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Capturing a Moment: My Encounter with the President on the Streets of Chicago

The Bucket Shot I collected that I didn't even have on my list

During my last few months living in Chicago, I knew that President Biden was coming to give a speech at a fundraiser in the city. And I wanted to try to get a great image of him in Marine One flying against that magnificent skyline.

Back in my previous life, for about 15 years, I used to work in film and television production. And during that time I covered two events in Chicago that involved President Obama and both at McCormick Place. The first time was I was there was for coverage of the NATO Summit in 2012. When Obama flew into the city from O'Hare, he landed via helicopter in the parking lot south of Soldier Field along the lake. The second time I worked a Presidential event was election night of Obama's second term when the confetti fell. During both events I had to have Secret Service clearance and saw first hand the security detail and procedures in place for a Presidential visit. So this gave me a good idea of where and how to prepare for President Biden's visit to the city day. The news and police officials were not releasing his planned motorcade route or exactly where the location of his speech would be that day, just that it would be in Chicago and not the burbs. Which made me think he'd have to helicopter in on Marine One and would probably land in the same area Obama did years earlier.

At the time, I lived in the South Loop of Chicago just blocks from Soldier Field. And the 18th Street foot bridge would be the perfect place to set up to photograph Marine One flying against the city skyline as it made it's way to the McCormick Place lot over along the lake. So that was my target spot. I watched the news on TV covering his arrival at O'Hare airport and as soon as I saw he had wheels on the ground, I threw my ear pods in, grabbed my camera and backpack and headed out toward my vantage point on the foot bridge overpass. Getting to the entry of the path to the bridge, I quickly saw it was blocked off with yellow tape and had Chicago Police officers standing around the entrance. Evidently not only did I think that would have been a great spot to watch the President fly in from, but so did the city and state police. At this point, I felt defeated. It was too late to get to the lakefront to get a different vantage point and the neighborhood I was in was covered in a canopy of trees along the streets that trying to get a clean image from here was just not going to happen. Knowing NASCAR was in the city building the track for the upcoming street race, I decided I was already out with my camera, I might as well walk a few more blocks and at least come back with some images.

I made my way to Indiana Ave and headed north to walk straight into the park. Got a few blocks north on Indiana when I saw the intersection being blocked from vehicle traffic. Approaching the officers on my side of the blocked sidewalk, they asked me where I was going. I told him I was on my way to Grant Park, but seeing all the officers, and blocked streets, I asked if this was for the President motorcade. He just smiled and said he couldn't tell me. I asked if I could stick around here on this corner and find out, that's when he smiled again and said it was a free sidewalk and I could stand where ever I wanted. So I decided, what the hell, I want to see if I can get lucky and grab at least a cool image of the motorcade as it came through the neighborhood. I crossed the street and stood alone, on the inside corner of the planned turn in the closed intersection. After a few minutes, I ended up being way luckier than I could have thought. I headed out that day to capture an image of Marine One against the Chicago Skyline. Instead, I was offered up a chance encounter, alone on a random street corner, for one of the most surreal moments of my life. Photographing the President Of The United States waiving hi to me as he passed. This was definitely a way more intimate shot of him that I intended on getting that afternoon.

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