eight chicago couples talk connection and creativity
The Windy City's lovers, best friends, siblings, roommates, collaborators, and dance partners shed some light on love and life this Valentine's Day.
Names: Erin Schremp and Nicole Sivek. Ages: 30 and 28. What do you do? Erin: I design interiors and own a Midcentury Modern furniture store. Nicole: I dabble in aspects of the fashion industry, but I'm mostly a photoshoot producer and Art Director. What's your relationship to each other? We are partners in life and in crime. What do you love most about Chicago? Erin: I love the queer community here. Everyone is so supportive. Everyone lifts each other up and genuinely wants others to succeed, it truly never feels competitive. I also find this same attitude and way of being in the small business community that my business partner and I are a part of. Nicole: The culinary scene; you can truly find anything and everything to eat in this city. I also have to commend the creative and queer communities, for constantly trying hard, and being undoubtedly supportive of each other. What does love mean to you? Erin: Love to me is feeling completely in the moment, where nothing else matters and you are surrounded by constant laughter and kisses. I have a lot of these moments with Nicole and our dog, Dino. Nicole: Love is being in a constant state of peace and anxiousness — it's wonderful, and it keeps you alive.
Name: Jasmine Mendoza. Age: 27. What do you do? I am a Chicago-based dance-maker, performer, improviser, and lighting designer who finds it important to deeply listen to the body. Who are you taking your portrait with? Crystal. How did you meet? I met Crystal a few years ago at her apartment with a mutual friend of ours. She was slicing an apple and dipping it into peanut butter. What's your relationship to each other? Crystal and I haven't known each other for that long, but we grew close pretty quickly and I think of her as a sister! We have the best conversations and I know that I can always count on her to be there for me to listen and give me advice. What do you love most about Chicago? I love that I have lived here for six years and I still find new things about the city that really excite me. What does love mean to you? Love means honesty, happiness, adventurousness, and sometimes pain. But if you really love someone, you will be sure to show them everyday how much you love them. What's your wish for 2017? I wish to love myself more. I wish to find ways to keep being proactive in this scary time that we live in. Donate to causes that will help our world and the people that are in turmoil and heartache. To be there more for all of my friends and family members.
Name: Crystal Zapata. Age: 22. What do you do? I'm a designer. I also make art and objects. Who are you taking your portrait with? Jasmine! What's your relationship to each other? Jasmine is my incredibly lovely friend, and roommate! She is so genuine, sincere, and kind-hearted. I have so much respect for every bit of her. What do you love most about Chicago? Biking along the lake, riding the train on the elevated tracks over the river and between the buildings in the Loop while listening to jazz, dive bars, going to shows, seeing art, Ping Tom park on a sunny day, and the amount of talented, patient, and humble individuals whom I have learned an infinite amount from. What does love mean to you? Having an undying affection for someone that allows you to feel the greatest joy, and the deepest pain possible. Being able to do gross stuff in front of each other and still wanting to make out. What's your wish for 2017? To dismantle this horrific, oppressive system, to preserve our rights, to protect one another, and to not give up.
Name: Nida Qamar. Age: 25. What do you do? I am a Financial Analyst by day, Accounting student by night. Who are you taking your portrait with? Erum. What's your relationship to each other? We're sisters. How did you meet? I imagine our parents introduced us. What do you love most about Chicago? What does love mean to you? I don't know yet, still trying to figure it out. I thought I knew a few times, but it seems like more of a process of elimination kind of thing. What's your wish for 2017? My wish for 2017 would be to spend more time with my pup, Ozzy. Sometimes you get too busy to enjoy the simple things.
Name: Erum Qamar. Age: 27. Who are you taking your portrait with? My younger sister. What do you love most about Chicago? I think Chicago is a really underrated city. We really have it all: art, music, food, culture, beaches, the lake. I don't even mind the winter; I enjoy having all four seasons. I love escaping to the Garfield Park Conservatory when the weather takes a turn for the worse. However, I think the best thing about Chicago is the truly genuine people — they make this city great. Describe your perfect Valentine's Day date: Tacos and a bottle of red wine. Keep it simple. What does love mean to you? Love means being kind, honest, and trusting someone with your whole heart. What's your wish for 2017? To practice more self-care. This means taking care of my mental, emotional, and physical health. It has already proven to be a difficult year with the political climate and I think we just need to focus on taking care of ourselves, and taking care of others around us.
Name: DaShaun Hightower. Age: 23. What do you do? I am a fashion designer. Who are you taking your portrait with? Brandon. What's your relationship to each other? Brandon is my best friend. We met last year on my birthday, and it's been craziness ever since. We collaborate on pretty much every project, and often shoot in unlikely places. What do you love most about Chicago? Whether good or bad, this city has a funny way of adding an edge to you. Describe your perfect Valentine's Day date: I'm pretty low maintenance and a bit of a homebody. For me, good gin, some cheap greasy food, and copy of Hitchcock's Psycho is ideal. What does love mean to you? Love is all about reciprocation. I've learned there is no sense in investing energy into something that is one sided. What's your wish for 2017? To grow creatively and inspire people to pursue their dreams.
Name: Brandon Jamal. Age: 23. What do you do? Photographer and stylist. Who are you taking your portrait with? DaShaun. What's your relationship to each other? This fool is my best friend. Our mindset is so identical it's weird. What do you love most about Chicago? I just enjoy my friends; whether we're indoors watching movies or heading out for house music, it's often when I start visualizing new editorial concepts. Describe your perfect Valentine's Day date: Truthfully, having a few drinks, smoking a few bowls, then check out art museum exhibits. For dinner, probably grab Indian or Jamaican food. What does love mean to you? To me love is an intense attachment of some sort — art is my love. It's meditative and keeps my creativity flowing.
Name: Alex Wallbaum. Age: 24. What do you do? I am a studio photographer and artist's assistant. I also do a range of freelance photography work. Who are you taking your portrait with? Aleia. What's your relationship to each other? She is my best friend and collaborator. My other gemini half and my daily affirmation, my fashion icon and my partner! What do you love most about Chicago? I love the strong (and growing) DIY art community. So many people are committed to making the art scene better here, and people are so generous in their support. What does love mean to you? Love means unconditional and absolute trust and understanding, putting someone's needs in front of yours. Being 100% genuine and comfortable together, and being best friends. What's your wish for 2017? I'm hoping I can strengthen my relationships with my family, chosen and nuclear!
Name: Aleia Murawski. Age: 27. What do you do? I make images, videos, and miniature scenes. How did you meet Alex? We both studied art + design at the University of Illinois, but we didn't meet then, which is funny. We both started working for our photo professor a couple years ago. What do you love most about Chicago? Chicago has a super supportive art community here, but it is a really chill place — you can set your own pace here. Describe your perfect Valentine's Day date: Strong wifi connection, Rupaul's Drag Race, chili chicken biryani. What does love mean to you? bell hooks said love is an action. I think about this over and over. What's your wish for 2017? I'm setting small, attainable goals right now so I don't get washed up in the big picture.
Name: John Fink. Age: 23. What do you do? I am a student studying computer science, and I enjoy playing music. Who are you taking your portrait with? Abigail Lipp. What's your relationship to each other? I'm her boyfriend. How did you meet? The first time I remember talking to Abigail was about five and a half years ago during an event where bands from our high school had the opportunity to perform their music. I didn't really know what to say to her but she always carried her camera with her, so I had asked her to take my photo to get her to notice me. We talked until we became friends! What does love mean to you? To always be there for someone no matter what. You should be able to be yourself and have fun with the the ones you love. I think love takes a lot of trust, respect, understanding, and forgiveness, but is ultimately that feeling you receive by just being with someone that you truly care about.
Name: Abigail Lipp. Age: 22. What do you do? I am a freelance model and wardrobe stylist. How did you meet John? I was an extremely introverted and shy person at the time, so his quirkiness and forward nature definitely helped bring me out of my shell. Following our first meeting, I would find him waiting for me outside my classes almost everyday, just looking to talk and walk alongside me. We've been side by side ever since. What do you love most about Chicago? The incredible amount of support and acceptance. I witness in the community here. The friends I have made are some of the most driven and kind people I have ever encountered. No matter what they are each individually going through, they are always ready to help others who are worse off. This spirit of support and celebration of each other regardless of background makes me proud to call this city home. What's your wish for 2017? For equality and acceptance to become a universal language. The efforts to spread education have grown tremendously in the past few months, but there is still a long fight ahead.
Name: Conner Needham. Age: 24. What do you do? I seek out opportunities every day to better myself. For now, I have a passion for digital media and am trying to make a career out of it. Who are you taking your portrait with? My boo thang, Ellen. How did you meet? A mutual friend of ours invited me to come to an Oh Land show. The show was awesome but when I saw Ellen dance, I knew immediately I needed more of that energy in my life. What's your relationship to each other? She's my soul sister. She inspires me to be the most creative version of myself. What do you love most about Chicago? Going out dancing, half off Mondays at Unique Thrift, Lake Michigan, Boystown, making friends on public transpo, family. It will always be home. What does love mean to you? Driving in a car with someone and you're both silent. You don't feel weird about it, but you know you could say whatever is on your mind, too.
Name: Ellen Grace. Age: 24. What do you do? Loads of odd jobs to get by, but I am a creative director, stylist, performer, and writer. Who are you taking your portrait with? My spirit animal and ultimate dance partner, Conner Needham! What's your relationship to each other? Conner and I share a love for the hustle and we rock the early-20s, post-graduate struggle together. We are free-spirited beings and have superstitious methods to the art of thrifting. What does love mean to you? Whether it's love felt for oneself, for another human, an object, or a space, a culture, you love something because it has its own candid imperfections that you find beauty and comfort in. The best part about love that it's such a forceful emotion that we instinctively must express and share. What's your wish for 2017? It's really important for me to remind myself to be patient with my journey and remember that there are many different paths to be taken to get to where I want to be.
Name: Keeley Morris. Age: 26. What do you do? I am a professional dancer as well as Teaching Artist. I teach dance to all ages at different locations around the Chicago area. When I'm not teaching or dancing, I am singing and jamming with Tamarie T and the Elektra Kumpany family. Tamarie and I also have a jewelry line, and we hand-make all of the pieces. Who are you taking your portrait with? Tamarie T. He is my man. How did you meet? A Craigslist ad! A few years back, I reached out to him by email in response to a post he had in search for back up dancers for his band. Some other dancers already beat me to the gig, but we kept in contact. We chatted on Facebook every once in a while, which turned into an actual friendship. The first time we met in person was when he surprised me and came to one of my dance shows, I was so nervous. Now I'm in his band and by his side until the end. What do you love most about Chicago? The art and culture you find in the many different neighborhoods. I have lived here most of my life but I'm always finding out about something new. There's always a chance to explore and gain some knowledge in a creative way here. I love working with the artists in this city. I have never had a negative experience when collaborating with someone, always positive and supportive environments. Community is the word! What does love mean to you? Love is my guide through life, it carries me at times when the world weighs a heavy burden. Love is extremely beautiful because it is honest. It will tell you about yourself, both good and bad, in hopes that the bad will not be so for much long. It tells me every day when I first wake up in the morning that no matter what, it will always be beautiful and I should be thankful.
Name: Tamarie Tee. Age: 25. What do you do? Move souls with the power of music. Who are you having your portrait taken with? Keeley Morris. What is your relationship to each other? She's my lady, the better side of me. What do you love most about Chicago? I love that Chicago is one big city always something new to discover. Describe your perfect Valentine's day date: Spending it with the one I love. Valentine's is every day. What does love mean to you? Love is power. What's your wish for 2017? To grow more as a spiritual being having and human experience. Spread more love through music make people feel good in a dark world.
Photography Jingyu Lin
Assistance Ellen Grace