140520 Chicago 2010 - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

I saw a statistic the other day that said that New York is the world's most-photographed city, according to Flickr, while Chicago is #6. That made me laugh because that's the same ratio as my visits to those cities. A coincidence, I'm sure – I'm not on Flickr, and Toronto ranked 17th.

I was last in Chicago four years ago this month, and this weekend I'm returning for two days. It's rare for me to stay overnight when I travel; even a cheap hotel costs more than the bus fare. But sometimes these things work out, and I'm looking forward to seeing if a decent night's sleep is an improvement. It's far from a sure thing.

A huge amount has changed in four years. Chicago was only my second long-range day trip; my previous experience was with a relatively short jaunt to Ottawa. I still hadn't figured out many of the tricks, and was prone to overpacking. I even bought myself a second-hand lens while I was there, which was interesting but unnecessary. These days I don't even bother carrying a clean shirt with me, and instead buy one as a souvenir.

Chicago was also one of my first projects that I intended to work as a series. I had even created a distinct Lightroom preset to give each image a similar look and tone. But back then I was still under the misapprehension that the goal of photography is to create a 'greatest hits' collection, and none of the images really hold together in a way that's satisfying to me today.

Part of the reason why the Chicago 2010 photos don't work together is because I was carrying too much equipment. I had my three-lens GH1 kit, and used the entire focal range, from ultra-ultra-wide to very long. Widely varied perspectives undermine the cohesiveness that a series builds from, and don't help individual photos all that much, either.

I've since converted to primes for almost all of my elective photography, and this time I'm only carrying my GR and DP3. That means just a 28mm wide and a 75mm macroish lens, which is actually a wider spread than I normally use with my SLR. This takes some adjustment to how I think and shoot.

But as with my first trip my plan is simply to be there and see what's interesting. I've learned over the years that my best work happens when I prepare thoroughly for the event, and then let the process unfold on its own. To create the structure and allow art the chance to happen. Sometimes it works, and other times it doesn't – in a week I'll know which it was this time.

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