1986: LaGrange, Illinois. I shot my first selfie in my room for a self-portrait assignment, due the next day. I had already broken my dad’s camera. This one was a loaner from my high school photography teacher, Nan Garside. I didn’t have a tripod, so I set the camera on the edge of my desk, which added some blur around the bottom of the frame.
I was about to graduate from high school. A couple weeks earlier I’d seen the mountains and ocean for the first time, on a road trip to Daytona Beach for spring break with the guys at my lunch table. I’d lived in the same house in Chicagoland for 18 years, and it wouldn’t be long till I left or college in Madison, and moved away forever.
Stuck inside the house with my family, knowing everything was about to change, but not sure how. Trying to make something out of nothing.
Tonight, I’ve come full circle. 34 years after that spring evening senior year, my high school is inducting me into the Fine Arts Hall of Fame. PERFORMANCE OF “FOOTLOOSE” IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING!
The first thing I did after finishing college in Madison was hop on a plane for Ireland. My flight left from O’Hare, so I arrived in Chicago a few days early and crashed with former dorm mates at their North Side flat.
We went out to a bar across the street, a subterranean place directly under the elevated tracks that rumbled every time a train passed over. I met an artist who had been shot by a mugger a few years earlier, emerged from a coma, and changed his name to MR. IMAGINATION. He wore a suit covered with flattened bottle caps that had been folded over and sewn into his clothing like fish scales.
Mr. IMAGINATION invited us up to his apartment, along narrow paths through rooms jammed with Egyptian sculptures. He lived in a wedge-shaped building with slow moving El trains out the windows on both sides that were so close I could read the headlines on the commuters’ newspapers jerking past.
I returned the next day with a camera and shot his portrait. I didn’t know it at the time, but six months later I’d be back in Chicago, and good friends with MR. IMAGINATION. I made him a print and he hung it up. Later, when the Terra Museum organized a retrospective of his work, they discovered the portrait and displayed it in the museum. It was my first gallery show.