Born in Corpus Christi, Texas
BA in Journalism, Eastern Illinois University
A photographer’s magical power is to freeze time. To hold one moment still and make it tangible and permanent.
Fred Zwicky, campus photographer, has spent his career capturing these moments, first as a photojournalist for the Peoria Journal Star where he worked for decades, and now for the university.
“As life passes us by in a blur, I think the still image gives us just enough time to process that individual moment in isolation. An effective photograph coalesces how that scene makes us feel, or, what it represents,” he explained.
Zwicky joined the campus photography team in 2018 and has since turned his camera to all kinds of fascinating people and projects on campus. He’s looked into the mouth of a black bear, photographed a dance class for people with Parkinson’s, sorted through treasures with a plant biologist who has a historic trove of photosynthesis research in his office. When the Illini won their 2019 Homecoming game against Wisconsin with a stunning last-minute field goal, Zwicky ran straight into the swarm of fans on the field at Memorial Stadium. His photograph captured an iconic moment, where you can feel the joyous energy and nearly hear the roar of the crowd.
He has also captured more serious, more somber moments on campus. In 2019, he joined members of ROTC as they ran up and down the steps at Memorial Stadium to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11. And in the days since the pandemic began, Zwicky has chronicled the university’s groundbreaking and massive testing effort, SHIELD.
The moments may seem disparate, but the underlying mission in creating these images is the same. “My ultimate goal is to photograph in mythic terms,” he said. “I’m not saying I pull this off all the time (I don’t), but that’s my goal. As we journey through life, I think the most memorable moments are thematic in nature: joy, sorrow, beauty, love, loss, the need for more caffeine, and the struggle to be something better than we were the day before.”
There are also plenty of times he is bringing Alma’s welcoming arms into focus. “Working at the University of Illinois, I’ve realized the power in the iconography on campus. It taps into the collective experience and history of this institution. So, while it may not be moment based, it also tells a story, hopefully for the ages,” he said.
In his newspaper days, Zwicky was often honored for his emotional work. His many awards include being a three-time Illinois Press Photographers Association Photographer of the Year for published work, two-time National Press Photographers Association Region Five Photographer of the Year, three-time winner of the Illinois Associated Press Editors Sweepstakes Award for Best Photograph of the Year, as well as being a top-ranked photographer in the University Photographers’ Association of America.
“Photographs gain power when they capture a moment of emotion,” he said. “That power lies in our own empathetic response to that captured emotion. So, yes, photographs help us to see, but photographs also help us to feel. It’s an amazing way to share our journey through this crazy world.”
We wanted to flip the focus and get to know Zwicky a little better, so we’ve asked him to answer an abbreviated version of the Proust Questionnaire for STORIED. Once a popular Victorian parlor game made famous by Marcel Proust, the Proust Questionnaire has been used by reporters over the century and across the globe to reveal a side of leaders, artists, actors, and public figures we may not usually see. You might recognize the format from the back page of Vanity Fair, which has had celebrities answer the questions since 1993.
✦ ✦ ✦
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A shared moment of laughter or love. A moment of peace. Or when a spontaneous creative idea breaks a logjam of mediocrity.
What is your idea of misery?
True hopelessness, which consumes many in this world. Personally, I’m like anybody else. I get worked up over setbacks, mundane drudgery (wish I was a better person here), or challenges life puts in our path. But, I’m fortunate that I have not had to endure sustained hopelessness.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be a virtuoso musician who could improvise with wild abandon. Confession: I’m passable on keyboard and acoustic guitar (even have played semi-professionally in the past). But, wow, it would be incredible to be able to make my fingers do what I hear in my head. Alas, I’ve learned to play mostly within my limits.
What is the quality you admire most in a person?
Empathy, paired with action. One quality or the other is definitely admirable. However, empathy paired with action is a powerful force.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My true heroes are largely unsung. They are the mothers who fight for loved ones through incredibly difficult situations. I’ve had the good fortune to document several of their inspiring stories professionally over the years. Their names include Liz Keets, Mary Crawford, Jeannie Grys and Rose Cole. I’ve also witnessed it personally as my own wife, Elise, took care of her father through multiple aging battles, all the while overcoming her own health challenges while being a fierce advocate for our kids.
Who are your heroes throughout history?
I’m going to stay in the present tense since I’ve been fortunate to meet many of my heroes through my line of work, from Yo Yo Ma and Barack Obama to Bill Murray and Maya Angelou. The constant seems to be the rare combination of wisdom, joy, creativity and empathy.
Bedlam unfolds as Illinois fans celebrate a major upset victory over heavily favored Wisconsin. The team storms the field as the team hoists Illini kicker James McCourt on their shoulders after he hammered a 39-yard field goal to give the Illini a 24-23 victory. Head coach Lovie Smith led his team through a wild fourth quarter to beat the 31-point-favored Wisconsin Badgers, who were nationally ranked in the top 10.
An overhead viewpoint captures the incoming Class of 2023 in a Block I formation during an evening of fun at Illinois Sights & Sounds at Memorial Stadium.
A photo illustration of bioinformatics professor Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, who has mapped the way living creatures have evolved in how they handle matter and energy over the history of time. His newest research shows how metabolic networks—which drive every cellular process from protein building to DNA repair—became what they are today.
Cheerleaders get a workout as they do pushups after an Illini touchdown as the Fighting Illini battle Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.
Bar codes are attached to back of bees, which will allow researchers at the Bee Research Facility at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to track their activity in and out of the hive as they study environment stresses on bees, as well as the evolution and mechanisms of their social behavior.
This ROTC cadet stands at attention after climbing 1,980 steps at Memorial Stadium as University of Illinois ROTC units honor the first responders who gave their lives on the terror attack of September 11. The students wanted to honor and remember the heroic firefighters who climbed the 1,980 steps in the Twin Towers during the tragic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students bundle up against the bitter cold as the National Weather Service predicts historic low temperatures on campus ranging from minus seven degrees to minus 20 degrees. Classes were canceled for one day due to the extreme cold and concern for the safety of the students.
A crystal ball reflects the scene as snow blankets Alma Mater and Altgeld Hall as winter settles over the campus of the University of Illinois. NOTE: The image reflected in the crystal ball has been rotated to correct for refraction that inverts the image when light passes through a transparent spherical object.
Relatives of Bruce Nesbitt emotionally embrace after the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center is dedicated, recognizing the impact the man had on generations of students at the University of Illinois. The center provides programs and support services to promoting individual, social, cultural and academic well-being of Illinois’ African American students.
A construction worker brushes buckets of blue paint over the new court surface as the tennis courts at Illini Grove are rebuilt for the fall semester. The acrylic latex paint is mixed with silica to help keep the surface from being slippery.
During a campus visit, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, a University of Illinois graduate, laughs as she briefly takes over the Sustainable Student Farm stand to sell some produce to Governor JB Pritzker.
Confetti fills the air as University of Illinois students celebrate during the university-wide commencement ceremony in 2019 at Memorial Stadium.
In a quiet moment before a Dance for People with Parkinson’s class, patient Chris Frichtl, right, is embraced by her caregiver, Jeanine Belocher. Chris explains her reason for coming to class this way, “Twenty years ago, I loved to play tennis. I was never good, but I was very motivated. Today, what motivates me is the strong desire to walk again.”
Workers load up racks of saliva samples as the campus community takes part in the on-campus COVID-19 testing program in the summer. The sites administered an innovative saliva-based test, a process developed by the university’s SHIELD program that allowed the University of Illinois to re-open for the fall semester with the ability to track cases as they developed and quickly isolate people with positive results.
Fists raised in the air, students from the University of Illinois add their voice in the battle against systemic racism during a anti-racism march. Event organizer and Illini junior offensive lineman Kendrick Green said the goal was to bring many different voices together in a show of support.
What is your most treasured possession?
My blue Schwinn LeTour bicycle that I bought in high school with money from my first job. It was my car in college. I rode this bike alongside my kids on bike outings as they grew up. It’s the bike that I still use to make 10- to 20-mile treks on country roads outside of town a couple of times a week (in season). Surely, at some point, it’s going to be unrepairable. But, it’s crazy that it’s held up all these years.
What is your motto?
Ride the Wave. Hey, I’m no surfer, but I’ve been flipped by waves while body surfing. Thinking back, they were most likely really small waves. However, my lesson learned is don’t underestimate the power of water. Or how changing times can make your center of gravity very uncertain. We’re definitely living through uncertainty in the here and now. So my approach continues to be to truly enjoy the “now” even with crocodiles just below the surface.
What motivates you?
The next creative challenge. I don’t put many of my pictures up on the wall (except for pictures of my kids). I’m more the ‘destination is the journey’ sort of guy.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Had to check in with my Facebook friends on this one. Apparently, I’m a positive affirmation sort of guy. Current favorites: “Gotcha,” “Definitely” and “You Bet.” Horrifyingly, folks mentioned “saliva” as well. But, that’s just me posting a wee bit too much about the University of Illinois COVID-19 testing program.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Without a doubt, it’s my three kids. Two are University of Illinois grads and the oldest is a National Merit Scholar who has dedicated herself to helping middle school kids love math with 14K followers on her Instagram math site for teachers. The youngest is a third-year UIC med school student and the middle child is now a chief resident doctor at Stanford in California. They are all good, kind people.
Professionally, earlier in my career it would be documenting the story of teenager John Keets and his journey from going public in a small rural community about having AIDS to becoming a national figure educating and raising money to stop AIDS. The story was important to help educate about the disease when fear and the unknown was all that we knew. Sound familiar?
With the passage of time, I realize that my biggest contribution is contributing to the visual history of people and events that matter. At the University of Illinois, I think my photojournalism instincts continue to guide me as I work to tell the story of this campus.
Fisherman Lamar Mast takes a direct hit to the face from a flying Asian Carp as the Original Redneck Fishin’ Tournament kicks off. Fishermen were only allowed to use nets to try and catch as many Asian Carp as they possibly can in the allotted time. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
Rose Cole, far right, tries to comfort her son, Tim Montis 19, as he cries out while feeling pain as he lays in a coma. Doctors are working to stabilize Tim, who was injured in a car wreck the day after Christmas. Rose said, “Because of everything he’s been through, we never tell Tim not to cry. We just try and reassure him. This is just how life is for us now.” Six months later, Tim was able to return home and rehab after his coma. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
Window washers from Clearly Windows become superheroes for a day as they brighten the day for kids recovering at Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Captain America, aka Brian Baxter, draws screams of joy from Ainsley Quishpe, 11-months-old, as she watches from her hospital room. Batman, portrayed by Rhett Winford, joined in the fun as they alternated between washing windows and waving to kids. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
The last sunset of 1999 descends over the Illinois River as the first sunrise of 2000 breaks across the Peoria skyline in this 15-hour time-lapse panorama. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
Brittney Simpson, 15, gracefully arches her back in a Pilates exercise under the guidance of Mary Price Boday, who teaches ballet to kids who are challenged by weakened muscles from cerebral palsy. Boday says that despite their physical limitations, the students can express great beauty. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
Jamara Foster, 12, listens as former correctional officer Carl Cannon tells kids to look in the mirror and to believe in themselves during a Healthy Heroes summer camp. Cannon stressed to be ready to avoid the moment that could change their life forever with a bad choice. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
For 20 years, Cookie Bannon has provided comfort, strength and inspiration for the children and families during their stay at Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Cookie works at lightening the burden for Chloe Broad, who at five months old has already had five open heart surgeries. Staff has found that her music has helped boost the oxygen levels of the tiny babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. FRED ZWICKY/AMERICA 24-7
Meeting privately behind closed doors, Barack Obama reaches across the isle to discuss the lay of the land in Washington with Republican Congressman Ray LaHood at LaHood’s Peoria congressional office. Later, after winning the presidency, Obama made LaHood his Secretary of Transportation. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
As students watch the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 unfold on the news, IVC junior Ian Domenighini, 16, emotionally bows his head down as students in Steve Garrison’s history class watch coverage of the terrorist attacks. Ian said, “Why would this happen. How could it happen.” FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
Heading to Iraq during Desert Storm, the use of chemical weapons was a major concern for troops. Master Sgt. Rico Gamba endures the confines of a chemical suit as an Air National Guard C-130E prepares for takeoff on a supply run for the war effort. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
The proud father of quintuplets, Mark Duffy bottle feeds Neil and Kate in tandem as his wife handles the other kids. Life at home is a daily cycle of five feedings and seven diaper changes. Mark escapes during the day for work and volunteer firefighting, but handles their two older sons and assists with the babies during the night. Mark said, “It was definitely more than we bargained for. But… we’ll make it.” FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
George Manias, 77, says he started charging only at a nickel a shine when he started 62 years ago. He charges $3 a shine now, but tough economic times has forced him to keep that same rate for the past 18 years. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
Rio Webb from Grand Rapids, Mich., brushes her teeth in the communal water area. Rio said the shared experience of living together in the woods, listening to music and finding happiness over the three days of the Summer Camp music festival was definitely worth the trip. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
After completing a 700-mile $75,000 fundraising walk to raise funds for new park equipment to honor his late wife, Dean Troutman returns to the reason he did the walk in the first place. During the visit, Dean lies in the spot that will someday be his, talking to Peggy, his wife of 61 years. Dean said, “I don’t know if it helps her, but it helps me.” FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STARFRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
As AIDS patient John Keets drifts off to sleep at home, Liz deals with the emotions of the day. Burdened by nightmares most every night, John often sleeps with his mom when he stays at her house. The nightmares often wake him up in the night. Liz thinks that the nightmares are provoked by all the combinations of drugs that John takes. John says, “When I wake up, we don’t say much. She just knows. I don’t want to be alone.” John went on to educate all across America in the fight against AIDS. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
Tom Cruise. Not that I admire the man, but what adventures I would have. For someone to admire, it would be Fritz Zwicky, who was an eccentric and contentious astrophysics genius who is the father of the concepts of dark matter and gravitational lenses. Tragically, his work was so ahead of its time, his theories weren’t proven true until observed by scientists 40 years later. Fritz Zwicky was also an accomplished mountain climber, so that checks the adventure/adrenaline box.
If I were a thing, I’d come back as Oscar Peterson’s piano, Victor Wooten’s bass, or Adrian Belew’s guitar (wildly innovative player for David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Nine Inch Nails).
Who is your favorite musician? writer? artist?
One? Perhaps all of the musicians from the Goat Rodeo Sessions, which includes cello virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma and mandolin master Chris Thile. I’ve got to add genre-bending banjo player Béla Fleck and jazz pianist extraordinaire Chick Corea. Expand this list to include all of their collaborators and side projects.
Writer: Kurt Vonnegut. Years ago, I photographed a workshop featuring Kurt Vonnegut. In a quiet moment during a break, a well-wisher explained to Vonnegut that his words had saved him from suicide. That seemed shocking to me because Vonnegut’s fictional characters are often tossed around by dramatic events beyond their control. But, that was the point. We can’t control what happens around us, just how we respond.
Artist: As a kid, I was entranced with the macabre allegories of painter Hieronymus Bosch. But now I find joy in the work of Paul Klee, who expanded the boundaries of expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. His quote, “Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible,” is intriguing. My interpretation is that the purpose is not to mimic, but to create a new way of looking. In that regard, I revere photojournalist Eugene Richards’ ability to frame life at the edges, both in subject matter and composition.
Where is your favorite spot in the world?
Without a moment’s hesitation, Martha’s Vineyard. My family roots run through this island escape. Relatives were ministers breaking down speakeasy doors during prohibition, school teachers, fishermen, golf pros and artists. My parents had a glorious retirement as island musicians. Today my family loves the island because it’s a place where time seems to stand still.
10.02.20October 7, 2020