It was my first time to Chicago and I had a whole day to myself, so naturally I wanted to go out and explore the city. However, it being my first time in Chicago and not having anyone to show me around, I did not know where to go. This wasn't the first time I found myself in such a situation; traveling alone means that you're inevitably going to end up adventuring without a guide. Over time I've developed a pretty effective way to tackle these times: pick one famous place to visit and then just walk around aimlessly. So that's what I did, and I chose the first famed Chicago hallmark I could think of: the bean.
I was staying in Evanston, north of the city center, and so I had to take the train to downtown. Since I am an able-bodied young human, I chose to walk the mile-and-a-half to the train station instead of hopping on a local bus, and on the way I passed quite a few really fantastic photo opportunities. They weren't the most eye catching of scenes, and certainly didn't have much glamour to them, but I felt as though I was truly seeing someplace differently than others had seen it before--stopping to notice things to which residents perhaps have become accustomed. And since Evanston doesn't see the volume of tourists that Chicago proper does, I felt like this was a special experience.
After seeking refuge from the biting cold under some heat lamps on the train platform, I boarded my transportation into the Windy City. As we rolled closer and closer, I kept my eyes glued to the neighborhoods zooming past the windows. Again, I felt like I was gaining a perspective on Chicago that many visitors probably do not experience: the commuter train. Eventually we took a dive underground and completed the final few miles in the darkness of tunnels. The train stopped, I disembarked, and climbed a long flight of stairs up to the street level. With a feeling to which I've become quite accustomed living near New York, I surfaced and found myself in the fresh (and freezing) air, surrounded by grey monoliths, and not having any idea of my orientation. I knew I wanted to head toward Millennium Park, but how the hell would I get there? I figured I would take my chances and just pick a direction, and some trees I could see in the distance provided me with the ability to at least make an educated guess.
As I crossed a few streets and the view opened up, I found that my intuition had served me well and that I was heading directly for my desired destination. The Bean remained obscured until I was directly in front of it, but finally I turned a corner and it was mine to behold. Immediately, I took out my camera, deciding to reject the little voice inside my head that urged me to keep from seeming like a tourist. I walked directly in front of The Bean, and I took a photo. I stepped back a little, so that I could see the skyscrapers, and I took another one. A few steps to the left, a few to the right, a bit closer, from the back; I took fifty or so photos of this giant reflective legume, which--in the bitter cold of the day--was significantly covered in ice. It was fun to stand in its presence, but after the novelty began to subside, In started trying to find original angles from which to capture the scene. I walked around the sculpture a few times, contemplated the crowd that was gathering around and underneath it, and came to a depressing realization: there aren't any original angles. In a place so small and so ubiquitously visited, how can one ever hope to find a new perspective? Every photography has been taken, every facet considered. I took a few photos I enjoyed at The Bean, but none that I felt were innovative in the slightest.
Now, safe inside a warm coffee shop on the other side of the country, I think about that terribly cold Chicago experience and I wonder to myself whether I was correct in my nihilistic assessment. Are there was to make original photographic commentary on something that has been over-represented in pictures to such an exaggerated extent? Perhaps it just requires patience; such common material doesn't present itself in a novel fashion very often.
I walked away from the bean demoralized--because I had not managed to succeed photographically--but excited, because I new the city would hold other opportunities for creativity. And, sure enough, I was right.