Monday, February 4, 2013

A Thousand Words: Featuring Aaron B. Engler

I first noticed Aaron Bradley Engler's photography about a year ago when I was looking through some pictures that the Family Groove Company had posted on Facebook. There were a couple that caught my eye, that seemed to "stick out" more than the others. I emailed the band's bassist, Janis Wallin, and asked if she knew who had taken the photos. I was writing a preview for a Family Groove Show show that was coming up in Des Moines, and I really wanted to use these particular photos for the article. So it was Janis who turned me to Aaron, although it was his pictures that initially grabbed my attention.

Aaron Bradley Engler: Self Portrait
Aaron was born in Chicago and raised in the northwest suburbs. He is a self taught photographer who learned his craft by watching others and constant experimentation. He attended classes at the Harrington College of Design, but due to a growing substance abuse problem, he took a medical leave after just one semester at the college. He worked through his struggles and no longer relies on drugs to get through his day.

"I'm clean now and I channel my energy into my photo work," he told me in an email. "I've turned my life around."

He's maintained a constant photography "career" by making connections in the Chicago music scene and using that network to shoot band promotion photos, live shots, and anything else that he is asked to do. His real job is in the field of heating and cooling, and even that allows him to get on top of buildings and other places that he normally wouldn't have access to, and to have those rare opportunities to get shots that otherwise might not be available to him. 

My personal favorite photo of his is one he took of the Chicago stop on the city's Redline train route. When I lived in Chicago for a breief time in 1998, this was the stop where I got off to go to my job on State Street. When I saw it posted on his Facebook photography page, I recognized it immediately as the Chicago stop. 

The Redline Chicago stop in downtown Chicago
(Click this, and all photos to enlarge)
At 25 years old, Aaron Bradley Engler is one of the rising stars on Chicago's music scene in terms of photography. Enjoy the photos he picked out for this article, as I let him tell you his story in his own words. 


Well first off, I just wanted to say how honored I feel to have Troy ask me to be a part of his blog! I really dig what he is doing. So this is the part when I tell a bit about myself and how I got into photography. I have always been into art. At a young age I got into graffiti art but after a couple of arrests by the local police I kinda decided to stick to making graffiti on paper instead of on local businesses. I appreciate any form of art, the biggest being music. I cannot read music or play a single note for the life of me but listening to music has always been a huge part of my life. Music does wonders for my mind and emotions. Music can calm me down, pump me up, motivate me, bring me out of a bad mood, help me concentrate, or put me to sleep. Music has always been a constant in my life. From punk music, classic rock, rap, hip-hop, metal, electronic, jam, I listen to it all! I started going to tons of concerts when I was twelve...mostly punk rock shows back in the day.

As I got older, my taste in music changed. In 2008, I was in Milwaukee attending a concert of one of my favorite bands, Sound Tribe Sector 9, and during the show I looked over and saw a pro photographer snapping pics. My mind began to race as if it wasn’t already racing a million miles a second! (Come on, I was at an STS9 show!) I had all these thoughts about how cool it would be to be a live music photographer. I decided right there that I was going to invest in a camera.

So about a month after that show I went into Wolf Camera and left with a brand new Canon Rebel, two beginner lenses, and a bag. I was set! At first, I had to sneak my camera into shows because I had a “pro” camera and no media pass. But that all changed when I met this guy named Adam at Wicker Park Fest 2008. It turned out that Adam, who is now one of my best friends, knows a bunch of people in the Chicago jam scene. One of his good friends is Felix Moreno, the bassist in Chicago’s own Future Rock. I began shooting Future Rock shows on the regular and they liked my work. So Felix introduced me to one of Chicago’s best music promotions company called Silver Wrapper. Things took off from that point. I was able to shoot every concert Silver Wrapper put on or promoted, which included pretty much all of my favorite artists in that scene.

I am also the lead photographer for Partyline Chicago. They help promote local artists and cover a wide range of events by featuring photos and running contests for tickets to shows and music festivals. I’ve had the privilege of shooting many major music festivals such as Rothbury, Electric Forest, Bear Creek, Summer Camp, North Coast, Pitchfork and Summer Set. Many artists like Bassnectar, Lotus, Future Rock, Family Groove Company, AutoBody, The Coop, and Punch Cabbie have used my work on either their websites, podcasts, or press kits.

My work has never been published in print yet but that’s something to shoot for! (pun intended) I’ve come to discover that photography is my biggest passion in life and I hope to make a career out of it.

I’d like to share a few photos of my work with you. I tried picking photos of different styles and subjects that I’ve shot, not just of shows. This was pretty hard to do. I picked out about twenty images but eventually narrowed it down to just eight.

This first photo was taken in Chicago in January of 2008, just a few months after I bought my camera. It’s of Guillermo Scott Herron, otherwise known as Prefuse 73. He was opening for the Disco Biscuits. This was the first show I photographed at the legendary Congress Theater. I had no photo pass so I had to sneak my camera in past security. Since I would have needed a photo pass to shoot in the pit, I had the idea to tip the security guard twenty bucks to let me inside. For those of you that don’t know what a photo pit is, it’s the space between the crowd and the front of the stage, reserved for the media. So once I got in, I began shooting very nervously and this is one of the first shots I got.

This photo is one of my HDR shots. High Dynamic Range imaging is when 3 or more shots, each taken at different exposures, are then layered on top of each other to make one solid image. This technique creates a much stronger, detailed image. This photo is three images compiled into one. I took this sometime in 2009 when I got into urban exploration. I was driving around Gary, Indiana, searching for cool abandoned buildings and I came across this deteriorated factory. I parked my car and wandered inside. I saw this half-knocked down wall and the jagged edge where it broke apart from the rest of the wall. I set up my tripod and pressed the remote trigger. What I got didn’t look like this at first. I had to compile the three shots when I got home on a special program and when the process was done, this is what I got!

This photo was taken on NYE 2011 at the Kinetic Playground. As you can see, it was used for Future Rock’s podcast from that show. I’m really proud of this one and super stoked they used it! It was always difficult to photograph a show at this location because of how dimly lit this location is. That venue was always a dark dungeon and on this night Future Rock was playing to a sold out crowd and I could barely move around. For this image, I simply raised my camera above my head and snapped the shot and hoped I got something worthwhile!

I took this shot while I was installing an air conditioner on a roof of a building along 90 and the Ohio Street exit. I normally don’t carry my camera with me when I work, but I knew I was going to be at that specific building...I made sure to bring my camera, knowing the view would make a great picture.

This is a promo shot of local Chicago jam/electronica band, The Coop. They had contacted me asking if I do promo work and I really hadn’t before but I figured how hard could it be? I asked them if they had an idea of a location where we could do the shoot. They left it up to me. I took them to an abandoned candy factory that I had been to many times doing my urban exploring adventures. I always thought that the candy factory would make a great location for a promo shoot for a band. The guys LOVED the idea, so it was a go! With this shot I used my external Canon Speedlite 430x attached to an extension cable. I had the band’s manager hold the flash for me about six feet to my right to give the shot more dynamic lighting instead of directly in front. That would be too boring. So I made due with what I had and this is one of the many shots that came from the shoot at the abandoned Brach’s candy factory!

This photograph is one of my favorite DJ shots. This is DJ Solo performing at Wolf Pack’s pre-party for North Coast Music Festival. This shot was taken at Smartbar Chicago at the end of summer 2012. He took his hands off the decks for two seconds and looked up at my camera and CLICK! The dopest shot I’ve got of a DJ.

I had to include this photo of Bassnectar’s set at Summer Camp 2011. I love this image because I think I did a good job of capturing the madness that takes place at a Bassnectar show! I just love the energy this photo portrays.

This last photo is of the Jackson Redline/Blueline transfer tunnel, underground downtown Chicago at 6:30 am. It was taken and edited solely on my iPhone 4S. I’m especially proud of this shot because I’ve tried so many times to get a shot of this tunnel with nobody in it but there aren’t many chances when it’s completely empty, unless it’s in the middle of the night. And in the morning, I’m definitely not going to sit and wait for it to clear out. I don’t think my boss would like the reason for being late to work being because I needed to wait for the Jackson tunnel to clear so I could get a cool photo!

So these are just a few examples of my work. I hope you enjoyed this article. Peace!


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