The real Charles Osgood

November 2, 2012

Rick Kogan

I first met Charles Osgood almost 25 years ago. We were thrown together on a delightful assignment: A day in the life of blues great Koko Taylor. We spent time with Taylor and her husband Richard, who liked to be called "Pop," at their South Side home and at a concert. After the story ran, I delivered some extra copies of the paper. Pop spent a great deal of time just looking at the pictures, not reading a word of the text. Finally, he looked up and said, "That Osgood, he's a nice man and a great photographer."

I thought so too—and so a few years later I asked him to join me for an ongoing adventure called “Sidewalks.” Osgood and I have collaborated on more than 700 columns for the Chicago Tribune. This "marriage" has manifested itself in two books.

Most or our work has focused on so-called ordinary people and simple places. The sort of ordinary people you have seen on the news in the wake of Sandy the super storm. And we found truth and sometimes poetry in them.

On the lakefront near Belmont (Avenue), people have written poems on the rocks. No one really knows how long this has been going on, and in the many times Osgood and I have visited this stretch of craggy shoreline we have not seen anyone writing poems on the rocks or met anyone who has seen anyone else writing poems on the rocks.

Some of the poems are original and some are those of famous poets; some are not poems at all but words from the Bible or private messages. But all of this rock-writing, it seems to me, represents a collective and gentle cry in the urban wilderness; a sort of grown-up version of putting your hand print in wet cement or scratching your initials and those of a lover (or crush) inside a heart on the bark of a tree. They represent the various ways in which some people say, in a world increasingly e-mail icy, "I was here!"

Those are our kinds of people.

So, because newspaper photographers are by nature shy and reserved types, and because Charlie will be joining me on the show in a few minutes, I thought I'd tell you a few things you don’t know about Osgood.

No, he is not that Charles Osgood. 

He has a delightful dog named Bao. He says it’s the Mandarin word for "newspaper." 

He was once in the management training program at American Airlines. 

He has a cabin in Wisconsin with no running water or electricity.

He has had his beard for 40 years, though he did shave it off after losing a bet to me; he started growing it back immediately. 

He is, like most paper photographers, relatively anonymous, but he is, like most newspaper photographers, an artist.