People with Passion: Photographer Josh Kalven

People with Passion

Josh Kalven, photographer for “Ooh U Got Me”

Interview April 17, 2011

Akasha at Lincoln Hall, February 23, 2011 (photo by Roper)

News entrepreneur Josh Kalven’s summertime-in-Chicago time-lapse photography was meant as “a little side project,” but it soon turned into a music video for reggae band Akasha and their song “Ooh U Got Me.” On April 13, the video won the first “3 Music Videos You Haven’t Seen Yet” contest, topping Loyal Divide’s “Vision Vision” and Que Billah’s “Fresh Air Syndrome.”

In this interview with ChicagoNow’s Jack M Silverstein, Kalven discusses the genesis of the project and his love for his home city.

I’m not a professional photographer. I’m a photographer’s son. My mom, Patricia Evans, is a documentary photographer in Chicago, so I grew up in a very photographically-inclined household, with a darkroom, and all that stuff. When I decided to leave Chicago last spring, I got the idea of doing a time-lapse tribute to Chicago as a little side project, a personal project, on my way out. I was inspired by a video I’d seen done similarly with London, and it seemed like a fun project.

I started researching time-lapse photography, some of the skills and techniques involved, and started experimenting with a few friends I went to high school with. And in my group of friends is Doug Bistrow, the bassist for Akasha. That’s where the connection happened around this video.

I worked on it for about a month before leaving, and shot, I think 30 locations – 26 locations ended up in the video itself. It was something I was scrambling to get finished as I was scrambling to leave the city. The idea was to pull together a portrait of Chicago in summer, and to give it a neighborhood feel as well as a recognizable downtown feel, but not be too pulled toward the most crowded scenes in Chicago, which make for great time-lapse. The more people, the better. But I wanted to focus on quiet spots as well.

One of the most beautiful, I think, is the two guys playing basketball, and you’ve got the three different train tracks and all three trains pass during that time.

Yeah, I was really happy with that. And that was just a product of driving around and looking for interesting vantage points. That turned out to be one of my favorite shots. So there are shots like that that I sort of stumbled across, and then there are shots that are important to me. It’s kind of a mix of half and half, I’d say.

The softball one is special to me. Me and some friends in the summer had a Sunday softball game in Eckhart Park right off Chicago Ave. there, and that was shot one night when we were all out playing softball. There’s one shot from a bakery window on Chicago Ave., which is really close to where I live. La Farine Bakery on Chicago Ave. And there’s one taken in front of the Merchandise Mart in front of the Chicago River, and you get two kayakers and a few boats going under the bridges. That was kind of my favorite lunch spot to go out and sit, because I worked right near there.

So I did all the shooting before I left, and then I moved out to San Francisco, and during the first month I was out here I did a lot of the editing. Once I was done – it was an incredible amount of work to edit – I sent it around to people, and Doug and I started talking about looping it with an Akasha track, which I was more than happy to do.

The response has been good. It’s been nice to see it circulating again, four or five months after I originally completed it. Some of the original reactions – and I started circulating it right at the end of summer – were that it was going to be really hard to watch in the winter in Chicago. So it’s funny to see it popping back up and seeing some of the comments in February. I know what it feels like to be in Chicago in February.

I found it easier to watch in February because of that. I don’t think I would be particularly drawn to it in the summer months when you can just go outside and there it all is. I found it really appealing in February.

Well yeah, that’s good to hear. Summer is obviously majestic in Chicago. It’s something you need to be reminded of sometimes, how good it is. So the reaction’s been great. I’m really happy with how it came out.

For me, it was an act of saying goodbye to Chicago. It was driven by that. The process of working on it when I first moved out here was a way of staying connected to Chicago. It provided a really nice transition for me, because I do feel some guilt about leaving Chicago. (Laughs) It was a nice sort of gift to leave behind, I guess.

What I love about summer in Chicago, and I hope it comes through in the video, is that sense of joy you get driving around and being in the city during those months. I felt very tapped into that when I was producing this video. You can drop down anywhere, in any neighborhood in the summer, and find people lapping it up. And a lot of the process was just going to neighborhoods that I don’t know that well and finding these wonderful scenes. Whether it was the woman selling corn out of her pick-up truck in Little Village, or those guys playing basketball underneath the tracks. It spreads across the city. It was fun to navigate, and it was fun to live in Chicago during those summers. Those are definitely my fondest memories.

Jack M Silverstein covers music, sports, and culture in Chicago. His book “Our President” is available at Amazon. Hit him up on Twitter @ReadJack, and follow his work at ChicagoNow’s Lists That Actually Matter.

New “3 Music Videos You Haven’t Seen Yet” coming next Wednesday!


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