Trayvon Pawn

What is really the truth? That is the question I have asked several times while listening to news coverage of the Trayvon Martin case, as the truth seems to change every few days.

It is hard to say when - or if - the truth will be known. After all, each "truth" is subject to perception. Martin and George Zimmerman surely each have very different versions of the truth. The problem is Martin is not able to tell us his side of the events from that evening.

What is clearly left in the wake of this event are two families torn forever: One who has lost a son and one who sees their son under attack and suffering from the aftermath. In addition to this, as we might expect, we now have a cry to arms from different groups of people.

Everyone and every group has its own agenda. With each agenda, facts seem to materialize to support the chosen point of view. The families are used, abused, and forgotten. The lives changed and pushed aside and instead Martin is diminished to nothing but a pawn. A pawn to prove a point of view, achieve notoriety, even by which to make money.

I have not yet decided what I think of this case and the fall out. However, I know how it makes me feel.


K-3 Drama at the Board

While directing at the National Youth Action Chess Tournament in November of 2009, I snapped this shot. From time to time, I would wear a camera around my neck during play. As I was busy tending to chess matters, I often snapped a shot without even looking through the view finder. This is a skill that is worth perfecting, but with multiple lenses and different focal depths, it does take some time to get right. Brendan Duffy, seen in this photo having a cry at the board, was literally shot from the hip.

I was called to the board by Duffy’s opponent to solve a touch move dispute. Touch Move is a rule in tournament play that states the player must move the first piece he touched. It's a rule that is often invoked yet rarely enforced, because it is difficult to determine whether the rule was violated, unless the the violation was witnessed by a director or the guilty player confesses.

Duffy’s opponent, who was playing white, told me black had picked up his queen, captured one of white’s pieces and then white captured the black’s queen. Duffy protested, saying he moved his queen to a different square from which white could not capture it. The opponent did not relent, and Duffy burst into tears. I then asked Duffy to show me what he did. Often a player will claim one thing then when asked to reenact the move will show something contrary -- the truth.

I reminded Duffy of the rules, after which his crying increased. I handed him several tissues and gave him a moment to pull himself together. I returned the pieces on the board to the correct position then let Duffy know he could make his move when he felt ready. I took a result from another game two boards down then looked back to see if he had moved. Before I could study the game, Duffy's opponent’s hand flew up and he locked eyes with me.

I returned to the board and Duffy's opponent told me Duffy wouldn’t move. I reminded the opponent that he had a lot of time and would make his move when he was ready. He retorted, “If he is just going to cry then I should win.” Duffy’s nearly dried tears became newly wet as he let out a cry of pain at the thought that he would lose. After talking both players down, I left them to finish the game but not before I decided to capture the moment and snapped the shot.

I passed by the game several times during the round, and while Duffy was still putting the tissues I gave him to use, he was making regular moves. As the games around me drew on and my camera became heavier around my neck, I decided it was time to put it away. As I placed the camera into its bag, I took a look at the photo of the crying little boy. I was happy to see I was able to get a clean shot, but I felt bad for capturing a child in misery. How could I ever let others see this picture? I felt that I must be heartless to sneak a picture of a kid crying over a game of chess.

Before much longer Duffy’s hand went up, and I hurried over to his board. He was smiling, but his opponent was not. Duffy had checkmated -- a clear clean mate -- and won the game. I was happy for him, and I was also happy for myself. Since the story of the photo now had a happy ending, I didn’t have to feel guilty about sharing it.
Side Note: This was only the third USCF-rated tournament Duffy played in. He was one of 130 children playing in the Kindergarten through third grade section. He finished 88th over all with four wins out of nine games.


Shaking Hands with History

Shaking hands with history. That is what I had the honor to do at the end of an all-too-brief photo shoot with retired Federal Judge George Leighton of Chicago. At age 98, he has retained several text books worth of history in his head, with many chapters that could easily be written about him.

Judge Leighton entered Howard University at age 24, no small feat after dropping out of school in the 7th grade to work on an oil tanker. One of the jobs he held during his undergraduate years was working in a kitchen where he peeled potatoes. On Saint Patrick’s Day 1936, Leighton came upon a potato into which he could not get his knife. He soon realized he was actually trying to peel a rock impersonating a potato. He promised himself he would keep that potato rock on his desk someday as a reminder of the hard work he had done. The potato peeling didn’t go on forever, just as he predicted, and Leighton graduated with honors and went on to study and graduate from Harvard Law School in 1946.

Leighton made a name for himself after graduation by defending civil rights cases. Ironically, he once found himself in the defendant’s chair. That experience was one he never forgot and it served to influence him on the bench. Unlike some judges, Leighton said he took it seriously whenever someone claimed to be not guilty, for he had once stood wrongly accused himself.

In 1964, Leighton earned his first judgeship when he because the Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County (1964-1969). Later he severed as a Judge of the Appellate Court (1969-1976). In 1976 Leighton become the first African American Federal Judge when he was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois. Though Judge Leighton "retired" at age 75, he has continued to practice law in Chicago for the past 23 years. He has been staunchly opposed to the death penalty and has taken on many death penalty cases in Illinois. It was a joyous day for him this year when the death penalty was finally laid to rest. Perhaps this is why during my meeting with Leighton he claimed the current case he was working would be his last.

The Honorable Judge George Leighton has undoubtedly earned himself a full retirement. I wish him good health and joyous times with his family and friends for many more years. I hope this blog entry has inspired you to learn more about the Judge and to look around for living history in your midst. Of course, you could just go out and make some history yourself ;)


Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon

Generally when a movie comes to Chicago for filming it is kept on the down low. It isn’t unusual for films to shoot under assumed names, hide props from the public and avoid the press. However, when "Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon" came to the Windy City to film in the summer of 2010, it was no secret.

During the hot months of summer, fans posed with the Transformers (that where still in the form of cars and trucks) and laughed when they read signs that said no robots would be on the set. People took photos of pieces of the set, which occupied vacant lots in the Loop and walked by signs warning of scenes being filming with explosives. Anytime there were questions, yellow-shirted Transformers 3 Public Assistance personnel, who were assigned to man barricades, answered the fans.

Though it seemed the the filming of the next big summer block buster was just one big movie-making fan fare, the sets were closed and the stars of the shows were often kept under wraps. Some fans left down town disappointed they didn't catch a glimpse of the big stars. The women and girls missed seeing Shia LaBeouf and Josh Duhamel while the boys and men were dismayed to learn Megan Fox was replaced with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as the new love interest of Sam Witwicky.

After weekends of being surrounded by explosions and feeling hounded by low-flying helicopters, I decided I couldn’t escape the filming and thought I would join in however I could. With my camera in hand one weekend, I shot what the general public wasn’t able to see. On a dark and cloudy Saturday, there was filming of long shots where Transformers would be CGI'ed in later. Another scene included a car wheel ablaze and rolling down LaSalle Street, surrounded by burning vehicles. Security had to chase off one man who crashed the set to take photos by jumping out of an SUV that broke through a police line.

On Sunday, I thought I had had my fill of capturing the filming but ended up heading out again after the action kicked up on Randolph Street, not even half-a-block away from my home. The block had been turned into a set with blown up cars, building parts, and papers flying around. Extras made up to look like wounded victims of an attack stood in a parking lot waiting orders. Cameras on rigs hung over the street and the crew pumped in smoke.

Several run throughs were staged, with cameras setting up the shot. The extras were positioned under and on top of cars and desks and other debris and the scene was filmed. Of course, no robots were on set but you could tell where they were intended to be by watching the camera work. Soon it became clear why the bystanders were kept further from the set than usual that day. The stars of the film were near by.
With fresh smoke billowing over the set and the extras in place, explosive pops went off and the stars ran down the street to take cover. Just where in the movie the scene will be or if it will make the cut is to be determined. But LaBeuf himself is claiming that this is the best Transformers film of them all, so I am sure fans and curious Chicagoans alike will take a break from the heat this summer and take in the film in a nice air conditioned movie theater. See you at the movies :)



Assignment: Take a simple mid-west girl and show her more "Eclectic" side.

Mary Lemanski was born one month premature, weighing only 3 lbs., 11.5 oz., but she has been living large since. At age 11 she made her first TV appearance while competing in a talent show. Today Mary may be best known as a songwriter, but she is also a great performer. In June, 2010, Mary released her first full length CD of her own original work, entitled “Eclectic”. One her songs off of the CD “Man of My Dreams”, which was originally written for Jessica Simpson, has been certified as a Top 40 hit by the International Association of Independent Recording Artists.

Mary and I spent a fall afternoon in Chicago collecting shots for her in CD, "Eclectic". Mary wanted to make sure we took the time to photograph her at the Cloud Gate sculpture (aka the "Bean", by British artist Anish Kapoor) in Millennium Park. Due to crowds and fading light, I knew the classic shot, a person beside the bean with a view of the city reflected, just wasn’t going to work. Despite her disappointment, Mary took my direction and followed me under the sculpture. Thanks to my friend (the SB-900 flash!) and a willing subject, I was able to take some fun and unusual shots underneath the "Bean".

Learn more about Mary and her CD “Eclectic” at www.marylemanski.com



As you can see from this photo, chess isn’t always just about brains. International Masters Sam Shankland (left) and Dean Ippolito were paired to play in round four of the 2008 Frank K. Berry U.S. Chess Championship. Both had arrived in the playing room before the round was to begin to socialize with other participants. I was taking some pre-game photos, when the socializing turned into good-natured pre-game “trash talk.” Shankland was an easy target. He was still in high school and was rising in his chess career. Next to Ippolito, a more seasoned player, who is also a body builder, Shankland didn’t seem to stand a chance.

The trash talking between the two lead to most of us in the room joining in and having a laugh. Eventually the tension was too much and Shankland and Ippolito wanted to start the game early to get the show on the road, but chief Arbiter Berry wouldn’t allow that to happen, as it wasn’t appropriate. A speed game of chess was contemplated, as well, but soon they arrived at a consensus on the perfect solution: arm wrestling.

And so it was. Shankland and Ippolito decided to muscle it out beside the board instead of over it. It didn’t seem like a fair fight and it wasn’t. Ippolito didn’t break a sweat, as Shankland put every ounce of himself into the wrestle, turning beet red before Ippolito took him down.

Ippolito was victorious in the arm wrestling match but not in the chess game. Perhaps the pre-game loss Shankland suffered only inspired him to win when it really counted.

Side note: The Shankland/Ippolito arm wrestling duel created such a buzz that it lead to a group arm wrestling match in the hotel lobby after the closing ceremonies were over. The primary participants in this impromptu smackdown were the women who had played in the 2008 U.S. Women’s Championship held simultaneously with the 2008 U.S. Championship.

If you ever wanted to be part of breaking a Guiness World Record now is your chance. Dean Ippolito will be going after the record for most games played in a simultaneous exhibition.

The World Record Attempt Will Take Place on November 27, 2010 at the HealthQuest Sports Dome in Flemington, NJ.
Sign up at www.chessworldrecord.com


US Women: Chess and Friendship

Irina Krush vs Iryna Zenyuk

In honor of the 2010 US Women’s Chess Championship, I thought I would give the backstory on this shot. It was taken during the opening ceremonies of the 2009 US Women’s Chess Championship, which was held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Featured in the arm wrestling photo are two ladies who will be playing again this year. Affectionately they are known as the Irinas: Irina Krush and Iryna Zenyuk. They are fierce competitors but also close friends. All too often the only time they see each other is when they compete.

The Irinas wanted to make sure they had lots of photos of themselves together. In this shot they shared Iryna Zenyuk’s dress gloves to create a dramatic pose, setting the tone for the competition that lay ahead. After seeing the Irnias together that night posing for photos and laughing, no one would have thought that the gloves would later come off, as they fought it out in the 5th round of the tournament when the final knock out of the game went to Krush.

It might be surprising for chess outsiders to learn that it isn’t unusual for chess players who are friends to be forced to face off across the board - and often for high honors. The community of top players is a small one. Many players have known each other since they were quite young and up-in-coming in the game.

In 2007 and 2008 the title of US Chess Champion seemed to come down to just two men: Alexander Onischukand Yury Shulman, who have been friends since high school. In 2007, Oninschuk won the US Championship, after a final play off game between the two, and the following year Shulman walked away with the title.

During the 2010 US Women’s Chess Championship, ten ladies will be battling it out for top honors and a $16,000 prize but they will also take time to be together. Plans will be made for lunch and dinner gatherings. The ladies will have get togethers in the gym, and late night talks and walks will just naturally happen. Those who don’t visit the tournament would never realize how much socializing happens when the women aren’t fighting it out across the table from one another. Yet the chess world is even smaller for the women than it is for the men, and girls have to stick together.

2010 US Women's Chess Championship Players
Anna Zatonskih, Irina Krush, Tatev Abrahamyam, Iryna Zenyuk, Katerina Rohonyan, Sabine Foisor, Camilla Baginskaite, Alisa Melekhina, Beatriz Marinello, and in her US Women's Chess Championship debut Abby Marshall.
2009 Competitors

To my girlfriends: I wish you each do your best, play the fighting chess I know you are capable of, and find time to enjoy each other’s company.