Chicago_Portrait_Photographer_Damien

Gabrielle - Portrait Sessions

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A moment of impact

One night, I was invited to the local bar & grill by a friend. While I was at home deciding whether to attend or not, my future soulmate would be sitting there waiting patiently! This portrait photographer from Chicago was staring at a stack of edits but was also making good time, so I grabbed my keys and made my way.

I chose a seat just two spots away from her, where the both of us would be locked in a moment of impact that felt eternal. It was love at first sight; not in a fairy tale sense, but in raw human emotion that was interconnected in ways I never knew existed. Fast forward over six wonderful years and here I am, sharing our story with you today!

'Til death do we art

Gabi and I had a connection much stronger than the norm. It only took 11 days for us to mutter those three infamous words; I love you (yes, I said it first).  We were fueled by art and a sense of purpose to create – taking us on one adventure after another from Chicago to the Great Smoky Mountains.

She had done some modeling in her teen years, but found a passion in writing that resonated deep within her soul. Her poetry has the ability to inflict emotion at a moment’s notice, taking the reader through the lightest and darkest corners of her mind (ig: @gabiwantswine). She rediscovered her love for modeling when we met and it became a form of communication between us. The more we shot together, the more she became interested in photography as well. After years of apprenticeship behind the camera, she is now my second photographer! My life is picture-perfect and I have these photographs for proof.

My muse, my heart, my life, my wife.

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Jezzeca & Sal - A Chicago Summer Wedding

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Lost and found

One of the happiest days of my life was being the photographer at my little sister’s wedding in Chicago! Jezzeca and I were separated at a very young age. We had different mothers who went in different directions and found ourselves lost. In a time where social media was non-existent, we carried only our memories of each other.

Ten years passed and through luck with a sprinkle of fate, we were reunited once more! Her luck didn’t slow down and she would soon get to meet the future father of her family.

The wedding

The morning began at the mother of the bride’s home where time was never going to be on our side. The air was rich in hairspray and perfume and the sounds of wandering feet intensified with each passing minute. Soon the limo would arrive like a horse and carriage sweeping her off to prince charming!

Navigating the tight streets of Chicago, the limo raced off to the Liberty Christian Center Church. Waves of guests crashed on the church steps and poured in the doors by the dozen. It was the sound of everything coming to a mute as she walked through the doors; it was the rows of family and friends hardly containing their excitement; it was the moment right before the first kiss of the rest of their lives – and fate would allow me the best seat in the house!

The reception

Before we arrived at Michelle’s Ballroom, we stopped at Humboldt Park in Chicago to get some photographer time with the wedding party. We had limited space and time was short, but still walked away with some great shots and memorable moments!

The night was young and Mexican families are not known for checking out early. Michelle’s Ballroom was filled with drinks, food and laughter throughout the celebration. The groomsmen showed off their moves, and they were followed by the first dance. After the parents joined in, a Mexican tradition took place called the ‘Money Dance’ where guests would pin money on the bride in exchange for a dance! The remainder of the night was filled with lights, music, and oneness. The perfect way to end a perfect day.

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The Bride

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The Chariot

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The Church

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Jezzeca & Sal

The Bride & Groom

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Humboldt Park

The Wedding Party

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Michelle's Ballroom

The Reception

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Ashley - Maternity Session

A Mother Made

Archer did something wonderful last year when he entered this world. He made his mark in the belly of a brand new mom. Ashley juggled work, family, college and Covid all while familiarizing herself with a body that was constantly changing. The peaks and valleys of life offered clarity to Ashley as she endured hardships that would strengthen her soul and set fire to the nurturing mother inside.

Allerton Park & Retreat Center

Allerton Park is a beautiful historic property that was built as a private residence by artist and philanthropist Robert Allerton in 1900. Allerton park was donated to the University of Illinois in 1946 and contains 1,500 acres of woodland and prairie areas, a mansion and pond, a 10-acre meadow, sculpture gardens, hiking trails, a café and lodging areas.

Art, nature and history collide in this changing landscape that offers many unique scenes and settings. Free to the public (but accepting donations), it is often referred to as Central Illinois’ “best kept secret”. 

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Pride Is Forever

Equality For All

About 4% of the US population identifies as LGBTQ+. This number is certainly higher, but hate crimes and prejudice alone are more than enough reason for someone to remain silent and follow traditional gender norms. Aside from peers, this discrimination typically comes from police officers, religious institutions, companies or from our government.

LGBTQ+ people and their allies continue to fight for equal rights in regards to marriage, housing, employment, health care, protection from hate crimes and much more. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in public places and employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. However, discriminatory policies still existed (as they do today) and put a halt on true progress in dismantling prejudice. Sterilization, castration, lobotomies and traumatic conversion therapies are etched in American history and some modern day anti-LGBTQ+ bills intend violate civil rights in similar fashion.

💜 If you are queer or questioning and looking for support, please scroll down to the bottom of this post for more resources. If you need  a safe space to speak, don’t hesitate to reach out and I will provide you with tools to educate and overcome. 💜

What is Pride Month?

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is celebrated each year in June to honor the Stonewall Riots (aka the Stonewall Uprising). New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in NYC, which sparked a riot that led to six days of protests when cops became increasingly violent toward the gay community. Police arrested anyone not wearing gender-appropriate clothing, physically assaulted bar patrons and raided other gay bars in Greenwich Village.  As a result of discrimination and abuse from law enforcement, an international gay rights movement was born.

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What are personal gender pronouns and why do they matter?

In English, people use pronouns when speaking about us. Often, these pronouns have a gender implied, such as he (boy/man) and she (girl/woman) and are usually made based on a person’s name or appearance. These assumptions can be incorrect and could send a harmful message – that people must dress the gender they were assigned and conform to an identity they are separate from.

To create an inclusive and respectful environment, work on using someone’s correct personal pronouns the same as you would use their correct name. It can be offensive to dismiss someone’s pronouns and refer to them in a way they do not want to be known. Ignoring someone’s pronouns could be seen as  implying that their life does not matter enough for basic respect.

To practice inclusivity, try starting conversations in the future by addressing the pronouns you use and ask politely for theirs. E.g. Hi, my name is Damien and I go by the pronoun ‘they/them’. And yourself?

Sharing pronouns is a fantastic way to disrupt the normalization and privilege of assumption.

What does LGBTQ+ actually mean?

The queer alphabet is a combination of letters attempting to represent all identities in the queer community. Below you will find some words and their meaning. Please be respectful to an individual who identifies as one of these people or groups, for discrimination is all to common in modern society.

» Lesbian refers to women who are sexually attracted to other women.
» Gay refers to people who are sexually attracted to the same sex, most often men who are attracted to other men.
Bisexual refers to people who are sexually attracted to both men and women.
» Transgender refers to people who identify mentally and emotionally as a gender that does not match their biological gender. It also functions as an umbrella term for Trans people, including Transwomen (MtF), Transmen (FtM), and Transsexual which refers to people who alter themselves physically through surgery or hormone therapy to align their physical bodies with their gender identity. Genderfluid and non-binary fall in this category as well, however some will not identify with being ‘transgender’.

Note: Gender identity and sexuality are not the same. Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with and gender identity is who you go to bed as.

» Queer is another umbrella term that applies to all LGBTQ+ people as a whole and is much shorter and easier to say than LGBTQIA2S+. Queer is also a general term for people to identify themselves as if they feel they don’t fit into certain letter or group.
» Questioning refers to people wondering if they belong in the queer community or are still questioning their gender identity or sexual preference.
» Intersex refers to people who are born with or develop genitals with ambiguous sexual characteristics because of chromosomal or hormonal abnormalities. Doctors will often choose a gender for Intersex babies and assign that gender through surgery shortly after birth. Hermaphrodite is outdated and offense and should not be used to describe these types of people.
» Asexual refers to people who only feels romantic attraction and not sexual attraction toward any gender.
» Agender refers to people who identify as neither male nor female.
» Ally is a person who supports the causes of the LGBTQ+ community without identifying as queer or LGBTQ+ themselves. Ideally this term would include everyone in the world who isn’t LGBTQ+, but we’ve got some work to do before that can happen.
» Pansexual refers to people who are attracted to other people regardless of gender. It is much broader than Bisexual, which limits attraction to just male and female. Pansexual is also often related to an attraction to another person’s personality.
» Two Spirit (2S) is a Native American term and applies to people who display both female and male qualities whether in their personality, sexuality or gender identity.

How can I be an Ally and a Friend?

If someone comes out to you (identifying themselves as queer for the first time), it is important to provide a safe space for that person. They are coming from a place of vulnerability and require a heavy amount of understanding and empathy. Take what your friend is telling you as the absolute truth. People generally don’t lie about being queer. It requires a great deal of courage to come out as a new member of such a marginalized group, so remember to be as supportive and validating as you can be.

If someone is seeking comfort in your friendship, let them know they are safe and the conversation will remain private.  Thoughts of dismissal and rejection are normal feelings when opening up about sexuality or gender identity, so it is important to move the conversation at their pace and respect any boundaries they may set.

Attend community events such as parades and other spaces where allies are invited. Move your money to support organizations or businesses that take a stand with the LGBTQ+ community. Simply listen to what your friend has to tell you and support them by being vocal in life and on social media.

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Why is LGBTQ+ equality important?

2020 marked the deadliest year on record for violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people since HRC began tracking data in 2013. At least 37 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed. More than 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans. 3 in 10 transgender individuals postponed or avoided medical treatment due to discrimination.

LGBTQ+ individuals experience high levels of discrimination in public spaces, at school and in the workplace. Wedding vendors, homeless shelters, adoption agencies, apartment rentals, daycares, hospitals and therapists are just some of the services many LGBTQ+ Americans find difficult or impossible to access. The government has abandoned its own people, so it’s up to the people to even the odds.

LGBTQ+ Resources

Visit GLAAD for an LGBTQ+ Resource List separated by category.
Visit CDC for LGBTQ+ Youth Resources. Visit Planned Parenthood for more youth resources. Visit Lambda Legal for LBGTQ+ youth resources by state. Visit Youth Allies for more organizations by category.

Dial 800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


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Tilesha & Nick - St. Louis Wedding

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Now Boarding: CHI to STL

Tilesha and Nick hired me to take their engagement photos in Chicago early 2017 (view gallery here). After they saw the images, I was thrilled when they asked me to be the photographer at their wedding in St. Louis later that year. Keeping with their theme from the retro diner, they chose The Hotel Majestic as the starting point of their story. Built in 1914, this restored 91-room historic hotel is where guests eagerly awaited the big day.

The wedding

Before the ceremony, I started my day with the groom and his loyal men. The Hotel Majestic featured a bar and pool room where I was given a half hour to get the shots. Luckily a second photographer was on bride duty so I could make the best use of my time. From there, we headed to St. Stanislaus Polish Catholic Church where Nick & Tilesha would be named man and wife. After a beautiful song by the bride, the ceremony commenced and the crowd cheered with excitement.

The reception

Once the ceremony concluded, the wedding party joined me for some shots (non-alcoholic, of course). After our mini photo session, we quickly made way to the Polish Heritage Center where the reception would unfold. The wedding party made their entrance followed by the bride and groom. Members of the family told heartfelt stories and soon after, dinner was served. Plates were cleared, lights were dimmed and the music was roaring. Polaroids were supplied to guests as a memento and they flashed throughout the night like a sea of stars. Once the festivities were over, a row of sparklers lined up the exit as the bride and groom left to start their life together. It was a night to remember.

The Hotel Majestic

The Groom and his men

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Stanislaus Polish Catholic Church

The wedding

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Tilesha & Nick

The Bride & Groom

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Polish Heritage Center

The reception

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Tilesha & Nick - Engagement Session

Old School

Our story takes place at the White Palace Grill in Chicago, open since 1939! I saw this restaurant on an episode of ‘Diners, Drive Ins & Dives’ and knew I had to find an opportunity to shoot inside.

Tilesha told me she wanted a vintage aesthetic for her engagement session and chose this very location! Tilesha & Nick were an absolute pleasure to shoot. The chemistry between them feels as old as as the diner itself.

A few months after this shoot, I was asked to photograph Tilesha’s wedding in St. Louis! Make sure to take a look here.

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Sam - Fine Art Portrait Sessions

Thanks a Latte

I met Sam when a new Starbucks store opened and they gathered ‘all-stars’ from various locations to make it the best team yet. When we talked about our dreams and aspirations beyond the barista life, she told me she’s been modeling for years and wanted to take the next step toward making it a career. I was a photographer with little experience in the portrait world, but saw a perfect opportunity to grow and help a fellow artist.

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Sam and I became the best of friends, and eventually we would leave Starbucks to pursue an investment in ourselves. Our portfolios grew with our love for art, and it became clear that our paths crossing was the work of destiny.  She taught me how to convey concepts, instruct and pose models, and allowed me to see the beauty in humanity. Meeting Sam was a pivotal point that set the trajectory for my biggest passion today – photographing people. These images represent my stages of growth, my obsession to create and my undying fondness for capturing all aspects of life. Welcome to our work.

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Portrait Work - The Archives

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A Look Through Time

My photography career started in the portrait world. I dove into the scene of photographers and models, made connections with others in the industry and grew my name while learning something new from every shoot.

I hosted and co-hosted local meetups in the Chicago area, partnered with brands such as The H Collective & Gypsy Junkies, as well as coached photographers and models on improving their skills and social media presence.

Prior to portrait work, I mainly captured landscapes and street art. Working with people 1 on 1 was such an eye opening experience. I learned how to vocalize my vision, manage the scene, pose & frame, and so much more. Photographing people was my calling and I would soon leave my job to pursue that profession.

I’m incredibly thankful for everyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with on a creative or professional level. There’s so much going on behind the scenes including concept design, wardrobe, location and purpose. Portrait work allowed me to sharpen my eye and imagination behind the camera, something I carry into every session I’m hired for.

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Black Lives Matter

What is Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter is an international social movement formed in the United States in 2013 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin‘s murderer, George Zimmerman. The mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on black communities by the state and domestic terrorists, especially in the form of police brutality.

But don't ALL lives matter?

The simple answer is this: All lives cannot matter until black lives do. Black lives mattering does not suggest that black lives are more important than all other lives. Instead, it’s pointing out that black people’s lives are extremely undervalued in the US and are constantly jeopardized by systemic racism.

Even the founding fathers never meant ‘All‘. The phrase “All me are created equal” actually meant “All white men are created equal”. At the time of it’s conception, Black men were only considered three-fifths of a man, and women were left out completely.

Nobody is saying black lives matter more, they’re just saying black lives matter, too. The phrase ‘All Lives Matter‘ was created as a direct push-back against the Black Lives Matter movement and is far from being an innocent term celebrating the worthiness of all humanity. It implies that all lives are equally at risk, and they are not. According to professor of critical race theory, David Theo Goldberg, “All Lives Matter” reflects a view of “racial dismissal, ignoring, and denial“.

Talking about racism makes me uncomfortable.

What you’re feeing is what minorities have felt for a long time, and the only way to rid everyone of it is to acknowledge racism and who perpetuates it.

Remember, white privilege does not mean your life is not hard. It means that your race is not one of the things that makes it hard.

Discomfort should not mean silence. Looking away won’t change the real-life consequences that others experience. So the next time you feel uncomfortable and would rather look away, ask yourself: Why is your discomfort more important than the very real wounds that are being inflicted on others?” -Nam Kiwanuka

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Cops can't all be bad, right?

American police were formed from slave patrols in the 1700’s designed to empower the white population. Their duty was to hunt and capture runaway African-Americans that tried to escape slavery. The slaves were met with extreme violence and the justification for this abuse was that black lives do not matter.

Police supporters often use the saying ‘a few bad apples‘ when referring to the widespread police brutality amongst people of color (POC), as if the problem is small and only involves a few bad cops. The truth is, all police officers enforce a racist and broken system which makes them inherently bad. They stand behind a ‘blue wall of silence‘, a term used to describe the informal code of silence amongst police officers when it comes to the wrongdoing of their colleagues. This makes it impossible for a ‘good cop’ to exist in a broken system.

Police shot and killed 1,026 people in the past year (2020), killing black people at more than twice the rate of white people. There were only 18 days in 2020 where police did not kill someone. On top of all this, their behavior during peaceful protests continues to show their lack of regard for human life even when being filmed. Nearly 1,000 instances of police brutality were recorded in the US anti-racism protests last summer (2020). This number stands as a reflection of the very real problem minorities are facing in their daily fight for equality.

So what can I do to help?

Stay informed. Research topics like the racial wealth gap, housing inequality, social and environmental justice, modernized slavery, police abolition, voter restriction laws, discrimination in the legal justice system, and more to better understand what people of color endure and how you can help.

► A great starting point is watching the Netflix documentary ’13TH’ for free on Youtube. This discusses the US prison system and how racial inequality drives incarceration to #1 in the world. Click here to watch for free. 

Buy Black. Move your purchases to Black owned businesses. The best way is to start in your community, then search for small businesses on Etsy and other Black owned directories.

Challenge Racism. If you see an act of racism, intervene as a show of allyship and solidarity. Your actions can literally save a life. Take time to clean up your friends list and break ties with people who refuse to accept people of color. You have power to make meaningful change.

Donate regularly. Donations offer some of the biggest support in helping victim’s families, bail out protesters who have been arrested wrongfully and provide aid to the underprivileged. I urge you to search for grassroots organizations in your city that are working toward equity and equality. Here are some US Organizations that you can fund now to show support and help the fight against racism:

National Bail Fund Network || National Police Accountability Project || A Second U Foundation || Black Visions Collective || The Bail Project || Campaign Zero || Nix The 6 || Color Of Change || The Loveland Foundation || Southern Poverty Law Center

Follow and support these pages on Instagram:

If you would like me to add your organization to this list, please reach out and I will give it my time and consideration. Thank you.

This page is written from the perspective of a person of color who has experienced racism in the military, from police, the legal justice system, teachers, peers, and total strangers. But it shouldn’t take all that to stand up against what is wrong. I was the victim of racially charged police brutality multiple times from white police officers. I now use my voice and platform to stand up against racist oppression and fight for human rights for all. With love and for love. – Damien


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Gillian - Family Session

Lake Katherine

It’s not often a photographer is gifted with 55 degree weather in winter, at least not in the Midwest. To take advantage of this beautiful day, I chose to shoot at Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens.

Due to technical difficulties (aka baby naps), we started in a race against the sun. We had an hour and a half to get this shoot done so we hit the ground running. Luckily, Lake Katherine holds much beauty in such a small footprint. We didn’t have to travel far for the next scenic backdrop as every turn revealed a new opportunity for memories.

From start to finish, we finished the shoot in 40 minutes. I know, sometimes I impress myself as well! It helps that Gillian and her family hit the mark with strong smiles and fantastic energy. If you’ve ever been to a shoot with a baby, you know the baby calls the shots – not the photographer. Little Theo was a natural however, and he seemed to enjoy all the funny sounds and faces I picked up throughout fatherhood. I’m proud to present the most important thing in this life – family.

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