Elliot Mandel

2018 in Portraits

Look at all these wonderful people making the world better with beautiful art! Thanks to all for their trust and enthusiasm. Plus, I joined in and got a new headshot myself. Hair and makeup by Angela Brasington, Christine Sciortino, Kimberly Cox, and Andrea Samuels. Photos © copyright 2018 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.

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2018 in Music Photos

A year of big performances, big venues, big voices, and big ovations. Here’s a look at my favorite music photos from 2018. Applause to all!

All photos © copyright 2018 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.

Five things I've learned in five years

In 2014, I was newly unemployed and tired of applying for jobs. With the encouragement of close friends and a career advisor, and the blessing of my parents, I compiled my best photos to date, built a website, invested in new equipment, and told the world I would like to get paid to take pictures. It was a risk and I had no idea how to make it happen. Now, I'm wrapping up my fifth year in business, and I can't imagine doing anything else. So I thought it would be a good time to share a few things I've learned along the way: 

1. Be a good colleague. Do good work. In that order. Yes, your product must be good, but business will suffer if you're difficult to work with. Basically, being a good person is never a bad move.

Chamber musicians play well together: David Finckel and Wu Han for Harris Theater. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2018, all rights reserved.)

Chamber musicians play well together: David Finckel and Wu Han for Harris Theater. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2018, all rights reserved.)

2. Stand by your work. Only you get to determine the value of your product/time/expertise. There are many factors that go into determining and assessing value, and many factors that go into negotiating fees and terms with a client. But ultimately, it's your name on the thing.  Do it well and defend it. 

In the spotlight: Chicago Children’s Choir. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2017, all rights reserved.)

In the spotlight: Chicago Children’s Choir. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2017, all rights reserved.)

3. Good. Writing. Is. So. Important. Most of my time is spent writing: quotes and contracts; social media posts; emails and emails and emails. I'm constantly choosing the right words to convey the appropriate tone. On the other hand, I can tell if a client will be a good fit by the way they communicate in writing. Why is any of this important? Because once I arrive to your shoot, nothing should get in the way of making good pictures. All the expectations, guidelines, fees, and logistics have been arranged in advance, and everything is in clear writing in case we need to reference it later.  The only thing left to do is concentrate on the photos.  

Every word matters: Rep. John Lewis addresses the American Library Assoc. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2017, all rights reserved.)

Every word matters: Rep. John Lewis addresses the American Library Assoc. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2017, all rights reserved.)

4. Build relationships. Yes, it's the long game, but it's the one thing that has served me well from the start. When a client is about to pay me money, they need to trust me and I need to understand exactly what they want. Now is a perfect time to say I'm tremendously grateful that my earliest clients have become longstanding colleagues, and have allowed me to grow with them: The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, Cedille Records, Chicago A Cappella, Chicago Children's Choir, Chicago Philharmonic, Fourth Coast Ensemble, Fulcrum Point New Music Project, Northwestern Bienen School of Music, and UChicago Presents

“Be discreet” was the only direction I received before my first assignment for the Chicago Philharmonic. Still the mantra. Maestro Scott Speck conducts the Chicago Philharmonic. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2018, all rights reserved.)

“Be discreet” was the only direction I received before my first assignment for the Chicago Philharmonic. Still the mantra. Maestro Scott Speck conducts the Chicago Philharmonic. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2018, all rights reserved.)

5. There is plenty of work for everyone. I think about this one nearly every day. Metaphor time: one day, during a particularly slow month, I decided to take an aimless photo walk downtown. I stopped at one of my favorite spots, the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. It was early summer and the bees were all over the garden flowers - so many that you could hear them buzzing. The garden is relatively small; there are certainly bigger parks with more flowers. But the bees were happy and diligently doing their work. There were plenty of flowers for them. Yes, there are more self-employed professionals now than ever before.  Yes, there is always someone willing to do the same job for less. But there is always a need for quality work. 

Plenty of pollen: Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2015, all rights reserved.)

Plenty of pollen: Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2015, all rights reserved.)

6. Ok, one more for the new year, and it's another one I think about regularly: the only guarantee is that if you say "no," nothing will happen. When you take a risk, sometimes the payoff is six months away and you don't know it yet. Or you don't even know what the payoff will be. Or something small leads to something larger. But if you say "no," it's over.  

A photo of bassist Chuck Webb that I grabbed while on assignment to shoot audio equipment at Navy Pier; it now hangs in the window of a Gold Coast bank. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2017, all rights reserved.)

A photo of bassist Chuck Webb that I grabbed while on assignment to shoot audio equipment at Navy Pier; it now hangs in the window of a Gold Coast bank. (Photo by Elliot Mandel, copyright 2017, all rights reserved.)

Thanks for being part of these five wonderful years. Here's to all of us doing great work in 2019! 

Scenes from the Chicago Philharmonic's Poland 2018 Festival

The Chicago Philharmonic opened its 18-19 season with a multi-night festival celebrating Polish music and the 100th anniversary of Polish independence. I began my fifth season as the Philharmonic’s photographer and had the pleasure/challenge of shooting in some unique and grand spaces around Chicago. Here’s a gallery of my favorite shots from the festival. Pictured: the Silesian Quartet at Fourth Presbyterian Church; jazz pianist Piotr Orzechowski at the Polish Museum of America; director Scott Speck, pianist Łukasz Krupiński, and the Chicago Philharmonic at the Copernicus Center; and Marek Mos conducting the Philharmonic in Wojciech Kilar’s Mass for Peace for 1700 people at St. Hyacinth Basilica.

All photos © copyright 2018 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.

Summertime Views

Summer is even more unpredictable than the rest of the year, but the last three months gave me some wonderful shoots with longtime friends and colleagues, cool kids being their cool selves, lots of great tunes, and a big open look at the Milky Way on a perfectly dark night in Colorado. Behind the scenes, I've made significant investments in my business and I'm looking forward to sharing some big projects, news, and more views in the fall! 

All photos © copyright 2018 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.

Well, that was fast.

Spring has come and gone, and I spent most of it among wonderful artists and beautiful moments. Here's a sample of everything I saw: 

The Chicago Children's Choir singing their hearts out in grand spaces. Galas for Bella Voce and Music of the Baroque. A beautiful spring evening on stage at Millennium Park. A surprise proposal and engagement tomfoolery. The Chicago Philharmonic's Scott Speck puts on the conducting gloves. Lots of portraits of lovely and talented artists. And the best rooftop view a photographer could ask for. 

All photos © copyright 2018 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.

Supermoon and Symphonies: Early Highlights of 2018

If there's a way to sum up the start of 2018, it's that I photographed some pretty awesome and beautiful things. The year started off with a Supermoon in sub-zero temps. After the feeling returned to my fingers, I drove out to the Mississippi River to watch the bald eagles before concert season picked up again. I spent a dress rehearsal with the Lake Forest Symphony; covered the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra's final concert before its China tour; and shot the Chicago Philharmonic (with two pianos!). The Northwestern University Jazz Orchestra - with Victor Goines and Don Vappie - blew out the best Mardi Gras tunes north of New Orleans. I shot my first concert for the Harris Theater on the stage of the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, and watched in amazement while pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard performed Ligeti and Beethoven before a rapt audience at the University of Chicago. Fulcrum Point New Music Project closed March with a rollicking performance of music by Wynton Marsalis. Now, on to spring! 

All photos © copyright 2018 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.

2017 in Music Photos

Here is a selection of my year in music photography, leading off with an image from the Chicago Children's Choir that sums up 2017 in general. It's a pretty awesome privilege to be able to do this for a living.  

All photos © copyright 2017 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.

2016: Celebrating a Big Year

This was a wild ride of a year. I shot tons of fabulous music. Philip Glass signed my photo of Philip Glass playing Philip Glass.  I covered Kurt Elling in the studio and created his latest batch of publicity portraits. Spektral Quartet's album "Serious Business," which includes my cover photo, was nominated for a Grammy. I sat next to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for 15 seconds. I gazed at the Milky Way from the tiny island of Islesford, Maine. And right in the middle of it all, I presented my jazz photography portfolio at the American Embassy in Vienna, Austria.  Thanks to all of you for being a part of a wonderful 2016! Enjoy this gallery of a few of my favorites. 

Christmas in May with Kurt Elling

What a thrill to hang with the incomparable Kurt Elling and his band last week. One of the best voices in jazz, a top-rate entertainer, and overall good guy.  He welcomed me into his dressing room at City Winery - fresh off his all-star performance at the White House for International Jazz Day - and let me fire away during two high-flying shows.  I joined Elling and company in the studio a few days later to document some of the recording of their upcoming holiday album.  Pictured: Kurt Elling, vocals; John McLean, guitar; Stu Mindeman, keys; Clark Sommers, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums.  

Photos © copyright 2016 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.

Ashley Bryan at Calvin College

Earlier this week, I drove up the coast to Grand Rapids, MI to watch Ashley Bryan give a presentation to a packed hall at the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. He spoke about the African American spirituals that run throughout his books for children, how the spirituals contain themes of positive self image to which all children can identify, and how a child's view of the world can be cultivated in adults. As usual, Ashley jumped from art to history to episodes of his personal story, including his time as a stevedore in the segregated army during the Normandy invasion. He closed with a particularly moving recitation of John Keats's "When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be" before a standing ovation. It's always an honor and a pleasure to be in the presence of this artist, and to see how much joy he finds in the world.

Photos © copyright 2016 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.

Year in Review: Portraits of 2015

Look at all these wonderful people! 

Top, L-R: Bridget Skaggs, Juliet Petrus, Ashley Bryan. Mid, L-R: Lauren Haselberger, Robert Nordling, Alexandra Ganser.  Bottom, L-R: Penelope Turgeon, Sarah Forbes Orwig, Anna Sanders Lee, Charles Thomas. 

Photos © Copyright 2015 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved. 

Serious Business with Spektral Quartet

I've followed the Spektral Quartet since I first saw them at the Empty Bottle in 2011 (a string quartet in a punk bar??). I was hooked. I wrote about them. I saw them perform a bunch of times. I came to photograph them in concert. But this is the coolest.  SQ's newest album, "Serious Business," features my cover photo. This is the quartet's fourth album, the first to feature their image, and my second album cover.  "Serious Business" is a disc of new and commissioned work (plus one very old joke) that explores the theme of humor in music. Since the days of "Abbey Road," quartets have been photographed walking to - who knows where? We tried the same thing, but Doyle kept falling. The album is due out in late January 2016, and you can catch the release concerts in Chicago on January 29 and 31.  

Photos © Copyright 2015 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved. 

Fourth Coast Ensemble: November 12, 2015

Throughout my work with the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, I've been introduced to one of Chicago's newest vocal quartets, Fourth Coast Ensemble. I've shot the individual members of 4CE in several master classes and coachings, and it was a pleasure to shoot their performance of music by Lita Grier and Ned Rorem at Ganz Hall with pianist Dana Brown.  Pictured: soprano Karen Ann Baron; mezzo-soprano Bridget Skaggs; tenor Zach Vanderburg; baritone Zach Angus.  

Photos © Copyright 2015 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved. 


Three days with the Music Institute of Chicago

In November, I had the great fortune of spending three days on three different campuses of the Music Institute of Chicago. From a roomful of musical toddlers to the New Horizons senior band, there was music from everyone, reminding me of my own days of Suzuki cello.  The enthusiastic students, teachers, MIC staff, and parents gave me a rich and memorable experience. The future of music is in good hands.  

Photos © Copyright 2015 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved. 

A Great Distance: CD Launch Recital

One of my favorite recitals of 2015 came on November 6 when soprano Juliet Petrus and pianist Lydia Qiu gave the Chicago launch of their debut CD of beautiful and rarely performed Chinese art song.  I was thrilled to have shot the cover (my first album cover!) and additional artwork; check out the original photo. Our collaboration inspired me to do some of my best work of the year.  Juliet and Lydia gave an intimate and eloquent performance that night at PianoForte Chicago. As a bonus, the event featured two galleries of my work: some black-and-white studies of the staircase at the Art Institute where we did the cover shoot, and an exhibit of 15 scenes of Chicago cityscapes and new work from Chinatown. 

You can watch the entire recital here.  And you can buy A Great Distance on Amazon, CDbaby, or itunes.  

Photos © Copyright 2015 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved. 

Contempo Season Opener, October 27, 2015

The 51st season of the University of Chicago's Contempo series opened on October 27, 2015 with a program celebrating its recently retired artistic director, Shulamit Ran. The towering music was given probing and gutsy performances by U of C ensembles-in-residence Pacifica Quartet and eighth blackbird with mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley.  New artistic director Marta Ptaszyn'ska joined Ran on stage as longtime colleagues and friends.  

Photos © Copyright 2015 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.