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Early Experimental Portraits and the Beginnings of my Commercial Work

Academics came easy to me in high school, and without much study I always made the honor roll.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I secretly longed to be a film director.  I started taking cinema studies courses at my school, the University of Illinois/Urbana, but quickly learned what a dismal program they had, and it mostly involved writing, film theory, and criticism, which really weren’t my cup of tea.   I did take an actual class or two in cinematography, but, I wasn’t as talented as I thought I was, and was bereft of ideas and funds.  I earned my first “D” grade in a class, and experienced what I considered to be my first academic failure.  I floundered.

I can’t remember if it was during my freshman or sophomore year that I enrolled in my first photography class, and I’m not even sure how seriously I took it.  It wasn’t until my third class in photography that I felt myself pulling ahead, becoming more and more interested in the work and taking it far more seriously than the other students.  I set up makeshift studios and had access to lighting equipment provided by the university.  My teachers and professors were heavily into post-modernism and feminism.  I was drawn to works by Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Joel-Peter Witkin, Diane Arbus and Arthur Tress.  These were people with something to say, and the vision to match.  My only problem was I didn’t feel passionately about much.

I know I liked theatricality and set-up shots.  I liked shooting people because it appealed to the film director in me.  What you see above are some of my experiments in portraiture along with some of my first commercial work, which was shooting a fraternity calendar.

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Feeling My Way In The Dark

I grew up in Oak Lawn, Illinois which, in second half of the 70s and early 80s was a cultural desert.  If there was any culture to be had, I wasn’t aware of it.  My parents were good parents, but family, work, and making a home were their main pursuits.  My mother had a few LPs, Errol Garner, Johnny Cash, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, and some Christmas records.  There couldn’t have been more than 20 total.  We had 1 TV which was shared between my parents and my 4 older brothers.  Suffice to say, my viewing options were limited and I was bottom of the totem pole when it came to selecting what to watch.  We didn’t go to the movies, let alone theater, concerts or art museums.

Once I reached junior high, things started to change for me.  I started to take music lessons. A friend’s parents took me with them to see Abel Gance’s silent film masterpiece Napoleon at the Chicago Theater with a live orchestra.  I saw my older brother perform in his high school’s version of Fiddler on the Roof.  Once I got a taste of the arts, I couldn’t get enough.    Eventually, I became the entertainment editor on my high school newspaper, and was regularly winning local music performance competitions.  I was an honors student and my parents expected me to go to college to become an engineer or scientist.  With no one to really understand or nurture my interest in the arts, and limited means to pursue it on my own, my aesthetic education was slow.

I think it’s kind of funny that I ended up as a photographer.  I don’t think anyone who knew me in my high school days would have ever predicted it.  I went off to the University of Illinois enrolled in Liberal Arts, secretly wanting to become a film director, but afraid to tell my parents lest they say, “You’re going to be a dentist, and that’s FINAL!”  I thought perhaps I could sort of ease them into it.  How was I to know that I should have found a way to attend the University of Southern California if I wanted to go into film?  I was a plumber’s son from Oak Lawn, Illinois for god’s sake and all the smart kids went to the U of I.

I took my first photography class pretty much by accident.  Once I was out of the house, I was exposed to all kinds of new and interesting people, and was encouraged by my teachers and the creative environment.  I did have a lot of catching up to do in terms of my aesthetic education. Here are a few samples from my earliest attempts at photography, mostly from Photo I and Photo II classes.  These images span approximately from 1983-1985.

As part of an ongoing project, I’m reviewing some of my photography work from my first photography class to the present.  Here is my first post.

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Great Recommendation from a Non-Profit

I was very gratified to find the following recommendation posted on LinkedIn this morning from my client Chuck Benya. As Director of Development at Vital Bridges and VP of Development at Howard Brown, Chuck hired me on multiple occasions to shoot events, fundraisers and other media events. Thank you, Chuck!

Gary is extremely easy to work with, professional but friendly, and flexible. I’ve hired him over the past two-years to shoot various special events. Prior to each event, we had phone conversations about how the organization was using the photographs (marketing, social media, annual report, etc.). I felt totally confident in his ability and talent and was thrilled with the results: he expertly captured so many of the details of Vital Bridges and Howard Brown Health Center’s events that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Gary is the unobtrusive, always present photographer that captures the right moment. He is also adept at the posed shot, too. The digital negatives and requested resolutions were delivered promptly.

I feel very confident that each organization’s investment in its event photography was worth it. I would definitely recommend Gary’s services!

Refund/Reshoot Policy

Chicago Fashion Photography

Two workdays notice is required if you are forced to postpone your session. Failure to do so will result in an additional charge of $75. If, after your consultation, for any reason you decide to cancel your shoot, $75 will be deducted from your deposit, and the balance will be returned to you.

G. Thomas Ward Photography is a service. Therefore, once the service is rendered, there are no refunds. In the case where you are not happy with your performance in front of camera (this means there are no acceptable pictures to you) reshoots are available at the discretion of G. Thomas Ward Photography for $25 per look.

General Information

  1. A $125 deposit is required to secure an appointment time for a shoot. Balance is due on day of sitting.
  2. Consultations are free, unless you don’t show up or cancel with less than 24 hour notice, in which case, a $25 fee will be charged for a new consultation appointment.
  3. Acceptable forms of payment are: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, debit cards, and cash. Personal checks are not accepted.
  4. Hair and makeup artist MUST be paid in CASH.
  5. Group discounts available. Call for quote.
  6. Normal turn around time for proofs and print orders is 7-10 days from date order is received. Orders will not be taken over the phone.
  7. Same or next day proofs available, pending availability, for an additional $30 charge. G. Thomas Ward must be notified at the time your session is booked if you require same or next day proofs.

About

My years of experience include shooting for a wide variety of clients both corporate and personal, including Cartier, WTTW, The Chicago Reader, Northwestern University, Hartmarx, Music of the Baroque, Red Moon Theater, Theo Ubique, Third Coast Marketing and many, many more.

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1315 W. Albion Ave.
Chicago, IL 60626

PH: 773.271.6813