My Chicago Exposure Expedition


In my last blog, about taking the Photowalk with Trey Ratcliff at Burning Man, I mentioned that young Mr. Ratcliff does this in cities all over the world. He has a tremendous following, and it’s an impressive thing to have so many people show up for an event like this.

I have no such following.

A few days after returning from Burning Man, and after I spent an hour or so cleaning my camera equipment, I left for a few days in Chicago, Illinois (one of my favorite cities!).

I was there to attend and participate in the GraphExpo trade show and conference. I held two seminars at the event, and I did booth duty in Cal Poly’s booth on Education Main Street. On Wednesday morning I had a breakfast meeting with the Gravure Association of America at the Drake hotel on upper Michigan Avenue, and then I returned to my hotel.

Window washers on Intercontinental 15

Window washers perform aerial feats on the windows of the Chicago Intercontinental Hotel. Each one sits on a small board suspended by two ropes from the roof of the building while they perform an intricate (and seemingly choreographed) dance with soapy water and a squeegee.

The GraphExpo show shuts down at 2:00 on the last day. By the time I had returned to my hotel, it was time to check out. I guessed that it would take me about 30 minutes to get to the show after that, followed by no more than an hour of time on the show floor, after which I had to get to the airport to catch a flight back to California and a faculty meeting in the morning. (Using logic similar to Arlo Guthrie’s logic in Alice’s Restaurant…) I decided not to go back to the trade show, but instead to spend two hours on the river in Chicago having lunch and taking photos.

Walkers on RiverwalkWalkers on the Riverwalk promenade create interesting shadows as they walk below me.

So I dragged my suitcase over to the Whole Foods store near my hotel and I bought provisions for a nice lunch. Then I took those to the Chicago River, just a block away, and began my own version of Trey Ratcliff’s Photowalk. Mine differed in two significant ways: 1) I was working alone, and 2) I couldn’t call mine a Photowalk because that’s his phrase for his famous walks. I decided to call mine an Exposure Expedition.

Building reflections 01The windows of one of Chicago’s riverside buildings create delightful reflections of its opposite on the other side of the river.

The rules: I gave myself one hour, plus or minus a bit, to walk and take photos along the Chicago River. En route I stopped and ate lunch at one of many comfortable places that the city has provided for people like me to do things like this. I also had a train to catch at about 2:00 p.m., one that would take me to O’Hare (about 45 minutes from Clark and Lake Streets). I could take photos of any subject from any location within one block north-south of the east-west-running river. No other rules.

I snuck one daybreak photo into the mix, one which was not taken in the allocated hour. It was so lovely I just couldn’t let it go.

KayakersKayakers float under the Dearborn Street bridge.

I took 123 photos, some of which were intended to be stitched into panoramas later. Using my strictest editing techniques, I narrowed the selection of photos down to 15 (two are stitched panoramas). I did very slight color corrections on some of them, I cropped a bit here and there, and I made a slide show of the resulting images, using the Output functions in Adobe Bridge.

Chicago Exposure Expedition 067Tourist boats cruise the river, taking people on sightseeing voyages. The Chicago River is a wonderful urban playground and the center of a beautiful city.

The result is very satisfying. I like the 15 photos, and I feel that my hour-plus spent along the Chicago River was very productive. It was time well-spent, and it was one of the prettiest days I have ever spent in Chicago. The weather was superb, the food was good (albeit overpriced), and the public was having a great time along the river. All of this added up to a very successful Exposure Expedition. I plan to repeat this event again, and I might invite the public to participate. If I decide to do that, I will be sure to invite you.

To see the slideshow of my 15 photos, click here.

About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and was a Guest Professor at Hochschule München from September, 2021 to September, 2022. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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2 Responses to My Chicago Exposure Expedition

  1. Linda Heisig says:

    Great photos of Chicago! Did you get a chance to go to Wrigley Field? I was amazed at how clean downtown Chicago is. We left a restaurant late at night, and the 6 of us decided to walk back to our hotel on Wacker Dr. We encountered small groups of men, one with a steam pressure washer, and the rest armed with windex and towels, who clean the doorways, windows, walkways, etc. They work only at night, like little “oompah loompahs” and leave the downtown sparkling!

    • Brian Lawler says:

      No Wrigley Field on this trip, but I will certainly do that in the future. I agree that downtown Chicago is a wonderful place for residents and visitors alike. I love being there.

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