13 December 2009

The Choo-Choo

    In 1951 an idea for a child-friendly and interactive hamburger joint was opened to the public in Des Plaines, Illinois.  Just a block from downtown on Miner Street, The Choo-Choo brought in people of all ages with its themed hamburger service imitating the train theme of Des Plaines, or “Des Traines” as residents have lovingly nicknamed the railroad surrounded Chicago suburb.  The idea was born as James Ballowe dreamed of foods he’d love to have while he was posted as a soldier in the Philippines.  After a fellow soldier complained about the “gravy train”, Ballowe thought, “Why not serve kids hamburgers on toy trains?  They love both!”
            The idea was a hit and enjoyed four years of success in its location right by the train tracks.  The competition came when another hamburger joint was opened in 1955 by a man named Ray Croc.  The idea for this new place had formed in California and had been bought from the original owners, the McDonalds.  As Croc opened up the first McDonald’s restaurant, the two businesses went into direct competition.  Croc did not believe that he would be able to surpass the business Ballowe was getting and even paid him a visit once to assure Ballowe his business wouldn’t be a big challenge to the already existing Choo-Choo restaurant.  McDonald’s appeal was in its 15-cent hamburgers while The Choo-Choo attracted many visitors with its fun eating experience.  Both businesses managed to survive a solid fifty years of competitive service. 
            McDonalds has become a world-wide thriving business and The Choo-Choo has become an iconic part of Des Plaines history.   It’s ownership has been passed down a few times and is now owned by a woman named Jean Paxton who has been fighting the city of Des Plaines and its police department in their proposal to tear down the historic building in order to expand the police department.  Residents are horrified at the thought of losing such a huge part of history for a seemingly unneeded expansion.  Despite the protesting of the Des Plaines residents and the long lines that expand out the door and down the block every Saturday, it is not likely the building will still stand come summer. 
            Every person who has grown up in Des Plaines in the past 58 years has memories at the small 1950’s-style diner.  The unique decorations, old fashioned cash register, food being delivered on a toy train, and the cupcakes adorned with toy train whistles that every kid is after, make this restaurant an important place of memories and family time for every child in Des Plaines.  Even as I entered the restaurant to do the documentary, I was overwhelmed with memories from my childhood as I remembered sitting at the booths by the train tracks as my grilled cheese sandwich headed my way. 
I hurry through the doors, which are lined with advertisements, hungry for the warmth of the inside to save me from the bitter cold biting at my cheeks.  Old-fashioned holiday music crackles out of the speakers and fills the restaurant, accentuating the vintage decorations lining the walls.  The waitress greets me and then looks as me expectantly.  She looks vaguely familiar and I hesitate trying to remember if I should know her before asking if I can do the photo shoot.  I explain to her that I want to document the restaurant in its last months, to try and capture some of the memories that seem to live here. 
She smiles at me and tells me the manager is out but would probably be fine with it, she is interested in anything that has to do with keeping the restaurant alive, even if it is just in images.  Before turning to set up my camera I can’t resist any longer and I ask her, “Do I know you from somewhere?”  “Yes,” she replies, “We went to junior high together.”  My brain did a few cartwheels before piecing together the fact that this girl was the same girl that terrorized me throughout the horrible middle school years.  I assured her that I remembered and smiled a lot; glad to see her.  As I turned to load my camera, I laughed to myself at how life turns things around and the different places it can take two people starting off in the same direction. 
My mind leaves that behind quickly as I start to take in all the visual elements of the place I am in.  The same worn booths line the walls underneath the painted windowsills as where I sat in the booster seat and spilled my milk.  I see the four barstools my girlfriends and I sat at for sundaes after our last day of eighth grade.  Such important moments in my childhood are framed in the walls of this one restaurant.  Gumball machines by the door remind of me of begging my parents to give me quarters for Jawbreakers. 
It seems that nothing has changed in the past few years since I last ate here.  I hope that it’s true that the restaurant has managed to stay the same for 58 years, like a small time capsule of a diner, retaining the same neighborly attitude of its original owners.  This building will always unite the people of Des Plaines, and remind us of where we have come from.  Our history is something important to us and should not just be cast away at a whim.  The Choo-Choo is a significant part of this city and tells a story of the community that cannot be read or learned, but must truly be experienced.

The Choo-Choo, Des Plaines, IL November 30, 2009

Wrap-Around Bar and Festive Decor

The Register

Waiting for Takeout

Remnants of a Kids Meal

Ice Cream and All the Fixings

Two Double Cheeseburgers, Fries and Two Large Diet Cokes


Choo-Choo Cupcakes and the Cooks

Ella Waits for Grilled Cheese

Delivery on Tracks

All Stocked Up on a Slow Monday

The One Who Makes It All Possible

All Images ©Kirsten Tornes Photography 2009

Please Don't Steal.

08 December 2009

World Wide Websites

I realized that the only class I haven't put up work here is Web Design.

My experience in this class has surprised me quite a bit. I went into it thinking it would be a really practical class but that I would hate it. Amazingly enough I loved the class and am thinking that I would like to consider doing some web designing for other people or companies.

I designed a site for myself that I'm not completely sure if I like or not. Please please please give me your input. I got harsh critique at first and have since changed it quite a bit. Let me know what works and what doesn't. I've been staring at it far too long. :o)

Here are just three pages of the site:

It's hard to see but the navigation bar at the top links you to all the different galleries I have available.

I bought a domain name and web space. So as soon as I finish editing it up and making it perfect, I can make it live! (This is really exciting for me)

The other site I designed is in relation to the site CSS Zen Garden. The site allows web designers to download a sample xhtml code and stylize it using CSS. Designers can then submit their design back to Zen Garden and show off their ability as web designers.

So, I started out with this design as the default everything:

Five hours of designing later, I came up with this solution:

Thoughts/feedback/critique please!

All designs are © Kirsten Tornes Photography 2009
Please don't steal.

02 December 2009

The Republic of Eco Tea!

The last of my product shoots was completed yesterday (finally!). I have learned a lot about commercial photography but I am glad to be done.

It's interesting how each shoot presented its own unique challenges and required a new set of problem solving skills and each shoot was so incredibly different from all the others.

This last project dealt with illuminating translucency.

I shot the relatively new(?) product from The Republic of Tea.... the Eco Bag Tea!



.....much better.

©Kirsten Tornes Photography 2009

Please Don't Steal.

17 November 2009

Miss. Lee

A little bit ago I got to take pictures of my friend Ellie Lee's sister Jessie. The Lees have been a big part of my college experience, spending lots of time eating their food and lounging on their couches with homemade bubble tea and pumpkin cheesecake. Jessie is a junior in high school and they needed updated portraits of her for their picture frames.

We had the best time on this shoot, Jessie cracked me up the whole time. I can only hope I was able to capture some of her personality in these shots. :o)

11 November 2009

Mr. Fox's Favorite Entry

Yes yes, the theme is time. We photographed watches for our most recent product photo shoot. I worked with two watches, courtesy of Miss. Ellie Lee. I originally liked the look of the Fossil one better but I felt that the Diesel photographed so much better.

I had a hard time choosing which one to hand in. Let me know what you think. I love being critiqued!

All work is © Kirsten Tornes Photography
Please don't steal.

10 November 2009

The Bike Shop

Richard Curfman, known by his friends as Rich, is the current owner of Curfman’s Bike shop on Nebraska Street in Marion, IN. The shop has been in the Curfman’s family for 47 years when Rich’s dad bought it from another local family in 1962. What makes this store unique is not the things it sells or its location, but the man who sits behind the counter; the way he lives and the family traditions he keeps alive throughout the years.

It’s a crisp autumn day, and cars are whizzing past busy Nebraska Street. It’s 3:00 on Thursday afternoon, and it’s beautiful outside. I pause to examine the sign on the outside of the shop, “Curfman’s Cyclery, Bicycle Trainers”. As I open the door it exhales a deep sigh, and reveals the inside’s bright lights and the smell of new tires. Rows of bikes, a pattern of spokes, line a long hallway to the back of the store. On my left are racks and shelves of mismatched bike helmets, riding gloves, spare bike chains and countless other items for sale.

Three men at the end of the hall in cushioned chairs are grumbling about the weather, their women or any other cause for complaint and eyeing me expectantly. Clearly I am the first person to enter the store today. I greet Rich and the two other men, and ask Rich if today is a good day for my project. “Good a day as any, I guess,” he responds. The two other men leave shortly after noticing my camera bag.

Rich is uncomfortable and I can tell. As I prepare my camera, I notice him walking nervously around the store, arranging merchandise and swiping his hand through his hair. He finally perches behind the service counter, easing back in his chair, obviously worn from many long hours. I ask him about the picture frames on the desk, which are of his grandchildren, and admire the far outdated technology that sits in working order on his desk.

Rich shyly asks me to direct him in an action to get his mind off the camera. I ask if he has a bike to fix up so that I can catch him in action. Relieved, he leads me back into his workshop which is littered with old bike parts and tires, bicycles waiting to be assembled, and others waiting to be fixed. He pulls out an old Trek that needs a tune-up on its brakes.

He works confidently and quickly. He seems to slip into another world as he works on the brakes, spinning the tires and wiping the brake pads. I ask him if he learned everything from his dad. He says, “Some. I also went to other schools and seminars to learn different things and to get better.” I photograph as he works, observing his hands and the ease with which he uses the tools. He moves so quickly I can barely catch glimpse of some things he does. Although the workbench was a mess, littered with tools and old grease-stained rags, he seems to know exactly where everything is.

He finishes and pulls the bike off the stand with a quick practiced movement. He bends to examine the bike, and then tags it as “finished”. “That’s a nice bike,” I notice, “What do you ride?” He leads me back out to the storefront and pulls out a black Masi from the line of bikes for sale. “This is the kind of bike I ride”. It is beautiful with a black steel frame, fancy handlebars and big tires. I admire the bike as he checks the air level in the tires. It’s the perfect bike for a bike shop repairman.

Before I leave, we sit down in the comfortable seats the men were all sitting in when I got there. He asks me about my family and about photography. He talks slowly and deliberately, choosing his words carefully before speaking. By the time I leave, I really feel as though I have spent the last two hours well, learning about this man Rich Curfman and his slow life, the family tradition he is carrying on, and will hopefully one day pass to his grandchildren, the way his father passed it tow him.

All images are © 2009 Kirsten Tornes Photography
Please don't steal.

08 November 2009

the falltime boots

Another product photo project come and gone.

I liked this one a lot, and ended up having a hard time choosing the images to use in the final spread. Here are some of my favorite options, and then the final layout. I had a hard time with the branding too, and in the end decided it was stronger left out. We'll see what you all think.

All Images are © Kirsten Tornes Photography.
Please don't steal.

20 October 2009

Study of the Masters

Let me first say that this week is crazy.

Photo shoot yesterday, Master Study. We had to choose product photos we liked from professional photographer's sites and re create them. I had a lot of problems with my first idea so I changed and tried another. Neither turned out how I like right out of camera, but after editing they seem to be ok.

Let me know which you like best!

© Matt Armendariz

© Kirsten Tornes

© Lou Manna

© Kirsten Tornes

Please dont steal.

18 October 2009

The Carpenters

It's been a while.

Here's my first documentary project. I didn't in all of these pictures because of the nature of the project I had to be more selective. But these are my favorites off my contact sheet. The writing is meant to supplement it, not make it what it is.

I hope you enjoy.

Will and Jackie Carpenter are raising their daughter Gracie in an old house, made new and customized with their combined personalities, a home at 1122 3rd street by family video in Marion, IN. Three years ago when the couple moved to Marion, they found the old house, in need of serious work and remodeling. The floorboards were old, the walls were strange colors, remnants from the seventies, but Will and Jackie caught the vision of this house becoming their home.
Transformed in time by work of their hands and the art that covered the walls, they combined efforts to fix it up and bring out the old character of the house and make it their own space. They saw a place to raise a family, to live and to cook. To extend their hospitality to the college students they would work with at Indiana Wesleyan.
This home welcomes, has welcomed, me. I’ve watched baby Grace grow up here, from Jackie’s pregnancy to a year and a half old. The house is always littered with crafts and toys; it adjusts well to baby life. This home raises a family. They welcome others to share in the joys and innocence of childhood. I remember my home when I was a child. Toys scattered on the floor, laundry baskets on Mondays, baby utensils and special chairs for mealtimes. Earliest and purest memories happen in your baby home. Long days with mom, play time and craft time. Memories flood back to me and make me remember my earliest years in my baby home.
Today, as I walk toward their home, the neighborhood is crisp with the change of season, trees are showing their colors, the cobblestone street holds puddles of reflective rainwater. As I approach the home, I notice the generosity of growth this neighborhood enjoyed in the summer, sprouts of grass reach out between the curbs and sidewalks, squirrels chase each other around the trunks of trees, busy ants looks anxiously for food. Neighborhood kids shout at each other across the street, their bikes cast to the side of the lawn, forgotten for other more interesting toys. It’s Saturday and this neighborhood knows it.
The stone steps are cracked and littered with leaves and sticks. The porch swing moves gently in the breeze. Their dirty “welcome” mat shows that this doorway has welcomed many. The front door hangs slightly open but I pull on the doorbell anyway, just to hear Gracie’s excited squeal at the prospect of visitors. Jackie swings open the screen door and Gracie is revealed, standing and walking around all on her own now, her shy and excited smile welcomes me and I can’t help but smile myself.
In the huge foyer, light streams through old windowpanes, as I step the floorboards give to my weight and softly complain. Grace’s baby talk now combines with the kids shouting outside and it’s easy to imagine Gracie outgrowing the constraints of infancy in the home with mom for the exciting and imaginative time of young childhood and playing outside.
The toys littered on the floor are a trail of Grace’s day’s travels. She changes her mind about the activity of choice as soon as one has been brought out and set up for her. In her baby talk she communicates to (well-versed in baby talk) Jackie. Giggles intermixed with the percussive sounds of toys falling or crashing together. Crayons make it to the floor with tick-tick sounds, leaving small marks of tickle-me-pink and robins egg blue on the newly finished wood floor. This home is a home of artists; the old styles made new and brought to life by Will’s beautiful paintings, Jackie’s warm hospitality and home cooking, and broken in by Gracie’s baby mess.

All images are © Kirsten Tornes Photography
Please don't steal.