Tag Archives: Chicago Tribune

Filter Photo Fesitival Week: Ursula Sokolowska

This week, I am sharing a few of photographers that I met at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago….


Born in Krakow, Poland, Ursula Sokolowska studied photography at Columbia College and compled her BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I first saw her Constructed Family images a year ago at Filter and I was happy to see the continued progression of the series. Ursula will be exhibiting her work at the JDC Fine Art Gallery in San Diego, opening on December 7th, running through February 23rd, 2013. I am featuring work from two series, both incorporate projection, are deeply personal,  and both explore the idea of separation of the body from consciousness and objectification.


Her photographs can be found in many public and private collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Tanqueray. Selected exhibitions include The Travelling Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, Saatchi Gallery, Zoo Art Fair, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, United Kingdom, Minnesota Center for Photography, and Schneider Gallery, Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in CameraArts magazine, Light & Lens: Photography in the Digital Age, and featured in the Chicago Tribune.


The Constructed Family series  examines the trauma and uncertainty carried from childhood. In particular, I am referencing my own upbringing as a Polish immigrant. There is an undercurrent of helplessness and misdirection linked to a sort of schizophrenic parenting, excommunication, and constant movement. Typically, the perception of children handed down by my elders was that children did not have a choice. Frequently, I heard a Polish equivalent of the phrase “Children should be seen not heard”. I am attempting to give these children voices.

These photographs are projection-based installations. 

The models are mannequins and their faces are projections. The faces of the children are slides that my father took of me when he was still involved in my life. The other slides are present day images that I have shot of my mom, my dad, and myself. My goal is to reconstruct my own childhood, empowering the past for better or for worse. The result is a troubling recreation of events that may seem disturbing but are far less in context to the real events that transpired. 

Untitled Series:The images presented pose several questions towards the societal view of gender as related to the biological roles that exist. By using the flower as the reference point, we see the inequality and the taint that is applied to a supposedly natural and beautiful inevitability. These human plant-life carry their own baggage that spews out of every orifice and drips moistly from their painted skin. Their reproduction is marred by the inner psychological turmoil as related to the divisions between sexual identity and biological reality, quite unlike their floral counterparts. 

The flower represents a self-sustaining sexual organism, one of which is free from divisions of sexuality and role yet forced by design biologically. When we admire what we see, staring at its naked form, we are free from imposing predisposed notions of sex and gender. Yet when we see human form, we cognitively associate our own psychological issues with role, gender and biological fulfillment subconsciously. With the flower there is no revolt against being more than what it was created to be. It exists to be seen and to reproduce year after year. It is perfectly content being an object to be admired on a singular level. 

The question remains why are we any different? By combining a seemingly natural and innocent vision of a flower and juxtaposing it with provocative cues, we explore the seemingly inevitable chain to biology that humans fight consistently. The fight to be more than just a sexual being content with reproducing itself and the psychological frustration that ensues. Each subject has his or her own issues with their design. These hopes and fears are explored by facing the possible truth that we may be nothing more than pretty flowers, waving their prospective parts in the open for all to see.

Pete Souza’s Portrait of a Presidency

The long view of history tends to be the judge of a presidency. As we approach what President Obama hopes will be the midpoint of his tenure in the Oval Office, it is too early to draw conclusions on his legacy as Commander in Chief. What we do know is that Obama’s first term has been a historic one: the first African American to hold the county’s highest office, Obama and his Administration have battled a recession, passed health care reform and legislation to end the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, formally ended the war in Iraq and brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

Through adversity and triumph, public victories and private setbacks, chief official White House photographer Pete Souza and his team of photographers have relentlessly documented the actions of the President, the First Lady and the Vice President since Obama took office in early 2009.

As the President runs for a second term, LightBox asked Souza to reflect on his time photographing Obama and share an edit of his favorite images that he and his staff made during the President’s first term; the photographs offer a fascinatingly candid insight into the life of the President while painting a portrait of Barack Obama the man, husband and father.

“I tried to, in putting together this edit, not only to show some of the high points or low points of his presidency thus far, but pictures that help people understand what he’s like, not only as a President but as a human being,” Souza tells TIME. “And how he relates to other people, how he relates to his family.”

Souza’s process is aided by his long-standing working relationship with Obama — one that precedes the presidency. They met on Jan. 3, 2005, Obama’s first day in the Senate. For Souza, then a staff photographer at the Chicago Tribune‘s Washington bureau, it was the first day of a yearlong assignment to document the new Senator’s time in office.

As the assignment evolved, Souza — who had worked as a White House staff photographer during President Reagan’s second term — began recognizing something special about the Senator. An inkling of things to come, or potential for the future. He began looking for moments that would prove valuable in the course of history, photographs that would define Obama’s early years to those who only knew his legacy.

“I was looking for things that I knew that if he ever became President you would never see again,” he says. “[Obama was] walking down a sidewalk in Moscow in 2005 and no one recognized him. I realized that if he ever became President, you would never, ever see a photograph like that. The odds of becoming President are obviously pretty slim, but I knew he had the potential. And you can’t say that about too many people.”

Souza continued to photograph Senator Obama, who quickly became presidential-candidate Obama and then Democratic-nominee Obama. With Obama’s 2008 election victory, Souza returned to the White House as chief official White House photographer and director of the White House Photography Office.

The photographs that Souza has taken extend the lineage of White House photography that began in the 1960s, first in a somewhat scattered way during John F. Kennedy’s Administration and then more officially with Yoichi Okamoto, Lyndon B. Johnson’s photographer. Okamoto is considered the first photographer to capture the presidency with an eye for history. Souza is quick to acknowledge and praise his work and that of others who have followed, including David Kennerly (Ford), Bob McNeely (Clinton) and Eric Draper (George W. Bush).

An all-digital workflow is one thing that differentiates Souza’s work from the majority of his predecessors. Although he wasn’t the one to move the process to digital — Draper, Bush’s photographer, made the switch from film to digital — Souza made the first official portrait of an incoming President with a digital camera. The Obama Administration has understood the insatiable appetite for imagery that the digital age has wrought and embraces Flickr as a means of disseminating presidential photography.

The Administration encourages sharing behind-the-scenes photos now, he says. “[It wanted] to establish a way to become more transparent than any other Administration, so every month, we upload a new batch of behind-the-scenes photos. The response has been overwhelming.”

But alongside the ease brought by the digital era came one difficulty: the Presidential Records Act prohibits Souza and his team from deleting any photographs. ”One of our bigger challenges is just the storage of all these images,” he says, noting the immense difficulty the team will experience moving millions of digital files to the National Archives at the end of Obama’s tenure.

Souza’s work with the President follows in the golden age of photojournalism’s best traditions, when photographers working for magazines like LIFE established relationships and spent inordinate amounts of time shooting beautifully crafted images of public figures.

“I spend a lot of time with [the President], around him, on vacations, sometimes on weekends, depending on what’s going on. He’s used to me being around,” Souza says. As his friend P.F. Bentley described it, “When the President is on, I’m on. And when the President’s off, I’m still on.”

Souza recalls one meeting that he missed because it had been rescheduled unbeknownst to him. “I was a little upset with the President’s secretary for not telling me that they had moved the meeting up, and [the President] heard us talking and he said, ‘What are you talking about? You were in that meeting.’ He’s so used to me being there that he thought that I had been in the meeting that I wasn’t even in. So I took that as a compliment.”

His access to Obama’s inner circle and day-to-day routine stems from the trust he built during their relationship prior to the presidency. “I’m there to seriously document his presidency. I’m not looking for cheap shots, and I think that’s the kind of relationship any White House photographer should have with the President they’re covering,” he says. “That they have a level of access and trust that will lead to important photographs for history.”

Souza is aware of the significance of the photographs he and his team are taking, but he’s also focused on capturing the small and incidental moments that make the Obama Administration unique. “There are days that you certainly think about the importance of what’s taking place — you’re serving an important role in visually documenting this period of time for history,” he says. “But at the same time, a lot of the pictures that tell you a lot about a President are not [made] during those times. They’re when he’s having a private moment with one of his daughters, or when something unexpected happens that may not be, you know, important in terms of history’s sake.”

“I think that’s what keeps you on your toes. You never know when those moments are gonna occur, because they don’t always occur when big things are happening,” he says. The image of Obama playing in the snow with Sasha and Malia is a testament to Souza’s approach. The photograph is not simply of the President but of a moment shared between a father and his daughters.

These personal images round out Souza’s portrait of the President and give it greater depth. While preparing this edit for LightBox, he acknowledged that it was hard to present what a presidency is about in just a handful of pictures. “I don’t gravitate toward any singular image right now,” he says. “I try to look at a body of work, and so I’m proud of this edit that I submitted. To me, it’s all these photographs together which tell you something about this man, this President, and I guess to a certain extent, about me and what I think is important.”

Although Souza’s edit comprises more than 100 images, it is by no means a comprehensive record of Obama’s time in office. “I’m sure that I left out some important moments,” he says. “I don’t think I included anything from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, and that’s historic in itself — he won the Nobel Peace Prize. But it just didn’t fit in with the series of pictures that I wanted to present.”

Says Souza of the President: “He has certainly created history just by being the first African-American President. Hopefully in future generations, we’ll soon have a woman President or a Hispanic President, and it won’t matter that much. But I think that if you’d ask him, he wants to be remembered for the things that he’s done.”

For Souza, it’s difficult at this point to reflect on the last four years and the photographs he and his team have made. “One of the difficult things, doing this every day, is having a chance to really sit back and take it all in. Putting these photos together helped that a little bit,” he says. “You’re a little bit overwhelmed about everything that happened in four years, because a lot of stuff has happened. I hope there will come a time where, when I’m not doing this job any longer, I’ll be able to sit back and reflect on everything that he’s been through and everything that I’ve been through.”

An exhibition of Souza’s work, The Obama White House — Photographs by Pete Souza, is on view at the Leica Gallery in New York City from Oct. 5 to Nov. 10, 2012.

Yvette Marie Dostatni


Willis Grieger, a Chesterton, Indiana farmer and folk artist, with a concrete companion he made. Behind his barn is another of his creations, a man falling from a telephone pole.

You’ve got to love someone who is a little bit Harper Lee, a little bit Martin Parr, and a lot, Yvette Dostatni. I featured some of Yvette’s wonderful work on Lenscratch way back when, and was delighted to discover that she would be accompanying me to China for the Lishui Photography Festival last November. Curator Sarah Hadley of Filter Photo Festival selected two photographers to bring to the event (Yvette and me), and it allowed for an opportunity to spend time with someone who lives in another part of the country.

Yvette began her photo career at the ripe old age of 18, where she talked her way onto the staff of a newspaper. For the past twenty years, she has been talking her way into all sorts of situations, capturing humanity as only she can. Her work has appeared in SPIN, Smart Money magazine, Shape magazine and National Geographic. She is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune Magazine, Chicago Magazine and The Chicago Reader.

In 2000, she was selected as one of eight full-time photographers to document the city of Chicago as part of the Comer Foundation. She is also the winner of numerous documentary photography awards, including two consecutive Magazine Photographer of the Year awards for portraiture. Yvette’s portfolio is in the Permanent Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago and The Museum of Contemporary Photography’s Midwest Photographers Project in Chicago.

Images from Portraits


Kimberly Abrego and Leon Leckavici, homecoming queen and king at the Whiting, Indiana High School, with the school mascot, portrayed by Abel Aguilera, reflecting the industry most associated with Whiting:oil refining.


Music teacher A.J. Romba at Crestone Music School in Hammond, Indiana, its walls filled with photos of students Romba has taught since 1937.


Larry Gabor and Jeanette Dostatni with Larry’s gun collection.


Matilda with her ferret and friend Charlie on top of Matilda’s apartment roof in Chicago, Illinois.


Clara Kolb and her kitten Snowball in Saltillo, Mississippi. Clara is wearing the ballgown she hopes to wear when she wins a future 6th grade beauty queen pageant. Clara is wearing her older sister’s crown.

Maxwell Street: Before succumbing to the renovation and upward mobility in the new millennium, Chicago’s Maxwell Street was home to a large homeless polulation, many of whom stayed at Maxworks, 717 W. Maxwell Street.


Lewis “Bubble” Tucker has no money for tobacco, so he smokes wax paper, which creates a lot of smoke. He has lived in his car for about 15 years. He says he’d been living on Maxwell Street for about 50 years. “I don’t go nowhere else ever since I was about 10 years old. This (the car) is like a clubhouse, somewhere to sleep.”


A blues musician plays in the lot outside 717 W. Maxwell Street.


Tyner White’s feet dangle from the rafters of the home he lived in at 717 W. Maxwell St. called “Maxworks.”


Of his Clue board game, Lewis “Bubble” Tucker says, “This here? This picture? This is a rich picture. This is how white people live, know what I mean?”


Avi and Tyner White store stuff in a hole under the sidewalk of the home at 717 W. Maxwell Street called “Maxworks.”


Art gets ready to leave the house he lived in called “Maxworks” at 717 W. Maxwell Street.

Geissler/Sann In the Trib’s Top Exhibitions

Foundation Repair .
The Chicago Tribune’s recent wrap-up of the best exhibitions of 2010 included a mention of the MoCP exhibition the real estate by local artists Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann. reverse phone . Thank you to Lauren Viera and the Trib for highlighting our programs!