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.

Photographing Autism

How do you photograph something that remains a mystery? How do you tell a story without showing the main characters? These were my challenges as I walked into Rimland Services, an organization that provides care for people with autism. I was legally prohibited from showing faces of the residents. This forced me to intentionally block faces, shoot from behind, and physically move against my instincts. What I saw were the faces of the staff, volunteers, and caregivers - faces that revealed genuine love and compassion in an environment where those things that typically divide us - gender, race, age, physical or mental ability - didn't exist. The act of photography for me is an ongoing exercise in living in the present moment and simultaneously outside my comfort zone. At Rimland, this awareness intensified, such that the first two hours felt like four. But the staff welcomed me instantly, and I adjusted by observing their patient demeanor with the residents, their strength tempered by warmth and kindness. They allowed me the gift of seeing the world through their eyes, and I hope I captured and represented it adequately.    

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

On Jazz and Photography

I wish the Pharez Whitted Group had a standing gig at the Green Mill.  These guys played some of the hardest-hitting, soulful music I'd heard at the Mill all year.  From my seat down front, I had clean views of most of the band (no music stands!), so I snapped away.  

My affinity for jazz has grown in the last year alongside my approach to photography, and I believe the two are related.  I've discovered that, for me, photography is largely improvisational. I arrive at a shoot with an idea of what I want, but the final product is often a collaboration between the subject or client and myself.  The best images come from on-the-spot decisions, and I've learned to embrace the unknown or unexpected.  Jazz teaches me this lesson every time.   

Thanks to Pharez Whitted (trumpet), Eddie Bayard (sax), Lovell Bradford (keys), Jon Wood (bass), and Greg Artry (drums) for a weekend of killer music.  

Collaborative Works Festival 2014, part 1

A year ago, the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC) became my first official photography client.  Last week, I marked that anniversary by once again shooting CAIC's annual Collaborative Works Festival.  The four-day festival opened at the Poetry Foundation with a quartet of wonderful singers - Joshua Hopkins, Susanna Phillips, Kelley O'Connor, and CAIC's Artistic Director Nicholas Phan - in music by Robert and Clara Schumann.  Pianist and accompanist Myra Huang opened the concert with Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G Major.  It was an honor to photograph these artists, and a pleasure to hear them perform in such an intimate venue.  As a bonus, my photo accompanied Andrew Patner's review in the Sun-Times.  Here is a small gallery from the concert: