the cusp of graduation. It’s a little disorienting all the freedoms coming their way. Especially with the power to drive, teenagers can make decisions that shape their lives for years to come. When you’re a teenager you may not realize the implications of all your choices, but you do in hindsight. At this particular talk, we were asked to impart advice to hundreds of top students gathered from high schools around the Chicago area. I settled on some of the most important lessons for young people based upon my experiences as a photojournalist at the Chicago Tribune (I’ve since left the newspaper to pursue a freelance career). I was joined by MIR Space Station owner Chirinjeev Kathuria, Entrepreneur Emerson Spartz, top Google engineer Brian Fitzpatrick, and serial mountain climber Samantha Larson. I reference some of them in my talk. (There are a few spots of rough audio that were outside my control).
My highly subjective guiding principles came down to these:
1. Pitch and Practice
2. Create a Visual Buzz
3. Polish to Excellence
4. Calculate Risk
5. Dream and Plan
6. Don’t Drop Trou (not what you think)
7. Blink Your Eye
I talk about the power of story in shaping a life, but ultimately the greater theme is hope. Thank you for giving it a listen and sharing it with those who might appreciate it.

Speaking at Casa Central

Casa-Central-Week-of-Hope

 

For 60 years, Casa Central, the largest social service agency in the Midwest,  has been transforming lives in Chicago – with a special emphasis on the Hispanic community. The organization is on the front lines of providing education for children, health services for seniors and help for families struggling to be self-sufficient. With the finances of Illinois in deep trouble, cuts to social services and those in need are just around the corner. Organizations like Casa Central deserve all our support. On June 1st, there will be a reception for its annual Week of Hope. Please consider attending the reception and learning more about this organization. More information can be found on its website. I’ll be presenting images about healthcare in Cuba and famous chef Carlos Gaytan will be working his culinary masterpieces. Hope to see you there!

Image Library of a Consulting Firm

WestMonroePartners

I was delighted to visually express the personality of the principals and associates at the business and technology consulting firm West Monroe Partners for their new website and branding makeover. The assignment was to create an image library of portraits and candids in the workplace, so as a photographer I didn’t want to overwhelm the environment with lighting but to accentuate it. The portraits were often between what you would call an informal portrait and observed moments. Most situations were arranged to some degree, with an assistant and a stylist professional. The goal was to meet the creative brief’s need to create intimate images with a diversity but a common vision to the photography. I had website mock-ups that acted as a creative guide. Between moments of portraiture, I was able to roam and capture candid moments happening in the people landscape as well, at both their Chicago and Seattle offices.

Our team produced so much more that what you currently see on the site, but since it was an image library, their needs will be met for some time in the future (the whole goal) as the site expands and changes to accommodate their business. Bringing out the personality and capturing authentic and candid moments of people is essentially what I’ve been doing for twenty years in reportage, so this project was a lot of fun to work on.  Nonetheless, it helps to have great subjects who are confident about their work. The company has been voted one of the top workplaces  by the Tribune (my former employer), and the high morale shows in the energetic faces of those you see on their site.

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Teaching at the School of Visual Arts – New York | SVA NY

mps photography program - bruce davidson

Have you ever heard of the School of Visual Arts – New York,  or taken an online photography class?  If you’re a Midwesterner like myself (with a flirtation of Los Angeles) you may not know much about either.

Over the last few years while blogging at the Chicago Tribune, I became acquainted through Twitter with Katrin Eismann, the chair of the MPS Digital Photography program at the school. I wasn’t quite aware of SVA, even though it has been named one of the “best art schools in the world”.

Then an opening came up in their teaching roster last summer, and she gave me a call. After some deliberation (I was leaving the Tribune and had commitment-phobia), I agreed and became an online instructor of a class called, “The Art of Editorial Photography”.

Ever since writing a post about CreativeLive!, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of online learning. Many people said the future of higher education was MOOC’s and online learning. How does that work anyway?

It was, as they say, an education in the rigors of online teaching. At least in the SVA program, student behavior is measured via the interface. You can see when and how often a student spends time with the material, how many questions and answers they offer in online discussions and how long are their answers. There are time stamps for most everything – including when exactly they handed in their weekly photo assignments. After having taught in real-life classrooms on the university level, it was a relief to finally have hard data on which to base decisions. It’s like having a virtual teaching assistant helping you see what you might miss and where you can put more of your energies.

But the process also brings rigor to the instructor as well. Lectures are written out, images are on display, comments are shown. As an instructor, you can’t riff it, wing it, or run out of time. It keeps you focused on the content of your lesson plan. Your words can be compared, scrutinized, challenged. You also have to add more value to your class than what can be found elsewhere on the internet. No one wants just a page of links and information that is easy to come by. As an online instructor, you also get the experience of working with students from around the world such as Canada, South Africa, China, Costa Rica, Mexico

What impressed me most is the top level of talent within SVA’s orbit in New York (online students must spend a summer in New York). Within a short radius, New York has a disproportionate number of legends in the photography world. Fly a drone and you’ll crash into one. Whether it’s through Katrin or through other esteemed SVA faculty, such as Greg Gorman, Elizabeth Avedon and James Estrin, the school incorporates a constant stream of guest lectures from creators and creative decision-makers into the curriculum, both in-person and through online video, including people like,  Kira Pollack, Brad Smith, Steve Winter, Ira Block, and Ruddy Roye.  The school has a podcast channel where you can see and listen to speakers from their i3 Lecture Series.

Even a top-notch New York copyright lawyer who speaks in their business class puts the fire of copyright under them. What a relief to have photo students who are schooled in business! Can I tell you how incredibly frustrated I am by other photo programs that don’t offer such a class?

I’ve seen, heard about, and read about many photography programs out there. I’ve been largely unimpressed. In fact, some have just made me plain angry. I’ve spoken to graduates of photo programs who have been so abandoned that they’re like sheep without a shepherd.

If you’re going to spend money for a master’s degree in photography, whether because you need a master’s degree to teach at the university level, or because you’re switching careers and need a structured setting, you want to make sure your money is well spent, both through inspiration, instruction and the connections you make.

So when I believe in something, I’ll put it out there. I don’t make any money signing anyone up for this program, so no, this is not a sponsored post.

If I needed any confirmation about what I was sensing – just recently I was hired by a branding firm in Connecticut for an assignment here in Chicago. The principal of the firm used to work for Apple and IBM – very successful. We got to talking and it turns out it was an SVA graduate. He talked about how great it was to meet and speak with top talent in New York while completing his studies. Indeed, through the connections he made there, his career got started.

But if you’re looking around at photography programs, I would recommend giving serious consideration to SVA – both the online and the on-site version. Applications for the fall are now being accepted.

 

 

Some Things You Can’t Plan For in Nicaragua…

You just have to adapt – on any kind of production. In this case, during a ten-day assignment in Nicaragua for Al Jazeera America, our team of four people criss-crossed the country to get ahead of plans to create the Interoceanic AlexinBoatGrand Canal, a canal through Nicaragua that has becomes known as the largest engineering project attempted in human history. You can imagine the logistics, the on-the-fly decision-making and the constant cost-benefit analyses that come when you have a limited amount of time but ambitious plans. Many of the places we were traveling to didn’t have strong communication or even an exact place on a map.

On top of that, weather changes. On the day that we were due to travel down the coast of the Caribbean to an indigenous community called Bangkukuk, we were forced to move ahead and sail into the ocean during a small boat advisory. (It was just an advisory, right?) It didn’t look bad from shore, but once we got out onto the open sea, our boat was airborne at certain points because of the huge waves. A writer in the boat was thrown to its floor so we ended up holding onto each other, in part because I was concerned she would simply fly out. The motor putted out, as it became entangled by seaweed. At that point, I was looking for flotation devices to help get us to shore and barked at everyone to get vests on. All my equipment? Surely a casualty. I switched to an iPhone and ended up accidentally taking a picture of me doing an impression of a wet dog. The first image below was taken with my phone, when our first mate was trying to hang on like riding a wild bull. The image led one of the days of the piece.

We survived and of course had a good story to tell. Below are some favorite images from the project, as we sought to tell the stories that mattered – the people whose lives would be potentially affected by the canal. I’ve added images to my main site. It was a five-day series, so if you have some time, please be sure to read about the fascinating project.

All photos ©2015 Alex Garcia

Several indigneous tribal areas that will be disrupted by the proposed canal project are only accessible by boat. Here, the second mate of a boat headed to Bangkukuk struggles to stay on his feet during a small boat advisory that was issued for the Caribbean waters.  February 24, 2015

Bangkukuk resident Edwin McCrea prepares to cut down bananas in a part of the jungle where he grows subsistence crops to keep his family going.  February 25, 2015

Fishing in Lake Nicaragua, Martin Correa throws out a net at sunset from at pier at San Miguelito.  February 21, 2015

 

Nicaragua fisherman

 

A great egret soars with a fish in its beak above Lake Nicaragua, demonstrating the biodiversity at risk by a canal project that will cut through the lake. Environmentalists and fishermen are concerned about the impact of massive dredging in the lake.  February 22, 2015

 

©2015 Alex Garcia

Pedro McCrea and his wife Cristina, Rama village elders, stand on a point at Bangkukuk that was identified by surveyors with a concrete marker. The proposed canal project is confusing for many villagers, who wish to defend their way of life from the project.  February 25, 2015

Roger Guido, the owner of a small-scale banana plantation, has helped organize opposition to the canal in the western town of Rivas.  February 28, 2015.

Women and children of Bangkukuk regularly play stickball in an open field in the village while the men of the village are away during the day.  February 24, 2015

 

Geo Magazine and the Joy of Work

I was delighted when GEO magazine reached out to ask about licensing my portrait of a window-washer for a double-truck in their “Kosmos” feature. The photograph continues to be one of my favorite, not least of all because you don’t often see portraits taken while looking down the side of a skyscraper. What I also enjoy the moment of a man who loves his work. We all want to enjoy our work, yet to see someone reveling in their employment is so un-Dilbertian. There’s honor in all work. Seeing him strapped in, pushing off the side of a building in the hot sun – it is such a great reminder that one person’s no-way-I’m-going-to-do-that drudgery is another person’s I-love-this joy. Great for him! Now if I could just find more copies of GEO in Chicago, I will be sending him a copy (hope he speaks German).

portrait of man in Chicago building