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|| News Item: Posted 2011-10-14

INTERN DIARIES: Chicago Tribune
Working the home court

By Brent Lewis, Columbia College Chicago

Photo by Brent Lewis

Photo by Brent Lewis

Martha Biggs takes a break from her constant peeks out the window of her reclaimed house. Biggs was evicted from Cabrini Green and she and her four children have struggled to find permanent housing.
“Hey, this is Todd from the (Chicago) Tribune,” echoed through my phone as I sat in a corner trying to block out the sound from the on going graduation ceremony that I was covering was going on behind me. Now, for some people this would just be another phone call from Todd Panagopoulos, but for me, this was like the moment you finally get chosen for a pick up game of basketball on the basketball courts in the park or when you finally get that call back from that girl you always liked and she is free Friday night. This was the moment for me. I was born and raised in Chicago and when I finally decided to recognize photojournalism as my life’s passion then where else would I want to work except the Chicago Tribune?

So, once I transferred back to Chicago to go to Columbia College Chicago, I kind of became the kid who met all of the photographers from the Tribune and worshiped the ground they walked on for a lesser of terms. I soon found my first way in through the Tribune’s “RedEye” newspaper, which is aimed at the 18-35 age group. I knew it would not only look good on the resume, but would hopefully get me recognized through the office. I guess it worked. kind of became the kid who met all of the photographers from the Tribune and worshipped the ground they walked on for a lesser of terms. I soon found my first way in through the Tribune’s “RedEye” newspaper, which is aimed at the 18-35 age group. I knew it would not only look good on the resume, but would hopefully get me recognized through the office. I guess it worked.

My first day, as well as the next three months, was extremely nerve-racking knowing that blowing this could be one of worse things in my life. Still at least on that first day, getting all the greetings from all of the photographers that I worshiped and being welcomed with open arms was probably one of the greatest feelings you can ever have. “So, you finally made it?” seemed to be the phrase of the day as everyone was happy I made it.

After a few more pats on the back and fighting with the email system that I have been trying to access for a year at this point, I got a call for a quick assignment. There was a study about cell phone usage and I just had to shoot someone on his or her cell phone, which in Chicago is easier than finding a taxi.

I rushed out the door trying to make the best photo I could possibly make, but I really hadn’t had time to get familiar with the gear. So if being nervous was not enough, not being able to get the feel of the camera on the fly made this so much more tougher than it actually was. I returned to the office after about 30 minutes and filed my images feeling a sub-par of what I can actually do under normal circumstances.

I woke up the next morning and scooped up a copy of the Tribune’s tabloid edition, which they no longer make, flipped to the story and well got beat out by Abel Uribe, one of the staffers. Feeling a little discouraged, but motivated I headed back into the office to wait on my next assignment for the day. While finally setting the camera up to my normal settings, I peeked over on the front page of the broadsheet edition and what did I see? It was my photo on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. Now, it didn’t have my name on it for some weird reason, but it was there. It was my first front page and it was printed over 400,000 times and was in the hands of Chicagoans everywhere. (Later, I found out it was like my third because of a few front pages from the “RedEye”) From there it was no stopping me. I felt that I was ready for whatever they could throw at me.

So the next big challenge came in the form of shooting of the greatest actors to me at least, Tom Hanks, in a downtown hotel room. I have been hearing about this shoots forever basically. Actually even one of the Tribune photographers wrote a blog post about shooting one of this perfectly. Well, with the nerves pound away I really didn’t pay full attention to it (sorry Alex) and well told me gear and went over to the hotel.

Now on the way to the hotel I realized that, portraits by far were my weakest ability and I probably should have practiced on my girlfriend for a little while, before just showing up to shoot Mr. Hanks, but no turning back now. So, while sitting in the hallway of the hotel, I actually winded up talking to a good friend of Mr. Hanks about cameras, which they actually just bought Canon 5D Mark IIs. Then when asked was I a freelancer, I slipped up and told me that I was the intern for the paper. I thought that this was so going to come back and haunt me, but instead it lightened the mood. The all had a laugh about the Tribune sending over the intern, but said to me “You must be good then.”

I walked into the room with Mr. Hanks and it was like he had this glow around him, in all actuality it was just the window light coming from behind him, which at the time didn’t seem like a problem. I joked with me and even made him laugh a few times. He even told me that I had the real him coming out now. So after a fun time with Mr. Hanks, I headed back to the tower with thinking about how amazing that was.

I sat down on the computer and pulled up the photos and because of all my nerves, the window light coming from behind him, the photos went to hell very quickly. Now, in the beginning with the phone call from Todd, I was very excited, but this wasn’t the phone call I was wanting. “Do you have anymore from Hanks?” I sat there numb holding the phone realizing that this could possibly be the end for me and my time at the Chicago Tribune.

I searched through every possible photo while the editors tired to call his people to see if we can grab just a few more frames. I luckily found one or two that we somewhat decent and because we didn’t have another option, we had to run them. It was one of the greatest lessons learned, but I wish I didn’t have to learn it on Tom Hanks. I knew from that moment I had to watch the light better. And well they gave me another chance shooting Disney star, Selena Gomez in the same situation and well those came out pretty good for five minutes and some overcasted window light.

Photo by Brent Lewis

Photo by Brent Lewis

Sgt. David Gonzalez kisses his niece, Emma Burke-Gulan, after returning back to his home in Blue Island, IL, Saturday, June 11, 2011, after serving in the Marines.
Over the next few weeks, I shot everything from more portraits to protest, but nothing prepared me for July 16. I was still coming off the excitement of my first main front page photo and covering a story about a woman who was trying to raise money to buy her mother, a community activist on Chicago’s south side, a tombstone.

I decided to head to the beach for a few feature photos because it was a streak of continuously hot days. While framing up a shot, my phone vibrated, answering I was informed of a shooting a few blocks from where I was located. I sprinted back to my car and raced down Lake Shore Drive. Once arriving on scene, I was met by hostility from the neighbors, especially since the body was still sitting in the middle of the gangway in broad daylight. “Get the f*ck out of here!” a guy screams from behind me, “This is a family matter.” I shot a few frames from across the street, but I knew to make this work I had to get closer. here!” a guy screams from behind me, “This is a family matter.” I shot a few frames from across the street, but I knew to make this work I had to get closer.

I made what had to be the longest walk of my life. Once across, the cops told me that I wasn’t allow to shoot which working in Chicago enough you know what is fact and fiction, but what stuck out the most was the sound of the crying mother. Blocked off from touching her son’s body by a wrought iron gate, so could do nothing but look and watch as her son’s body sat there in the gangway for 3 hours. I maneuvered myself around enough to silently take a few frames, but the entire housing complex was outside and it was so tense that you could cut it with a knife.

Then, when I was beginning to give up hope, John H. White shows up. White, a Chicago Sun-Times photographer took a Pulitzer in 1982 and had been the legend in Chicago ever since, plus he is one of my teachers at Columbia College Chicago. “You never prepared us for this one in class” I said to John while trying my best to stay out of the way of being seen. John slipped me a few words of encouragement and really showed me the ropes of how a situation like this is handled. The pictures weren’t the best, but it was lesson that I actually had to put use again a few days later.

“Chicago is a town, That sure do run on wheels. Runs so fast you don’t know, How good the ground feels. ” is from a poem by Langston Hughes and after a summer at the Chicago Tribune I honestly believe that fully . In three months, I have seen the beauty of life and the tragedy of death. I have been to meet some of the most less fortunate people in this country and have met some of the richest. I have shot things that I never would have believed possible and learned from some of the greatest photographers in this county, if not the world. (sorry my own biases. And I have to say I wouldn’t rather spent it anywhere else. I can say that I grew as a photographer, leaps and bounds, but I can honestly say that I have grew more as person. Also as my director of photography found out when I came to me asking for an extension, I also have learned how to use my words to get myself exactly what I want.

Brett Lewis attends Columbia College Chicago. You can see samples of his work at his Sports Shooter member page:

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