I’m going to join the chorus of the hordes of people singing the praises of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. My friend Seamus and I saw it last night, and I can’t remember the last time I left a theater with such a strong feeling of having just seen an amazing piece of film work.
I don’t even want to say too much about it, because I often feel let down when people over-hype a new film, but really – if you enjoy any of Tarantino’s work, I think this is one of his absolute best.
I was going to post the official trailer, but even that seems to give too much. Just go see it!
Now I need to rent some German films to see more of the brilliant Christoph Waltz – genius!
Since I began this photobooth project a few months ago, I’ve been asked several questions about it here, on Twitter, and by friends and family who just shake their heads at me. A few of the same questions have come up, so I thought I’d answer some of them here.
Are these really taken in photobooths, or do you create the scenes in Photoshop?
Every one of these is taken in a real photobooth, in a public venue (typically a bar), during business hours. Also, I exclusively use film photobooths – the old school “dip and dunk” kind. There’s just something about the quality of film that cannot be recreated digitally, in my opinion. I love the subtle differences you find in the film strips that add character to the photos – some booths have crisp white borders, others have thin black borders, some have ragged edges.
I’m extremely lucky in that Chicago is home to a whole lot of vintage photobooths. There are about 25 or so that I’m aware of, although I’ve only visited about half of those so far. Sadly, though, I’m sure it won’t be long before more and more venues get rid of their booths altogether, or replace them with digital ones since they require a lot less maintenance.
I occasionally do minor editing in Photoshop, but only to bump up the exposure on some of the strips that come out a bit too dark.
Simple: I absolutely love photobooth photography – the vintage quality of the photos, the spontaneity of cramming into a booth with friends, the excitement of waiting for the strip to develop. As I thought about what I wanted to do with this project, I kept coming back to the idea of capturing mundane scenes in a non-traditional setting – doing dishes, eating breakfast, listening to music – as though a photobooth were following me around, documenting my everyday activities.
As the project has progressed, I’ve become equally interested in exploring more complex or abstract narratives, and am enjoying the challenge of trying to tell a story in four frames.
Are they all done in one take?
In the vast majority of cases, yes. Occasionally I have to do reshoots because the booth isn’t working properly, or I wasn’t quick enough, or it just didn’t quite capture what I was going for. But I’d say that at least 90% of these are done in a single take.
One scene that I reshot a few times was the juggling one. I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to keep juggling when a bright flash of light pops in your eyes. Ironically, after trying it two more times at different venues, the one I went with was the original – shown below – because I felt it told the most interesting story.
I shot this one at the Village Tap in Roscoe Village one afternoon. The photobooth is positioned at the back of the bar, right by the kitchen and about two feet away from tables where customers sit. This day, however, a couple of the cooks were taking their break at the table right outside the booth, watching Spanish soap operas on the TV that sits directly on top of the photobooth.
I waited about 15 minutes or so, thinking that eventually they would have to get back to work. After a while, it became clear that they weren’t going anywhere, so I just took a swig of my beer, grabbed my bag of tricks and headed in.
Once I started juggling and the flash popped, I was temporarily blinded and dropped two of the apples. They rolled onto the ground and out of the booth. I quickly reached out to grab them (frame 3), only to glance up and see the two cooks staring at me, and the apples, with the most disturbed look. So my reaction in the fourth frame is entirely genuine, which I think is why this is my favorite take.
Did you really bring the rabbit head into a photobooth?
Yes. In a giant garbage bag. No one asked questions, which should probably concern us all.
“Aliens walk among us,” she told me.
“You think so?”
I usually buy a copy of Streetwise from Patty, outside the train station. I don’t know where she lives, but I know she’s not homeless. At least not yet. Last week she was holding up a sign that said she was having trouble making her rent this month. I’d never seen Patty hold up a sign before, so I knew things must be bad.
She didn’t make eye contact with anyone as they walked by, but she never does. Not until you say hello and chat with her. When I walked up to her last Wednesday, I saw that behind the small cardboard sign in her hands, she was reading a book.
Before I got to know Patty, I would have guessed her to be around 70 years old. Her back is a bit hunched, and she shuffles when she walks, staring at the ground. She’s missing several teeth. Most days, she carries a green and white umbrella, to protect her from rain, cool her from the sun, or shelter her from a freezing wind. She wears earmuffs well into the spring months.
But whenever I look into her eyes as we talk, I see someone much younger, maybe only in her 50s. Her eyes have a sparkle to them when she talks. She speaks quickly, her accent giving her away as a Southsider.
For some reason, I start out all our conversations the same way, with some commentary on the weather.
“Hope this rain lets up!”
“Can you believe it finally feels like summer?”
“Did you hear we’re supposed to get six inches of snow tonight?”
It just always seems like the right place to begin, I suppose because seeing her out there all day makes me acutely aware of the elements. Last Christmas, I got her a gift card for Target and we talked about the fleece blankets they had on sale. As we were talking more about the weather that day, a man came up to buy a paper from her.
“Oh, Nathan – this young lady just gave me a Christmas present.”
I turned and saw a man in a suit. As I introduced myself to him, Patty told me he was a lawyer who worked down on Wacker Drive. For a split second, I imagined how funny it would be if this lawyer and I got to talking, and later ran into each other again while talking to Patty, and then fell in love, and oh, what a story it would be that Patty was the reason we met each other all those years ago. But he just said hello and kept walking.
“So what are you reading today?” I asked.
I don’t remember the title, but it was something by Dale Brown. Military espionage, I think. Patty reads a lot. In addition to the occasional action-thriller, she reads the kind of books you can’t find in regular bookstores. Books written and self-published by conspiracy theorists, I can tell just by looking at the covers.
So our conversation last Wednesday began, like all others, with a discussion about the weather. And like all others, it bounced quickly from topic to topic as I chased after Patty’s stream of consciousness.
We talked about the forecast for rain, and she commented on the recent space shuttle launch. I wasn’t aware there had been one, but she said that whenever NASA launches a shuttle into space, it disrupts the weather all across the planet. It makes sense, I suppose. If a butterfly can cause a typhoon, certainly the shuttle can cause a rainstorm.
“They say if you could actually see the atmosphere, it would look like Swiss cheese from all the holes punched in it by all those rockets.”
After a brief discussion of chaos theory, we moved on to aliens. I can’t recall how we segued into it, but she brought up Sigourney Weaver.
“Did you ever see her in that movie? That alien movie?”
“Alien? Yes – I love that movie! Did you ever see the second one? I think it was the second one where she walked into a nest of all those alien eggs. So creepy.”
“No kidding? I don’t think I saw that one.”
“Yeah, and I think the government was breeding the aliens for some reason. I can’t remember why.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. Aliens walk among us,” she said.
“You think so?”
“Oh, yeah! Did you ever notice how people in power are all left-handed with blue eyes?”
“Seriously? No, I never noticed that. Although I know a lot of presidents have been left-handed.”
“Yeah. I think Dick Cheney is an alien, don’t you?”
“Oh, yeah! Look at his eyes. Did you ever look at his eyes? You can kind of see through them. And all those millionaires are left-handed and have blue eyes. Like Donald Trump. And George Bush.”
I had no idea if Dick Cheney, George Bush or Donald Trump were left-handed or blue-eyed, but I wasn’t about to bog down this discussion with details.
“And of course you know that George Bush’s grandfather did business with the Nazis, right? Oh yeah, he was almost brought up on charges for it.”
If I hadn’t had a 9:00am meeting that morning, I might have stuck around to get more details on aliens and the Bush/Nazi connection, but I had to get to work.
“Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about today, as usual. I’ll see you later!”
“All right. You have a nice day!”
I waved goodbye and headed into the office, making a mental note to pay particular attention to any left-handed blue-eyed people I ran across.
I tried to explain it to you, and you had all sorts of advice.
“Banana potato smoothies!”
“Jack LaLanne Power Juicer!”
“Throw them in the compost heap!”
“Get some chickens!”
Look, I’m not saying this wasn’t good advice, or that I didn’t appreciate the suggestions. It was all very helpful and well-intentioned – every bit of it. Except the chickens part, because seriously, do I need to remind you of the story of the little old lady who swallowed a fly?
So I buy a bunch of chickens to eat up the vegetables, next thing you know I need a skulk of foxes to kill the chickens, and then some British guys on horses to kill the foxes, followed by a dozen or so Revolutionary War re-enactors to kill the British guys, and for the love of god, we all know that nothing can kill a Revolutionary War re-enactor – they’re worse than cockroaches, people!
Look, I think you need to fully understand what I’m up against with this vegetable co-op trap I’ve fallen into, and words alone just don’t do it justice. So BEHOLD:
This is one week’s worth of vegetables. I don’t have time to even think about cooking any of these until this weekend, and by then, I’m only three days away from ANOTHER BUSHELFUL OF VEGETABLES! It’s like I’m Sisyphus, but instead of a giant boulder, I’m pushing a rotting cantaloupe up that hill every day from now through eternity. Or at least for another seven weeks.
O mighty Zeus! Hear my pleas! I beg of you… the torrent of jalapenos and tomatillos is crushing my very soul! Have mercy – make it stop!