Hello, hiya, and salutations! My name is Elliot, I’m 26, a Libra, and I enjoy long walks on the beach. By day I work a 9-5 as an IP legal assistant in a corporate law firm, but additionally work with Passion Passport as the Instagram Account Manager. As for travel, I like that it takes you outside of your everyday life and forces new experiences on you. I’m not a natural ‘adventurer’ so traveling reminds me to push my comfort zones, challenge my perspectives, and take in experiences as they come.
How was your interest in photography sparked? How does photography influence the way you see the world around you?
In a lot of ways, my interest in photography sparked largely because I was commuting to and from the city for my 9-5, one hour each way, and I was looking for something to fill that time.
As a child, I was constantly drawing. But somewhere between there and middle school, I decided art wasn’t practical and left it behind. After graduating college and starting a job in a corporate environment, I started to feel the need for a creative and individual outlet. Instagram allowed me to pick back up that side of me (my drawing skill all but deteriorated) that I had left behind; it’s an incredible medium that is both accessible to anyone who wants to use it and refined enough to keep professional photographers engaged. As far as how I see the world around me, I think photography has trained me to be hyper-aware of my surroundings and to look for beauty and meaning – even and most especially in the mundane.
What is your favorite approach to photography? Do you generally strike up a conversation with your subjects or just capture the moment?
I prefer to capture candid, uninhibited scenes and remain as unobtrusive as possible. Most people become self-conscious the moment they feel a lens on them, and a veil goes up. Even when taking portraits of friends, I try to snap when they think I’m not ready (perhaps in part because I’m not very good at giving direction).
But circling back to my answer in the previous question, there’s just something magical about the morning commute. Between everyone still having sleep in their eyes and the “mind your own business” attitude of the city, the train is one of the rare public spaces you can observe strangers acting as if no one is watching. It’s those rare, unfiltered moments that I connect with and speak to me the most.
Have you always lived in Chicago? If no, what brought you here? How would you describe the culture of the city?
Yes and no! I realize this should be a simple answer, but I have a tendency to over-write. I actually live in the North Shore suburb of Evanston and have since I can remember (minus four years of going to school in NYC), but I’ve always considered Chicago/Evanston home. I like to think of Chicago as the country’s “middle child” between the East and West Coast. We’re down-to-earth without being flaky; we’re driven without being self-important. We’re the middle ground. That said, we take our food, our public aesthetic, and our snow plowing very seriously.
What would you say are some of the most unique juxtapositions that exist within the city?
This is a good question. On the surface, Chicago is in a unique position geographically as a large city on a lake; creating unique juxtapositions of vertical, steel skyscrapers against horizontal, liquid water. Going back to the idea of Chicago as a “middle child” I also think there’s an interesting intersection between Midwestern and small-town values in an urban environment. One other gaping juxtaposition (not necessarily unique to us) is Chicago being a melting pot as well as a hotbed of socio-economic inequities. Downtown you pass panhandlers on blocks with million-dollar penthouses overlooking the water.
Where do you go to enjoy the city and escape tourists? Where would you recommend travelers hoping to connect with locals go?
I may be cheating here, but I’d have to say the ‘L’ (our main train system). Through the window you can catch unique glimpses across the expanse of the city -- including skyline, underground, and ‘elevated’ which puts eye-level at three or four stories. You still want to avoid it during rush hours, but people generally tend to mind their own business. My daily commute is my ‘me time’ in which I often catch myself dozing off. And nowhere gets more ‘local’ than public transit where you can feel the commuters change neighborhood by neighborhood.
What are 3 of your favorite places to photograph throughout the city? Why?
If you haven’t guessed yet, the CTA or ‘L’ System is my favorite ‘spot’ to photograph. But thinking of my favorite shots, they tend to be from places I’ve found myself – places I didn’t necessarily seek out. For me, while I enjoy exploring and going to specific spots with other shooters, the most satisfying part of Instagram is feeling aware and engaged wherever I am, from crosswalks to parking garages. That said, some iconic locations are the boat tour by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (seasonal), Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower, and anywhere along the Lake.
What recommendations do you have of the best places for visitors to experience Chicago?
Activities to do and places to see the best views of the skyline:
My favorite view of the skyline from the ground is Milton Olive III Park. You almost always run into other Instagrammers and photographers there, which creates an unspoken solidarity. If you’re looking for a slightly higher vantage point, I can never get enough from the John Hancock. The Signature Lounge on the 96th floor allows you to wait for the sunset over drinks.
Neighborhoods, galleries, and museums to explore:
I wish I had more room to write about these…there are too many to name in one sub-question. For galleries and museums, I have to name the Art Institute of Chicago as an absolute must. It’s full of priceless works (so don’t knock anything over) like American Gothic, Nighthawk, Woman with a Monkey, as well as lesser-known treasures. The Modern Wing with its natural light, open space, and weightless quality is also one of the most photogenic interiors to take portraits. As far as neighborhoods go, I have to mention Pilsen for its vibrant, artsy atmosphere. It’s full of bright, funky, and wacky street art.
Best foods to try and great local cafes/restaurants:
Don’t get me started. Chicago is a coffee and food lover’s paradise. In all honesty, I’m kind of a fake coffee drinker as I tend to go for the sweet. My current drink of choice is a vanilla latte, and La Colombe serves a delicious version of that. For a slightly quirky vibe and nom-nom sandwich, the Bourgeois Pig is another go-to spot for me when I’m in the area. There are too many food options depending on what you’re in the mood for, so I’m going to list a bunch in no particular (aka alphabetical) order: Chicken Shop (chicken & waffles), the Fish Keg (Cajun fried catfish), Longman & Eagle (American with creative twists), the Peckish Pig (I’m cheating because this is technically Evanston), and the Slurping Turtle (ramen). Go look them all up, and bring a bucket because you’ll be salivating. Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you in the direction of deep dish pizza and a Chicago style hot dog.
What advice would you give for those who are interested in moving to Chicago?
Hit me up. Seriously.
I think one of the hardest things about moving is meeting new people and making connections. Chicagoans can be pretty friendly, even jovial, but that’s more so during the Summer, Spring, and Fall; which leads me to another important piece of advice: “Winter is coming.”
What’s next for you? Any final words of advice?
Next for me I think is a big-boy camera. Stay grounded in what you do, surround yourself with people who inspire, and YOLO.
Images Courtesy of Elliot Vernon