This story of how I am here today isn’t something I have fully explained to anyone. It has been three long struggling years to figure out what I kind of, maybe want to do. Dealing with depression, abusing alcohol and substances, failed relationships whether it was just friends or relationships with women, and a loss of inspiration and many downtimes due to self-abuse.
While there are numerous stories and experiences throughout my life to explain how I got to where I am now, I want to concentrate on my experiences from just before starting college and the present.
The first photograph I took in Chicago, in fact, one of the first times I really spent any time in the city, was of seagulls roaming a parking while waiting in line for a Nine Inch Nails Show. I was getting very excited and anxious for the show to start and I was just snapping photos and this happened to be it. A gull and the Sears Tower. For the rest of our wait, I held back on taking photos. All I had that evening was a small Nikon point and shoot. I took some photos and video and ended up a very happy guy being able to show off my experience. After that, nothing really happened with photography and stayed deep in the dark. I had a very lack luster summer, wasn’t working and spent most of the time getting silly drunk with friends around Milwaukee before I packed my bags to come to Chicago.
I took film courses at Columbia College and thought that’s what I wanted to do. I did have a good experience with shooting films, editing them and connecting with people.
However the last months of that fall semester in 2009 I hit a huge rut. I hated my studies, I hated my roommate, I hated my situation with work and money. I fell down real hard. I’m really not sure why that was, it could have been overwhelming thoughts, homesickness, which I happen to still get from time to time or that I had a total lack of appreciation of film.
Instead of completely quitting school and running back home with my tail between my legs, I pushed on, continuing wasting loan money on another study at Columbia that I still wasn’t sure I was going to like but felt a lot better about it then film. I studied audio for two semesters thereafter. I went to the dormitory office to switch rooms and after the switch things seemed far brighter, met some of the coolest people I have ever met at the school.
Towards the end of freshmen year, a girl I befriended earlier freshman year, offered me a Pentax K-1000 for about 80 bucks. I was broke, had barely enough cash, probably 100 or so bucks in my pocket, and I always had a thing with imaging. I reluctantly bought it, no questions asked. I went to my dorm all excited, showed my roommates the new, what I thought at the time, toy I had bought. The next day I went out and bought film, maybe about 6 or so rolls, and shot them all that day. Later that night I took them to Ritz and had them all processed and scanned. I was pleased to see what I had captured. I never shot film before and I was astounded how strips of emulsion and light sensitive material made such beautiful images. I also took still images of my roommate’s short film he made in our apartment. Though this was not the turning point of me becoming a photo major. I went home for the summer, began going into a slump, worked everyday and did nothing to further my audio studies.
About 2 weeks before the fall semester of what was going to be my sophomore year, I was on edge whether I would be returning to school or not. I was fairly disenchanted, uninspired and unmotivated. I even shared this with my mom and she said, once you go back maybe you’ll get back into the swing of things. So, I moved back to the city of Chicago, looked forward to class and working with old coworkers at Williams-Sonoma. And right out of the gate, I tripped and had zero patience for audio. Less then midway through, I said screw this crap. I fought through it, did lots of thinking. My option was to move back to Milwaukee. Then around early November maybe late October, my life spun around completely. I was thrusted into the world of photojournalism. I convinced my parents to buy me my first ever-digital SLR. A white, Pentax K-x. I began shooting events, political figures such as President Clinton and then mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel, concerts, self-portraits, and street photography. It was one of the coolest moments ever. I felt on top of the world. I worked with a group of people to do the News.
Our organization was called WCHI News and we had a burning passion to do it.
Things began to look good, but I became very overwhelmed and scared and removed myself from photojournalism to pursue fine art photography that eventually formed into commercial photograph. I went into a year or so hiatus from photojournalism. Black & white darkroom was an instant success for me and photo became my life. I felt that I was finally at home and at peace and that I was sure that photography was my passion. This was also the same time I signed my first lease for my apartment in Logan Square! This time was really exciting and fast paced. But once the summer rolled around again the slump returned I was working full time at work didn’t have many friends and when I tried to break away from work and have less hours so I could form friendships I was ripped back into 80+ hours a week. At this time I was also abstaining from drinking, smoking or any kind of substance. I wanted to live a pure life. Towards the end of the summer I began to think, “Man, I’m doing this all wrong. I have no friends, no social life and nothing..” I met many of my friends that I had my early junior year through cycling, something I never looked at from a social perspective. I was offered a beer after my first bike ride with a decent sized group of people. I was very hesitant. While it was the worst beer ever, Busch Light, it was the best beer because I felt accepted into a group of people, community and life style. I became a cyclist.
Later in the week I went to the chrome store and bought my first messenger bag. The sales guy, Gabe, told me to come to a Chrome Store party. I said “Sure! Sounds like fun!” Of course, that night felt very reluctant, and “meh” about going but told myself I wouldn’t be doing anything better so I went.
I met the worst person that I have met that year. Her name was Crystal and she nearly destroyed my junior year because I let the best of her get to me. I spiraled out of control. I was still underage, but somehow was snuck into bars by her, got wasted nearly every single night. Junior year came roaring in. I was like great! I’m so pumped for school, but my mind entered the party stage and I had no interest in photography or school. I finally reached a point in that semester, the day after Halloween. I woke extremely hung-over and all I thought about how I messed up school was on track of failing all of my classes and flunk out of school. I emailed my teachers that day. Not pleading with them, but asking for help to bring myself out of the slump I was in. I explained to them everything and then they kicked my butt to get assignments reshot and turned in. The end of the semester came rolling around very quickly and while I was battered and bruised, I came out of the semester alive. I passed 3 of the 5 classes I took, the other two became withdraws.
Digital version of my color darkroom print of Lower Wacker Drive
Winter break was very stale, cold, and bland. I was sober, clear headed and I dropped the biggest amount of money I have ever spent. I bought my first camera with my own money. My Nikon. I was gearing myself back up to have a great semester, kick some butt and push further into photography. I did exactly that. I pushed myself to the limit asking people to come into the studio with me so I can photograph them; I began shooting bikes and building up my commercial photography portfolio. My mind was so clear, so precise and I loved it. I was confident and happy. Unexpectedly, I met someone in my studio class. This was one of the best supporting people I have ever met. This person helped me with my set-ups, looked at my work and supported my cycling habits and was there to support me for my first cycling race. I came out of junior year feeling good about the work I produced and was ready to start off the summer.
A bike from my Chicago Cyclist Commuter project
My buddy that I ride with on overnights, now-days, kept egging me on about starting back up again and shooting events, life, city issues and the like. I finally re-approached him again telling him that I was ready to jump back into photojournalism. A couple days later, I get a text. “Come to WCHI, we are waiting for you” and all I can think is what for? I was planning to be with my girlfriend at the time and maybe go out and photograph some of the protests with her. I tell him that I would swing by a little later. The next text I get is “Can u try and make it a little earlier. AF1 arrival” And at first I couldn’t piece it together. AF1? And then it dawned upon me. President Obama was flying in with Air Force One. My heart exploded with excitement!
I finally get picked up and while the city was about to blow up with protesters, I was on my way to O’hare. I was nervous, excited and my jaw was probably wide open. I was about to see the President and his plane for the first time ever in my life and I was there to photograph it. I felt like I was back into the whole photojournalism thing and was even more pumped for the summer. But I hit a speed bump. I thought to myself, lets enjoy this summer, I’m finally 21, let’s do this. And I did the worst strike to myself. I drank like a fish, didn’t care about anybody’s feelings but my own. All I wanted to do was get drunk. All I had was work and fun time this past summer. I said screw everything. I had a huge awakening when I disappointed the girl I loved by going out to drink with my co-workers when I clearly told her I would see her right after I got out of work. This was the biggest blow to my summer, it annihilated me, I was thrusted into depression, drinking and not giving a damn about anything. Now, all I had were my friends, drinking, my bike and the piece of crap job I hated so much. This went on till about late July. I had an awakening. I finally recollected all my thoughts, all the things I should have done, all the things that I should have done to prevent myself from the rut I was in. It was like jumping into ice water. I severely cut back from drinking, suffered through many headaches, lack of energy and motivation.
This is why I am here today; this is why I am now pushing myself so hard to break from all the negative things. Early August, I scrambled to find a job that would work with my school schedule. I did. Whole Foods took me in. And as soon as I was officially hired, I committed something I normally do not do, but for me to make a drastic change and improve my emotional instability, I told my old job that I was no longer coming in and that I needed to do this. To this day I am not allowed through the front door of my old job. I’m okay with that.
I finally broke from the rut and figured out that photojournalism, as I did in late 2010 and early 2011, is for me. I ride with someone who I now call my best friend, he helped me get a freelancing position at the Chicago Tribune, and he is further pushing me for other papers and to make a name for myself. I cover spot news in Chicagoland
The first streams to be operational to fight the fire on Elston warehouse fire.
at night and do assignments during the day for WCHI NEWS such as political events, concerts, and the upcoming Obama rally. I have also set the goal of making it to AP White House Press Pool. Thinking about photographing the President of the United States is something that fascinates me, things no one ever sees, I get to see and being able to travel with the President all over the country… even the world.
Air Force One landing at Chicago’s O’hare on 10/25/2012
Another person, who has opened my eyes to wanting a life in photojournalism, is my mentor, my teacher, and my inspiration. He is John H. White. White is the man who really showed me that PJ is something I can make a living off of if I push my limits, get the shots and remain passionate about my work. All I want to do is capture life in and around Chicago. I want to show the people of our city, the country, and the world what I see and what happens when they aren’t looking. I live one pedal stroke at a time, listen to what my heart says, and I love every single moment and day.
I’m a photojournalist, a cyclist and a sucker for the little moments.