I Take Pictures: 2015 Output Review

Flickr is an essential place for my documentary life. Here’s a look at what I’ve posted there in the last year.


I track my trips in pictures. I went on 19 trips this year, which added to my overall total of 130 trips documented in this collection. My trips are broadly broken down into travel to conferences (TreeFort/ HackFort in Boise was a huge highlight), my work on the boards of the Sunlight Foundation (yay for NYC and Aspen) and Voqal (Albuquerque and Denver ftw), as well as a mega-fambly trip to London and Paris and some smaller family stuff as well. Also: annual Austin pilgrimage.

I posted 3,450 images from these trips. Literally only God knows how many I shot in order to get it down to that number— maybe 15,000?

Street Battle of the Bands, Boise


Documentation isn’t just for making the conduct of my life more considered and effective— I also do it as my art. I took photos at Lincoln Marsh six times this year. I took the exact same photos as I have 42 times over the last six years, in an attempt to document how an Illinois natural areas changes through the seasons.

I did a number of other projects. I captured a photo of every flower entered in the Wyandot County Fair contest this year, I did a photo essay on the August 2015 City of Chicago Budget Hearing at Malcolm X College, documented a meticulously painted Fun House, captured the unveiling of an honorary street sign, as well as the politicians of the 2015 Bud Billiken Parade and the Frank Lloyd Wright Meyer May House in Grand Rapids, MI. I took dozens of portraits of youth and opening day of the 606. I documented the work of a hula hoop artist in Las Vegas, the Chihuly exhibit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, FL.

I caught a few minutes of a protest in front of City Hall and the financial district. I answered the question, “what did the Geneva Spur Near Reed Keppler Park look like in December 2015?“, even though maybe nobody asked me.

Lincoln Marsh at Dusk, Early Spring, March 2015


Family-wise, I was happy to document baseball seasons. To me, these aren’t just pics of my kids (though that is definitely a big part of it). I do this to try to capture what it was like to be 15 in 2015 and playing baseball in the summer in North America. What does it look like, feel like. What kind of light poles and bulbs did they have? What were the uniforms made of? What kind of typography do they use for lettering? Did it rain? What was the impact of that? What was the name of the preschool next to the field?

And yes, the personal. How tall was my son on his confirmation day? It’s important to get every configuration, and a pic with his mother, so she can have that, forever. So we can remember the Director of Religious Education, because she is wonderful and helped my babies grow.

Caleb, Mrs. Brennan, and CXO


At work, I’m proud of my part in the PACER postcard campaign with my fellow documentarian, Carl Malamud. I hosted the Madonna Scholars for a Saturday of learning, Youth-Led Tech style. I did a lot of CUTGroup pics, but by the end of the year we hired a new professional to do that for us— bringing the next one up. I caught meetups, conferences, and events.

Madonna Scholars

I love to capture what happened, archive it for all to see, and share it. More to come!

Why I Take Pictures

Earlier this week, my youngest son played in his middle school basketball championship game. I got there early, and was setting up my camera. The JV game was finishing up, and it got pretty dramatic.

The game was tied at 26. The visiting team— a set of sixth and seventh graders from a small league that contains no stars, no powerhouses, with no one but their families and stray parents like me watching them— brought the ball up the court.

A kid— I do not know his name— went down the lane and lifted the ball in the air.

I was standing up, at the top of the bleachers, with my camera on my chest. Without looking, I fired off about a dozen shots.

Screenshot 2014-12-18 18.08.47

One of those shots was a moment that mattered:


They held on to win. I was privvy to a moment of consequence for a set of humans congregated in a particular place at a particular time. This is why I take pictures.


Photography, Fidelity, and January Prairie Colors

I am not the world’s greatest photographer. I do, however, take a shit-ton of pictures, have a good camera, and actively try to figure out how to get better at taking them.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned about pictures shot on a good camera in RAW format is that you can do a lot with them after image has been taken. Some information embedded in the image file can be exaggerated and saturated so as to present an intensity perhaps not present in the moment of the image. Or maybe just see the intensity that you weren’t able to.

It was about 4:10 PM on an unseasonably warm early January afternoon. I noticed that the sunset was pretty cool, and realized that it would be good to get my 12-year old son off of the Internet and out for a walk, so we booked it out to Lincoln Marsh. By the time we hiked out to the spot, the sun was lower than I wanted it to be (damned nature!), but I kept shooting. Here’s how they turned out, with the glories of post-processing:

Reds are easy:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

You can feel the ooze with so many muted winter mushroom blacks and browns and greys:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

The mild winter means green still lives amid brown fallen leaves:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

You can see what I mean on the sun setting so soon:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

Here’s where fidelity comes into play. The landscape seems washed out without any enhancement, January-style:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

Sometimes I just give up and put on a sepia filter:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

Or go pure black + white:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

This vista is probably the most faithful take on the view we shared:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

But the next shot can be made unnecessarily foreboding:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

Or deeply blue with near-trickery of saturation:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

Moon on late-afternoon blue sky is true:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

And by now pink comes into play:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

By firing the flash on reeds I can make it scary up front and bucolic in the back:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

I can get down low to show the fact of darkness nestled near the ground, with light that will soon be a memory up top:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012

Tightening on dead reeds and cooling off the colors reminds us it is winter:

Lincoln Marsh, Early January 2012