Photographers' Blog

Chicago’s doctor to the homeless

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young


“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” —Dalai Lama

“What size boots do you wear?” Dr. Patrick Angelo asks a homeless man as he looks down at his worn sneakers. “Here, take my boots, I will give you mine,” and proceeds to give him the boots off his feet, right then and there, in 5 degree Fahrenheit weather to a complete stranger under an overpass in downtown Chicago.

Angelo is an oral surgeon by day in the Chicago area, and drives into the city several nights a week to help the homeless. A successful physician with a house in the suburbs and children of his own, he says it came to him like a flash that he could do this and make a difference. So he packed up, though not sure where to go and what to do, and off he went. That was 13 years ago, and he has been doing it ever since.

I meet Angelo at a downtown restaurant where he always goes to pick up his food order. Dozens of hamburgers and hot coffee are waiting for him like clockwork, and are put in the backseat of his car, which is full of blankets, clothes and hand warmers. Funding for his mission comes from his medical practice and profits from his healthcare company, a cost that runs upwards of $30,000 a year, according to his calculations.

As we make our way to his first stop, we pass a Salvation Army truck that is also surveying the area and making the rounds to offer help. They tell him there is no one down the ramp but we continue on anyway and sure enough, three people appear. “See,” he says, “if I don’t come and check it personally, who would help them? What would they do?” Angelo hands out supplies as he hugs one of his regulars. “He is a lifesaver,” she says.

Welcome to Chiberia

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young

It was dubbed “Chiberia” here in Chicago: record low temperatures with a wind chill in the -40 Celsius range (-40 Fahrenheit).

I knew it was coming. I had been dodging the bullet for two winters in Chicago and eventually “real cold” had to arrive here sooner or later. I had survived 30+ years of Canadian winters and lived through a -50C (-58F) wind chill in Ottawa, but I have had two of the nicest winters in my life in the Windy City. In February 2012 it was 80F and I was walking around in flip flops, but certainly not this week.

It started at sunrise on Monday morning. While driving along Lake Michigan to downtown I could see a “fog-like” haze over the water – it was arctic sea smoke caused by bitter cold air moving over the warm lake water. I parked down by the beach. It was a beautiful sunny morning and a balmy -42F. The biggest problem I had was with my fingers. Working with cameras even while wearing the warmest gloves is a challenge. I would take them off for just a few seconds but it would get incredibly painful, like needles stabbing into your hands. It would take 10 to 15 minutes back in the gloves just to get the pain to subside. I remembered hearing on the radio the early warning signs of hypothermia such as shallow breathing, drowsiness, shaking and stumbling…check, check, and check. The batteries in my cameras died so I tried to shoot an Instagram, but even though my iPhone was inside several layers of clothing, it was frozen like a brick and wouldn’t even boot up.

Where do you even find 4,000 pillows?

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young

An attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest pillow fight was scheduled for 1 a.m., promoted by a DJ dance duo — and at a rave no less. I was a little skeptical. Originally I thought it was an afternoon event when the organizers said it would be around 1 o’clock but needed clarification when I found out it was attached to a Halloween-themed concert and was told that the effort to break the current record of 3,706 participants set in 2008 would be attempted after midnight.

As I arrived a couple of hours before the event at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, there were hundreds of people lined up around the building waiting to get in, all dressed up for Halloween. The promoters told me they were almost at their capacity of 4,800 and it was clear that there was going to be a lot of people who were not going to get in.

It was a crazy scene: a sea of people, the music thumping and the laser light show was at full throttle. Organizers brought in dozens of huge garbage bags full of pillows and threw them out into the crowd. After a couple of hours of waiting, there was a break in the music and a representative from Guinness took to the microphone to read out the rules. Basically, all they had to do was keep the pillows in their hands and fight for a full minute. The music was cranked up and the pillows became a blur. The bass from the music was so heavy, it felt like an earthquake. My whole body was shaking. As quickly as it began, it was over.

Chicago’s season of wins

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young

16 wins: that’s how many victories it takes for a team in the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs to hoist the “Cup”, the oldest trophy in North American sports.

I remember playing hockey all-year-round growing up in Canada, from the rinks and ponds in winter to the side roads in summer. I have photographed hundreds of NHL games but there is nothing better than the race for the Cup. With the Chicago Blackhawks setting a record by starting the shortened NHL season by going 24 games without a regulation time loss, there was some great anticipation on their post-season hopes.

They got through the first round against the Minnesota Wild in a relatively easy five games. In round two, they needed a huge comeback against Detroit after being down 3-1 to finally win in seven games, and the Kings were done in five. During the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs, I would self-edit the images for our wire but once we got to the Conference semi-final, we switch to using our remote editing software so our editors and processors across North America can push out pictures to our clients after every big play throughout the period.

A family with two moms

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young

Ava and Jaidon have two moms. Theresa Volpe is “mommy” and her partner Mercedes Santos is “mama”.

GALLERY: TWO MOMS, TWO KIDS, ONE FAMILY

They have been together for over 20 years. They met each other while working for the same publishing company in Chicago in 1992. Theresa says that Mercedes is the person she was meant to spend her life with, she just happens to be another woman.

In 2002, they decided to find an anonymous donor so they could have their own biological children. First came Ava, now a quiet and insightful 8-year-old talented musician, and then her brother Jaidon, an energetic and playful four year old.

Chicago’s violent legacy gets personal

Chicago, Illinois

By John Gress

It’s not every day that an assignment teaches you something about your own childhood.

When I was 7 years old my father, who shared my name, passed away and when I looked down today, I saw a boy, Ronnie Chambers Jr., who is about the same age as I was back then, sitting at my feet with RIP carved in the back of his hair. He was there mourning the loss of his father, who also shared his name.

Ronnie Chambers was shot in the head on January 26. His mother Shirley Chambers, has lost all four of her children to gun violence.

Fire and ice

Chicago, Illinois

By John Gress

UPDATE: January 24th

You never know how the assignment is going to go when you decide to put on the same clothes you had on the day before. Why? Because they smell like smoke!

I made a return trek to the ice castle today, an abandoned warehouse which has been burning for three days. Quite surprising considering most of the building has collapsed and is covered in inches of ice.

While covering the blaze today, I photographed firefighter Michael De Jesus covered in icicles. When he told me his name I asked, “Do you know Charley?”

NATO from above

By Jim Young

Remote cameras can produce great pictures, but they are not always easy to set up. To put a camera in a position that would be impossible for a person to shoot from can produce interesting images, but it takes creativity and a lot of technical planning.

In March I went for a walk-through with organizers and news media for the upcoming NATO Summit to be held in Chicago in May. For years now we have set up remotes on the ceiling looking down on the meeting table for political summits and we wanted to set one up for this summit as well. We took a look at what would be the summit room, which at the time was completely empty and as bland as any other empty convention center room. In the week before the summit it would be transformed into a polished meeting room for world leaders and we hoped that we would be allowed to mount a remote camera as well. The idea was to shoot an overall photo of all the leaders sitting at the table for their meeting surrounding the giant NATO seal on the floor. The only way this could be done was with a remote camera because with the height we would need to be at to achieve the image, the camera could only be mounted up in the ceiling among the overhead lights.

We had never actually done this at a NATO summit before. The previous overhead cameras had been at G8, G20 and Nuclear Summits run by different organizers. In the final week before the summit we asked again. At first the answer seemed to be no, but then the officials suddenly came back with a “Yes, you can put up the camera, but you have to put it up immediately.” The other stipulation was that we could not use radio transmitters to trigger the shutter of the camera during the meeting; it would have to be hardwired with long cables.

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