FOCAL POINT surveys the landscape of emerging photographers and selects three talented, driven, and noteworthy artists to highlight each quarter.  Each FOCAL POINT photographer receives mentoring from Crusade for Art to think about their work, their target audience, and how to best engage them.  In this interview series, every FOCAL POINT photographer gets asked the same three questions, and their answers become a jumping off point for the mentorship.

Describe the arc of your photography career so far.  

Photography represents my second chance at life.  Immediately after college, I spent seven and a half years pursuing an MA and PhD in the philosophy of religions from the University of Chicago.  About a year or so after graduating, I began teaching myself digital photography.  I'll be honest:  I had to read the manual cover to cover.  Compared to my father's trusty Minolta XE-7 (which I tinkered with briefly in my early 20s), this thing seemed a veritable rocket ship.

In truth, while photography had always been a dream of mine, I didn't think it was possible.  Telling someone you'd like to be a photographer usually garners the same reaction as telling someone you'd like to grow up to be a rock star.  Or run away and join the circus.  They smile at you and pat you on the head, and after enough of that, you internalize the notion that it's crazy, and you had better do something a touch more practical with your life - which, for some reason, meant "academia" to me.  Don't know what I was thinking.

On that note, when faced with the death of tenure-track positions across the United States, I realized I was getting an opportunity to start from scratch.  It took a few years, but eventually I bucked up the courage to claim this dream for myself, and I've been cobbling something together ever since.  Haphazardly or not.

As someone who was immediately drawn, moth-to-flame style, to long-form, humanistic documentary work, I was absurdly lucky and grateful to apprentice under Jon Lowenstein here in Chicago, who has kindly remained an informal mentor to me ever since - and who I'm honored to consider a friend. 

Baby steps:  I received the 2014 Karen Van Allsburg Memorial Scholarship, which afforded me an opportunity to attend a week-long course at the Maine Media Workshops.  This put me in touch with another great shooter/mentor, David H. Wells.  And, strangely enough, I was a semi-finalist for the 2014 Lange-Taylor Prize, issued by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.  If I did the math right, this means I clocked in at the top 20 percent of applicants - and since I really only picked up my incomprehensible rocket ship of a camera three years prior to that, I was humbled (not to mention, shocked) beyond measure to get even that far.

If you were exactly where you wanted to be in your fine art photography career, what would that look like?

I'm not sure how to answer this question, because I don't really consider myself a fine art photographer.  I'm primarily a documentary-style shooter who (like many, if not most of us) does corporate and editorial work to keep the lights on.  And I'm at least...moderately successful reducing blackout periods.  So, "more work" may be the cop-out answer, but it's also the honest one.

What are your goals for 2015?

I have two (wildly different) long-running documentary projects that need to be put to bed.  One, Back of the Yards, ( which is featured here in FOCAL POINT, has been on-going for two years now.  I'm hoping to get some funding so I can finally finish this puppy.  Fingers crossed!  The other is a project I've been co-directing for the past three years, documenting one of --if not the-- best intellectual and academic bookstore in the world (  We're in the process of putting together a book -- a fitting capstone to a project on a bookstore, if there ever was one -- and if we keep to our schedule, that book should come out by the end of summer 2015.  Ish.  At least in theory.  It's being designed by the same fella who produced Carlos Javier Ortiz's beautiful book "We All We Got" (, so I'm just happy as clam about it.

Other than finishing these, I'd like to get more photography clients, for sure, both corporate and editorial.  And while some may think I'm doing things backwards, I'd actually love to nab one of those rare photojournalism internships.  Since I didn't go to school for photography, I know I'd benefit from the razor-like focus on story-story-story.

Lastly, before I became a shooter I was a writer.  I've recently started to combine the two, and wrote a fairly substantial essay about my Back of the Yards project.  Despite turning out to be an incredibly vulnerable piece of writing -- far more so than I thought it would be -- I'd like that effort to see the light of day at some point.