Art Gallery: A Few Unused Photos

As it often happens, I find myself with photographs that don’t find their way onto finished books. Either the material didn’t fit the themes of various projects, or they were experiments that didn’t continue into the future. So these are essentially sketches or practice works that would influence later albums.

If memory serves, I captured these photos of a nearby Lao Sze Chuan restaurant in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood in early April. I was just goofing around with “Biotracer” pop art variations, thinking of how I could use it for a future project. Wasn’t exactly sure where it could go, but I was thinking of visiting more locations and doing something in that style.

A week later, I dusted off my Portraits project that had been in a holding pattern since last summer and created a set of photos. That sparked a full revival and within four weeks, I had 30 model sets and 270 digital artworks. Needless to say, all the energy for my pop art obsessions were already expended here, and so there’s no space left for anything else at the moment.

Looking forward, I honestly don’t see any use for these photos, as the rest of my year is already committed to a large number of book projects. And given the way my creative inspiration saunters along, my mind could be in an entirely different space by this time next year. I’m not sure if I’d even be interested in making a series or a book out of these photos. What are the ongoing themes? What am I trying to say? How does it relate to my previous work? How does it show an evolution of my art?

So, whatever. I’ll just post them here and let everyone enjoy them right here and now. Beyond that, I wouldn’t count on seeing them again. As always, if that ever changes, you’ll be the first to know.

New Book: The Loop

I’ve finished the photos and sequencing for book number 24: The Loop. This is a photography book that features 170 monochrome photos of various locations around the downtown Chicago neighborhood known as “the loop,” named so because of the elevated train lines that circle around several blocks just south of the Chicago River. The photos were assembled from five or six sessions in April and May and everything went very smoothly.

I wanted to revisited downtown Chicago once again, as well as assemble another black-and-white album, so this was a good opportunity. The look of this album is different. Blacklight and Farewell, Chicago Tribune aimed for a classic film noir look, but this time I wanted something different. After some experimentation, I found something that works: high exposure, high contrast, heavy color saturation that balances things out when converted to silvertone monochrome. The images have a dreamlike quality similar to the flashback scenes in Isao Takahata’s 1991 masterpiece, Omohide Poro Poro, but also a cold industrial feel to textures and details. Finally, I added in a fading filter effect along the edges of the frame to give a vintage look. I wanted these photos to look like they were taken in the 1920s.

As always, there are sights that you want to capture in a project like this, such as the elevated train tracks and the iconic skyscrapers, but there’s also a concerted effort to avoid cliches. Only a single photo shows the city’s iconic “bean” sculpture, which is nestled in the background. I preferred to shoot along State Street instead of the more popular Michigan Avenue. Some streets and locations are a little off the beaten path, which is always more interesting than the tourist traps. Of course, the large Picasso sculpture has to be shot, and I was supremely lucky to find a massive swarm of pigeons on the day I was shooting there, thanks to one person who was feeding the birds.

Everything is sequenced out of order, which adds to this sense of being lost in a vast urban jungle. I’ve lived in Chicago for over three years now and still find myself feeling disoriented now and then, and I wanted to convey that sense of confusion and adventure. It’s a fun area to wander around and explore and kill a few hours. The final six shots of the subway ride home came from the third session, I believe, and I always wanted those to close out the book. There always has to be at least some form of narrative flow, a sense of a story that begins and ends, although I wasn’t nearly as obsessed over this as I was when making Lost in the Long COVID Summer.

I think my skills as a photographer have improved nicely over the years. The compositions are just the way I want them, complex and packed with lots of geometric angles inspired by classic cinema and early 20th Century art and a general disdain for 1) linear perspective and 2) the “rule of thirds.” There are some shots that use mirrors or glass to create a surreal multiple-exposure look. And I made sure to include more shots of people on the streets. You’d think America’s third-largest city would have crowded downtown streets, but I find that Chicago is very often sparsely populated, especially when dealing such a cold spring as this year’s, where temperatures hover in the upper 30s long past their due date.

A sampling of photos appears after the jump. The book now moves along to the Scribus book layout phase, the long and grinding part of the job that’s never much fun. But it was a lot of fun creating these photos. I can’t wait for you to see them.

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Updates on Upcoming Books

I wanted to share a quick update on all the upcoming book projects that are currently working their way through the pipeline. I have been working furiously these past few weeks to complete the next wave of titles, as well as moving the following waves forward. At present, this is the publishing schedule that I have committed myself for the next 12 months. We will see how well that prediction holds.

Upcoming Book Projects

Book 20: Portraits – This art/photography book features 30 models and 270 pieces. All of the artwork has been completed and are ready for the page layout stage in Scribus. I have told myself that this would be the first entry in an ongoing series, but any future volumes will be largely dependent on sales and the public’s reaction.

Book 21: Anthology III – This art book features 102 works in pop art, graffiti and zine style, created at various points from 1998-2017, plus a mirrored set of 102 “remixed” pieces created exclusively for this release. All artwork has been completed and is awaiting the Scribus page layout stage. I still need a formal title and have been tempted to use “Graffiti Bridge” or something similar.

Update (5/10): I came up with a good title for this book: Riot Act: Anthology III. A nice nod to my current “favorite” Pearl Jam album, which I recently purchased on vinyl LP. I think it fits nicely. As for future anthology books, I still have a number of digital artworks created in 2004-05 and the 2007-2017 “desk calendar” series. Not entirely sure how to proceed with the former, and the latter will prove a great challenge for the digital version, as I would need a large enough resolution for the calendars to be seen properly on mobile devices. We’ll see how things go.

Book 22: Immersive Van Gogh – This photography book is based on the interactive art exhibit currently running in Chicago. I am currently working on the mastering and editing of photos. It will take readers through the journey of the show, as well as a look at the gift shop. Once that has been completed, we will move on to page creation on Scribus.

Book 23: Lost in the Long COVID Winter – This photography book features 150 color photos that were taken from January-April 2021. Mastering and editing is now complete, awaiting the page layout stage.

Book 24: The Loop – This photography book features monochrome images of downtown Chicago, specifically the area known as “the loop” south of the Chicago River. Two photo sessions have been completed and another one or two will be needed to capture more locations and landmarks. I am aiming for a final photo count of 150. Once that has been completed, we will move on to the page layout stage.

Future Book Projects

University of Chicago – This photo project will feature shots taken around the University of Illinois-Chicago campus located on the city’s south side. One photo session has been completed but several more will be needed. Final image count and mastering choices have yet to be determined.

The Misadventures of Mattie Rose – This photo project features photos of my baby daughter, nicknamed “Shark.” This will be the first of an ongoing series, as we will capture her life growing up into adulthood. This first volume will cover her birth in July 2020 to April 2021. Photos need to be pruned down and edited, and final mastering decisions have yet to be made, although I would prefer to keep the pictures as close to “raw” as possible. The title is still tentative and is subject to change.

Sega Genesis: 500 Greatest Video Games – This nonfiction book will feature a collection of the 500 most popular videogames for Sega Genesis, based on comprehensive polling of players, industry insiders, magazines, websites and social media influencers. It will feature full color screenshots, most likely captured from actual hardware. The database has been completed and properly ordered, and the next stage will involve writing the essays and capturing screenshots.

Conversations on Ghibli: The Works of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata – This nonfiction book will examine the careers of Japanese animation filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, whose iconic works include Horus, Prince of the Sun, Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Studio Ghibli. This project has been long in production but frequently stalled. I just need to sit down and write chapters, and I tell myself to finish one or two essays per week.

Adventures in Laserdiscs – This nonfiction book will offer film essays based on the titles in my personal laserdisc collection, which includes beloved classics, modern (1980s-1990s) movies and over a dozen titles published by Criterion Collection. This project has not formally started, beyond my stated intention, but I’ve wanted to write another movie book for quite some time and this feels like the perfect hook. As with the Ghibli book, I just need to sit down and write something every week. Baby steps. That’s how you achieve any major goal in life. Baby steps.

How to Make Art & Photography Ebooks – This tutorial book will show readers how to create art/photo ebooks that are optimized for mobile devices and affordable for Amazon and consumers. In other words, I share all my secrets, and at this time, it appears to be a genuine secret. There ought to be hundreds, if not thousands of art and photo gallery ebooks available on Amazon today for five dollars or less. I may make this title Book 25, if just for the milestone, and the length should be pretty short and simple.

New Book: Lost in the Long COVID Winter

I wanted to show a sample of one of my upcoming photography books. Titled “Lost in the Long COVID Winter,” this album features 150 color photos taken around Chicago during the first four months of this year. Its mood captures the feelings of enduring a long cold winter, but also the weariness of struggling to survive the COVID-19 plague throughout the past year. Compared to last year’s The White Album, this book is more austere, focused and precise. I kept the mastering/post-production simple and direct, avoiding the wild swings in style and mood. It follows a story told in images about loneliness, despair, loss and longing, but ending on a hopeful spirit of renewal, rebirth and new possibilities.

Working on this project, I was keenly aware of the idea that I’m artist who creates “albums” instead of “singles.” That means, I’m not merely assembling photos or artwork for a single project or gallery show, not something to be simply thrown onto Instagram for immediate consumption (only to feed the digital methadone addiction), but as a fully self-containted work, like a record album or a novel. Music and publishing have always been my twin obsessions, dating back to teenage fanzine adventures, and it continues today. This means that my work always must serve a greater narrative purpose, that there must be overlaying themes and ideas behind the images. I’m not simply tossing together a stack of photos at random (even The White Album had a precise function behind its seemingly random chaos).

My first photo books were about discovering the city of Chicago, to which I had migrated from Minnesota. Farewell, Chicago Tribune, Blacklight and Trinitron Euphoria were all, in their own way, about the death of my unborn child Panda in 2018. Biotracer was about the sense of renewal and rediscovering my own voice a year after that horrible tragedy. The White Album was about examining America in the year 2020 as a parallel to 1968, seen through the lens of The Beatles’ most eclectic masterwork. And Lost in the COVID Winter is about suffering, endurance and the fear of loss, inspired by the whole miserable, rotten Trump trash factory and COVID and other things. These are all personal works, reflections on life without and life within.

Visually, there is still a variety of color schemes present, and I am particularly impressed by how the evening shots came together. Many photos were taken along the north shore of Lake Michigan, where I walk my dog on most evenings. The sequencing is mostly chronological from January to April, with a lot of photos moved around to ensure proper “cinematic flow” for the reader. I don’t know if anyone is aware that this is a thing I do, but it is. Everything was captured on an Apple iPhone Xr, which is still a very good and underrated camera and works very well with the 4:3 portrait frame, which is ideal for viewing on mobile devices.

I don’t have a release date yet. The current plan is to complete the arranging and mastering of photos for Portraits, Anthology III (still need a title), Immersive Van Gogh and COVID Winter, then create the pages on Scribus, then the final post-production work that results in a finished .epub ebook file. As always, I do plan on creating a paperback edition, but that will require use of Adobe InDesign, which I am currently studying.

A gallery of 30 photos from Lost in the Long COVID Winter follows just after the jump:

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Art Gallery: A Look at The Loop

I’m currently winding down to the final models for my upcoming Portraits book and have finished compiling and mastering the artwork for the upcoming Anthology III book (still need a proper title), as the photos from the Immersive Van Gogh sessions are making their way through mastering/post-production. So, as these things go, I find myself with a crazy idea for the next street photography book: The Loop.

Mind you, these are only photos that I captured today and yesterday while making the rounds to Chicago’s massive library on the South Loop. But I am impressed with how these shots turned out and am especially impressed by the monochrome look that I achieved in the mastering stage. I’d like to return to black-and-white photos, but in a style that’s different from the heavy dark noir tones of Blacklight, Farewell Chicago Tribune and Lincoln Park Zoo. I’m still in a weird, abstract painterly mood and I think I found something that works.

Looking back at my published works thus far, I’ve come to the conclusion that what I really need is more volume. I’ve received some attention from Kindle Unlimited’s lending library and have sold a few ebooks here and there, but the nature of the medium means that readers’ appetites are insatiable. They need more art & photography ebooks, and I need to publish more books that capture the many moods and locations around Chicago. It’s pretty wild to think so, but I still feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface, as though every landmark and neighborhood needs its own street photography album.

Anyway, that’s the plan for now: capture some great shots around the city’s Downtown and South Loop and assemble them into stylized monochrome photos. This should be pretty easy.

The photo gallery lies just beyond the break.

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Art Gallery: A Look at Portraits

I wanted to share a few more pieces from my upcoming art/photography book, Portraits. This will feature 30 sets and approximately 300 photos, and I’m nearly finished. I only have four more sets to complete, which could be completed as early as Monday but might run a little longer, depending on the quality of the artwork.

I’m really looking forward to seeing this project finished. It began last July and I created number of pop art inspired pieces taken from digital photographs and edited on my iPhone Xr. It continues the heavy Pop Art style as seen in Biotracer, Fire Shark and The White Album, so if you enjoyed those volumes, you will enjoy this one as well. I felt I was long overdue for some portraits and faces, as nearly everything I do is either abstract art, landscapes or architecture photos.

I honestly hadn’t planned on yet another massively large book, especially after The White Album’s mammoth collection of 320 photographs. I really would like to return to the smaller travelogues of my earlier publications, but when inspiration strikes you just have to go with it. Additionally, I felt that an art book with only a dozen or so models would feel a bit lightweight, even though there are 4-15 shots for each model. The readers should get enough value for their money, and if that means another double album, so be it. Miles Davis released nothing but double albums in the 1970s, so if he could do it, I can do it.

Here is a sampling of the entire collection so far. As you can see, the art styles range wildly from painterly to abstract and employ a wide variety of digital techniques. As always, the goal is create digital art that doesn’t look like digital art, or certainly what passes as digital these days. I want something that is more painterly, something that feels hand-drawn with pens and paintbrushes. What I find especially fascinating is how all of these can be created on a stock iPhone photo app. That tool is far more powerful and versatile than most anyone would expect, and I hope this upcoming book will help make the case for other artists and photographers to flex their creative muscles and push the medium forward.

Am really looking forward to releasing this volume and hearing your thoughts. Stay tuned.

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A Look at the Desk Calendar Series

One of my current book projects is another art anthology of my older works, this time a collection of early zine-styled drawings, graffiti scribbles and abstract coloring book sketches. To digitally preserve the artworks, I first tried to use an older PC scanner at a Fed Ex Office store (I still keep calling them Kinko’s), but I’m now using an iPhone scanner app that outputs at a sufficiently high enough resolution for my needs.

This brings me to the subject of my longest-running art series in my career: the desk calendars. These were large collage works created on office desk calendars, created over a period of many years while working at TCF Bank’s corporate offices in Minneapolis and Plymouth, Minnesota. Until I began publishing books, I considered these to be my magnum opus and had always intended them to be digitally preserved for both publication into books and also blown up to 3x-6x their original size for physical art installations and print runs.

The iPhone scanner app has proven to be less than ideal for this, but it’s only because I need a proper high resolution copy of these works. I did capture the final six pieces from the 2017 series, and while they won’t work for print reproductions, they will work perfectly fine in the digital realm, and so I wanted to share them with you on the website.

So what are the Desk Calendars all about? Well, it’s a bit tricky to describe. Think of it as a combination of a calendar, a comic book, a high school yearbook and an abstract painting that is based almost entirely around text. The idea evolved over a number of years as the “b-sides” to my paintings, which first began as a few short notes for the benefit of collectors and then steadily grew larger and more involving until they became full-scale artworks on their own.

I really did enjoy this final year and wish I had kept creating them through 2017, but I was winding down my job at TCF Bank for a move to Chicago in August, and work on launching my new publishing label startup was taking all my free time and energy. These calendars are very involving and take a long time to create. The goal was always to finish a piece within that specific month, but there were years when it would take as long as three months to fully fill out and complete.

In any case, I wanted to share the final “season” of the desk calendar series. I don’t currently have any plans to revive this project, as it really does require one to work a desk job during business hours and my life currently revolves around caring for my eight-month-old daughter during the day, in addition to running around town, cleaning the apartment, keeping us all fed and somehow squeezing in a little time for writing, art or photography. And have I mentioned that I have already sketched out my next dozen writing projects over the next 12-18 months? Oy, froynlavin, my head hurts.

The 2017 desk calendars are just below the jump. I hope you enjoy them.

Continue reading “A Look at the Desk Calendar Series”