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LoveFound: The Photograph

Written by on February 10, 2023

“LoveFound” highlights Chicago stories about finding love, in all its forms.

Our new series, “LoveFound,” features stories from our listeners telling their real-life tales of finding love, and the role Chicago played. When we say “love,” we mean love in all the ways it shows up in our lives. Romantic love is fascinating and vast, but for this series, we’re interested in sharing love stories addressing the expansive nature of what it means to feel, inhabit and explore the art of loving. For the next four weeks, we bring you those stories.

The first segment of “LoveFound” centers on Sierra, who fell in love with a photograph at an art show — which led to a friendship lasting 16 years. Vocalo’s audio and community storytelling producer Ari Mejia brings us this story. 

Artwork for “LoveFound” by Ivan Vazquez for Vocalo.

Ari Mejia: I bring you “LoveFound,” Chicago stories of finding love in all its forms. I’m a Libra, which means I live for love. Sure, there’s romantic love — but what I mean is: love wherever we can find it. This is why I wanted to make this series, because it isn’t about connecting to someone else, necessarily, or someTHING else, but the way we connect deeper with our own sense of oneness with the universe. Love holds up a mirror, it fills us with wonder and it opens our hearts and souls to possibility. For this first story, I figured I’d bring you a tale of love about a couple of people who are pretty important to me… but I’ll let the story tell you how. It’s about a person who fell in love with a photograph, and that moment led to a friendship that has now lasted for 16  years.

Meet Sierra.

Sierra: Hi, my name is Sierra. I identify as a pedestrian, a queer and a lover of cats. I’ve lived in Chicago now for about 16 years.

AM: Sierra has bleach blonde hair, big, beautiful inviting blue eyes and a smile that melts you — and, back then, would put together art shows.

Sierra: I had this space, and we started throwing art shows and I met Torie McMillan, who showed her work at our space.

AM: Torie McMillan is a photographer. 

Sierra: I really loved her work, and so we were kind of regularly collaborating. And then she had this other show and invited me to go check out her work there.

In Lincoln Square, if you’re going north on Western Avenue, you can go left onto Lincoln off of Western, and just shortly after you turn left off Western, there’s a little strip of storefronts. And I think it was in one of those little storefronts. It was a pretty small little space, just like a little white box. There were maybe four or five artists, and Torie’s work, I remember specifically, was on the south wall of the gallery.

AM: Sierra arrived alone, excited to see Torie’s work and also support their friend and collaborator.

Sierra: She has these pretty big prints, and so hers was definitely the most eye-catching. There was a few pieces on the wall that I had seen before, but then there was this new piece.  And I was just immediately drawn to it.

AM: This photograph is a picture of a woman gazing out her window, taken from the outside.

Sierra: It felt like a very Chicago image.

AM: It’s one of those garden units where the window is ground level. And this window pretty much takes up the whole photograph. You can see the cars, street and fence reflected in the windowpane. It’s morning time.

Sierra: I was drawn to, specifically, the woman in the picture. I mean, it was a beautifully composed photograph, but the woman in the picture was exceptionally beautiful.

AM: The woman is staring off into the distance: wistful, curious and alone. She is naked and leaning towards the window, elbows locked, and her shoulders are cupped against her ears. She has dark hair, dark eyes, dark eyebrows and her lips are gently parted. She is…  breathtaking.

Sierra: We see pretty people all the time, but it was the photo, the composition of it, that was alluring. It was like the camera was looking at her. I was like, “Who is that woman?” I’m staring at the picture, and then someone walks up to me, and I was like, “Oh my God, I love this photo so much.” And then they were like, “Oh, well that’s… that’s me.”

Angela: I’m Angela. I am a lover of cats, as well, and a Bulls fan.

AM: Angela moved to Chicago in 2004 to go to college.

Angela: In 2008, I was finishing up school. I had spent some time abroad in the Middle East, so it pushed back my graduation a bit. I was just settling into my queer identity, and kind of making sense of who I was.

AM: Angela met Torie through her best friend at the time, and they immediately clicked.

Angela: We would have late night phone conversations about heartache and other things.

AM: And pretty soon, Torie started to take photos of Angela.

Angela: At that point, I was like, “Someone taking professional photos of me, for free? Yeah!”

AM: Like Sierra, Angela came to the art show in the strip mall off of Western and Lincoln to support her friend, and check out her work.

AM, to Angela: Talk to me about what it felt like to pose in this photo.

Angela: Awkward. I was nervous about the picture of me being displayed on the wall, but I was like, maybe people won’t know that it’s me. I tried to… not linger for too long.

AM: But Angela couldn’t help but notice this person glued to the photograph, transfixed. When she walked up to Sierra, she revealed that the person in the photograph was her.

Angela: They asked me for my number, and that’s sort of what sprouted our connection.

Sierra: It’s like an instant crush situation, you know? And I’m like, “Well, I need to date this person.” So yeah, I got Angela’s number, and then I remember texting her on my flip phone for a while… ‘cause we were like… 22, I guess, -ish? Yeah, 22. 23?

Angela: Yeah, 22.

Sierra: Yeah. I brought us a couple beers. We sat in the park right off of Ashland and Altgeld. It was pretty awkward, I think. I think it was pretty awkward.

Angela: I felt nervous, because I was like, I don’t really know this person, and I’m meeting up with them… and just the uncertainty of where it was going or what we were doing there.

Sierra: I think I definitely was projecting this picture onto Angela, and being so wrapped up in those feelings of this image, not even really considering that that was just a pose, that was just a photograph and maybe that everything that I’m feeling and projecting onto them is not really who they are.

AM: Angela knew the photo was a mere snapshot into one piece of her presentation, but not her fullness. And what Sierra was seeing was just that. It was through the lenses of Sierra’s imagination and desire.

Angela: This was the time where I was sort of experimenting with different gender expressions. And so, I think it’s interesting, a photo of a person who has that fluidity when they’re naked. Like, what do you see? Because… their presentation is limited.

Sierra: And then, as we got to know each other, I just… started to realize, like, “Oh, Angela is not… these are different people here. Angela’s not the person I was imagining in this image.”

Angela: Because I was newly out, I was really intimidated by queer people. And Sierra was just really friendly, and that stood out to me.

Sierra: Once there was no chance on the dating, it was just like, “Okay, well then friends it is.” And so yeah, we’ve been hanging out now for a while.

Angela: 16 years.

Photo courtesy of Angela (left) and Sierra (right).

AM: The ways that friendship perseveres over time, in the face of changes and growing pains, is what I believe really makes a friendship. Angela went on to mention a time in her life where she felt the test of time and life that friendships go through, and how Sierra never ceased to give up on Angela.

Angela: Around 2010 or 2011, where I started seeing this person and spent a lot of time with them, and I remember you reaching out regularly throughout that time, trying to get me to come out. And then eventually when I left that relationship, and reentered the world of the living, I was afraid that friends were gonna… not be forgiving, where you just sort of disappeared for a while. But you took me right back in, and we met up and I think it was really telling of your character, because you allow people in your life to make mistakes and are still there for them.

Sierra: It’s really nice to hear that.

Angela: I think we think about how friends, long-term friends… relationships change over time, and often people drift apart. And I think, Sierra, you are an example of someone who I’ve become significantly closer to over time. And that is something I’m grateful for.

Sierra: Yeah, I’m really grateful for that, too. I think it’s always really exciting to have friends that are there through the many life iterations that we go through, and it’s just really cool to have been friends with you for so many years, and just all of the different versions of ourselves.

AM: Torie gifted the infamous photograph to Sierra for their birthday a few years after that art show in 2008. And in 2015, Sierra gifted that photograph to me, after they introduced me to Angela at a Bulls game. Angela and I got together that year, and we’ve been together ever since. But that is another Chicago story of “LoveFound.”

Produced by Ari Mejia

Written introduction by Ari Mejia and assistant producer Joshua X. Miller

Editorial support from Ayana Contreras and and Mara Lazer

Transcription, editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

Illustration by Ivan Vazquez 

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