Weird Weather in Chicago—2011

The Story Behind the Photograph...

Chicago is actually called The Windy City because of its politicians (and all their hot air). That said, being situated right on the edge of Lake Michigan, Chicago does get its share of rough weather. I was shooting in Chicago for several days this past summer on an assignment for Carlson Hotels and their new signature Radisson Blu Aqua property in downtown Chicago. My challenge, as set out by Carlson’s EVP & Chief Branding Officer, was to capture images of Chicago that would be unexpected for a hotel. That, in truth, was the scope of my assignment.

My first and perhaps largest challenge was to find three consecutive sunny days in Chicago over the summer. People familiar with the city chided me  - predicting the weather there, they said, was impossible and the only thing more difficult than finding an accurate weather prediction, they told me, was finding two, never mind three consecutive days of solid sunshine over the summer. But I was resolute. The sun does shine in Chicago over the summer. I knew this to be true.

After a month of patience, on Monday, June 27th the weather appeared to break. I booked flights and the next morning, Helen, the kids and I flew to Chicago and began shooting the southside as soon as we got off the plane. I shot for three solid days in the sun and saved shooting indoors at a couple of museums for Friday, June 29th when clouds and rain were expected.

On Friday, after our first lazy morning at the hotel, we hopped a cab to the Art Institute to show the kids classic modern art while I would poke around looking to add to my “Art Watching” collection. That’s when we noticed the weather. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was if the clouds were inverted,  as if the cumulous tops were somehow underneath – and what’s impossible to capture in a still image is the life that these clouds had. Constantly in motion. Alive. Alien.

I started shooting these clouds from inside the cab and continued as we climbed out of the taxi and walked across Michigan Avenue to enter the museum. I have several images of these clouds on my website. But this image is, by far, my favorite. Anyone from Chicago would recognize the silhouette of the Art Institute at the bottom of the photograph, while the building at the top, floating in space, helps frame the picture.

This is, in truth, a stunning moment in nature. It passed relatively quickly. And it’s only by pure chance that I was in Chicago when it happened. The question for me, as a photographer, isn’t just about being lucky – it’s about what we do with that luck once we happen upon it. In this case, I’m quite pleased with the outcome.



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