Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I’m going to just come right out and say it. The crotch of my winter running pants is, well, kind of crusty. That, and the nail on my left big toe has been unhappy for quite some time, since my first half-marathon last spring, in fact, and will be leaving me very soon. It’s really had enough of this shit.

But I haven’t. I am legitimately gung-ho. A few nights ago I ran during an epic autumn downpour. I was wearing very fast looking clear glasses, designed for bike racing. I was not going very fast, but I was going hard. I’m sure I looked like a big nerd. I battled my way down and then back up Milwaukee Avenue, dodging construction, pot holes, drunks, the whole bit. I repeatedly told myself don’t step in the puddles, you don’t know how deep they are. I was simultaneously thinking what am I doing? Why is this important to me?

The truth is that I was doing one run in what I aim to be a streak through the new year. I have to run at least one mile every day to achieve my goal. I’m about a week in and I’ve already figured a few things out. First, this is not a good way to train for a race. I happen to have a half-marathon coming up in March, but will be incorporating real rest days into my life as that gets closer. Rest days are important.

So why am I doing this? The boring answer is that I need a physical goal to prevent my winter existence from becoming a horrible, slow wreck of sunless days and too much beer and sitting around, watching Netflix in the dark. In my heart, my more elevated ambition is to incorporate some measure of perfection into my relationship with something, in this case, running. That would make me feel very good, and I like feeling good, particularly if I can feel good during the nadir of my 29th Chicago winter.

What are you doing to feel good during the nadir of another Chicago winter?

Almost a year ago I sat down and wrote an essay about my relationship with running in which I was really rather hard on myself. When I read it now, I can tell that it was winter, and I can also tell that I wasn’t feeling great about my circumstances. I wrote that I had a hard time sticking with things, and insinuated that I had a lack of follow-through which terrified me into high-tailing it wherever my little feet would take me.

I wasn’t looking carefully enough at my own life. A year later I realize that there are actually things I’ve been committed to so completely that I take them entirely for granted. I’m committed to running, to photography, and to writing about them both. My devotion to each of these pursuits, while imperfect, has been utterly intrinsic to my being since adolescence. For sixteen years I’ve been able to call myself a runner. Sometimes a fallen one, but I’ve always gotten back on the road.

So I don't feel so bad at all. I just need to wash my running pants. I’m also going to see if I can get this toenail to come off tonight.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Half Marathon Day

This morning I briefly made this face. Then I ran my first half-marathon and it was pretty much the best.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Beth and Ben

I had the great pleasure of shooting Pillars and Tongues recently. Thank you Mark, Beth and Ben for letting me take your pictures and for looking rad while I was doing it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Good News in the Chicago Tribune

Some days, you get very lucky.

I sat down on the Metra last night after a long day of battling con men at work and was happy to find someone's disregarded Chicago Tribune on my seat. And in it I saw this! An interview with the talented Emily Cross featuring my photograph.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fuck 'Em if They Can't Take a Joke

"Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke" is the salty but quaint directive my mother gives me each time I achieve a bit of success that rankles or threatens my peers. It is a good bit of advice and one that can be joyfully applied to achievements big and small when they are decried by the Maureen Dowds of the world.

An ocean of ink has been spilled over the release of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's new book Lean In. Some has been fair, some, not so much. I think that many critics, however well-meaning, may have forgotten why we read books in the first place, which, to me, is to learn. We read to get information, and there is plenty of information to be found in Lean In.

I got up from the sofa after having read it, in it's entirety, feeling more capable and inspired than I had in a very long time. Ms. Sandberg provides valuable insight that comes from years crafting an impressive career. This book gave me tools to shake up my perspective about my professional life and allow me to see the whole board, rather than gazing at my shoes after a year that brought painful changes, upheaval, and perceived regression.

Many critics can't seem to resist accusing Ms. Sandberg of writing a book that applies only to an elite few, that her advice cannot apply to women who are at the bottom rungs of the corporate ladder, or perhaps not even on it. This view is so narrow it makes me rather sad. It assumes that women at the top, women like Ms. Sandberg, arrived there fully-formed. It assumes that women like myself cannot hope to one day lead the corporations we work for. This is a mistake and I am thankful to know better.

Ms. Sandberg wrote a book from the best perspective she could have chosen, her own. Sure, it was a little hetero-centric, it could have had a few more pages on the connection between violence against women in the poorest countries and the lack of women in leadership positions, it could have addressed the issues of single moms and wage earners. It was not perfect. It was not all-encompassing.

But it was useful. It was informative. It started a national debate about a subject that is rarely spoken of in such plain terms and so publicly.

So, Ms. Sandberg, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

Monday, February 25, 2013


I love how benevolent this image looks. I have a very strained relationship with color in my photographs, and usually can't help but convert everything I shoot to black & white, but I can't help but really dig the softness of the pinks and yellows going on in this woman's hair and in the sunlight hitting the building behind her.

Oh hey Cardinal George. Do you want me to get out of your face? Too bad.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

an essay i wrote

By Sarah S. Derer

I love to run. I am compelled to now, more than ever before.


I am a young woman, but my body is aging. My knees hurt sometimes. Occasionally, my lower back does too. My dark brown mane is becoming populated with shining silver strands.

I can do nothing to erase these new faults, the creeping fine lines on my face and sagging flesh between my upper thighs. I can’t pull up my skin like a pair of stubbornly earthbound pantyhose. I can for a moment. I can wrap my two hands around the meatiest part of my leg, just before my butt, grasp the skin, and drag it higher, but this is only a brief diversion, a slightly sad game of remember when. I let go and the flesh of my upper leg (because I can only do this with one leg at a time) retreats to its new home that much closer to my knee. This will go on for the rest of my life until all of my flesh reaches its destination, its home in the ground.

Something dawned on me recently, during a particularly long run. Through age, my body has become a better machine than it has ever been. It owes this improvement to my maturing brain.

I have never before been capable of the patience required to run a long distance. Of course, when I was seventeen years old I had the mechanics to do it, but I was not yet possessed of the wiring to commit the time and energy required to achieve any great (to me) physical feat. Ten years ago I was not capable of emptying my mind enough to simply and peacefully allow my body to do what it could have done, what it wanted to and was surely able to do.

I still lack patience, but I’m learning to operate on a level where it plays less of a role in how I operate my arms, torso, legs and feet. I’m learning to separate my physical act of running from any mental state of eagerness or hurriedness. I submit myself to my body’s desire to move from one point to another by foot. As it turns out, it can do this for quite a long time. It enjoys it, revels in it even, and I go along for the ride as a passenger would.

Ten years ago I was not propelled forward on my feet by the anxiety of what can sometimes feel like a directionless life. I have studied art, taken pictures, swelled bank accounts, diminished bank accounts, sold possessions, kissed boys, lied to myself, honored commitments, been laid off, gotten jobs, picked up and dropped myriad ideas and pursuits, picked them back up and dropped them again, all to discover that I have a strong tendency to start things but not finish them. Very little sticks. In this I am consistent. I am untethered and unmoored. This puts fear into me, and fear makes me run.

Today I feel guilt. I feel guilt over the ways in which I have abused my body since adolescence. It’s a feeling that is ever present, not often in the fore ground, but always there, just out of the image, but making its bitter presence felt, just the same. Generally speaking, I have been a good steward, but I have been far from perfect. I think of all the late nights in my early 20s spent smoking cigarettes and drinking into the darkest part of the morning. I think of having sex with someone who I didn’t know after a party in a neighborhood where I didn’t live. I think about how well I’ve known anyone I’ve had sex with. I run to absolve myself of all the sins I’ve committed against my body at one time or another. I don’t know if it will work, but I do it.

I seem to have the idea that if I hurt myself enough through the physical strain of running a great deal, something will remain with me when I’ve ditched weight by tossing all the unnecessary things over the side. I hope that my body—this efficient, patient machine—will prioritize for me, will hang on to whatever it is that my brain doesn’t know it should be keeping and shed everything else.

When I was a teenager, my body seemed to be for very little beyond appearing youthful but causing near-constant consternation at its forgivable imperfections. I now see that I was skulking around in an impressive vehicle with a powerful engine, with no knowledge of the fact or skills to use it.

As I age, I realize that my body must serve a different purpose from the shallow one that it once did. It must do more than merely appear. I am beginning to grasp the fact that it is for doing things, for moving, and for protecting others and myself. It is the house I will always live in and the car I will always drive. As I age I change from something soft and even to something with more nuance, something with more contrast between muscle hardened by the years and skin damaged by the experiences. I run to give meaning to this change that is happening, this gradual decrepitude.

I will not stave off age, or the effects of time by running, but I do think I can make the time more valuable. As someone very wise said, it’s not the minutes—it’s the miles.

February 20, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

Saturday, February 9, 2013


This is Natalia. I met her today when she came into my work. Natalia is Russian and was a teenager during WWII. 

She came in looking for film, but stayed to tell me quite a tale.

When she was 16 years old, tall and blonde, with bright blue eyes, she and two friends took to the forests of Czechoslovakia to hide from German soldiers. 

One German soldier found them.

She came at him with all she had, kicked him down, and snapped his neck, killing him.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Two Dogs

Here are two dogs that I liked a lot on Michigan Avenue in January.