Chris Guillen Photography has maintained a studio at 7451 W. Madison St. for 10 years. However, due to shifts in the profession, Chris is closing down the studio at the end of May. Now that he does mostly location photography, there is not as much need for a studio. For customers who still want that studio vibe, he has several local spaces available to rent. Still, he’ll miss Madison Street and the strong synergy he had with local businesses.
Moving his business to his home will save costs but, for Chris, photography has never been solely about the bottom line.
“My whole career is based on building long-term relationships,” he said. For example, there is a family he has photographed over the years. He took the mother’s photo, when she was pregnant with her daughter. Eighteen years later, he took the graduation photo of the daughter. He’s also taken portraits of many Forest Park families and displayed them in his window.
Besides doing commercial photography for publications like Chicago Magazine and family-centered photography, Chris teaches photography classes.
“I teach parents with great cameras how to use them, to maximize their camera’s potential.” He also teaches photography to high school students. His classes are small, 5-6 students and it’s a five-session course. His last studio class starts on April 23. Chris mentors middle-schoolers who are interested in photography, like his neighbor, Keegan Brown.
Ever since his family moved to Forest Park in 1998, Chris, his wife Chelsea and their three sons have been involved in the community. Chris and I coached our sons together in Little League and Chris has coached football in Oak Park for 12 years. He learned a lot about teaching from coaching. He has also learned something new from every student he’s taught. “Their potential is inspirational to me,” he noted.
Like teaching, photography requires making a personal connection. Since many of his subjects are uneasy about having their picture taken, Chris chats with them for about 15 minutes to get them to relax. He wants his subjects to be who they are when he takes their photo. The results he achieves are natural and striking.
Chris started photographing weddings in 1995 but gave it up three years ago. Although he was very good at it, it began to feel like an entry-level job — working a 12-hour day at the wedding, plus the long process of finishing the album. Still, it led to meeting a lot of great people who later asked him to take their family photos.
Closing the studio means evolving with the times for Chris. He knows other photographers who are doing the same thing. The brick and mortar model is no longer working for many businesses. Over the years, he’s accumulated a good deal of photographic equipment. He plans to donate some of it to high schools. Chris still has the first camera he ever bought, a Canon AE1, which he purchased at a pawn shop while earning his art degree at Illinois Wesleyan University. He also has an iconic green couch, purchased from the antique shop across Madison, which he used for his first family portrait.
Chris is confident about the future but has seen so many changes over the years. He loves film but had to make the transition to digital photography. He saw cameras replaced by iPhones. He’s seen amateurs replace professionals. As he said, “Keeping up with the now is difficult.”
Though Chris will be missed on Madison Street, students and customers can always find him at chrisguillenphotography.com, while commercial clients can contact him at chrisguillencreative.com.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.