In 1999, I moved to Chicago from Shanghai, China. I was immediately captured by its colorful culture and people. I was totally stunned by its vitality and power, which I had never seen or imagined before. There was a strong urge inside of me which wanted to express my feelings and reaction to this great city. I started to use my lifelong passion, photography, to document what I saw, what I felt and what I thought even though my first job at Chicago was an engineer.
City of Chicago is truly a big melting pot. Everywhere you look, you can see people from almost each corner of the world; everywhere you go, you can find evidence individual ethical customs or traditions. Each culture and custom are well respected and preserved. Yet, in the midst of diversity, I saw similarity: love of freedom and opportunities, warm, being kind and generous, outgoing and carefree, honest and straight, dedicated and resourceful. Different cultures shaped city of Chicago, in turn, modified each ethnic group in the city.
Chicago is also a miniature of the great America. It has 125 different neighborhoods, a successful example of harmony of diversity. Since 1999, I started to photograph Chicago and its people, from a wedding parting passing through Michigan Avenue to a restaurateur delivering box food to homeless under bridges; from cityscape to city parades and festivals. On a quest to create a lasting record of life in Chicago in millennium year, I spent almost every day canvassing the city and chronicling its people, places and personality. I tried to use my photos to blend into a rich, historic document that will inform those in the future long after it teaches us about ourselves. A city is constantly reborn. It lives, it grows, it dies, and it is born again.
I worked for CITY 2000, a prestigious photo project that documented Chicago in the year 2000 as a pure street photographer. I used Kodak Tmax black & white film and a Nikon FM2 camera. I shot about 10,000 photos in that year alone.
However, I only told a small portion of the story. The photos are a first remembrance of what will hopefully be a thousand-year-long trail, a living record of one year of life in one great city-Chicago. I hope these photos as a message to the future.
I have also created several special projects for myself. One is photographing Chicago baseball Cubs fans. For four years, I attended most every Cubs game—focusing on the fans instead of the game in an attempt to answer the mystery of why this historically losing team has such a huge following. I also covered the Cubs winning the World Series. This was the biggest event in Chicago history. There were about 5 million people who came to downtown Chicago for the victory parade.
I don’t have any formulas in my head or so called “rules”. I really enjoy Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau’s work and they really inspired me. I enjoyed the moments when I clicked the shutter and connected to people and the scenes.
Twenty one years passed and I am still doing the same street photography in Chicago almost everyday. To me, I still feel I am an outsider here, so I am able to look at things differently and maintain a fresh perspective. This is critical to me. Since I switched to digital, my shooting amount has dramatically increased. So far, I have shot almost one million photos at Chicago. I feel lucky that my eye is still able to see the pictures in the street. I just can't stop taking pictures. To me, photography is a journey which has no destination. I believe this land where you can dream and your dream can come true.
I believe that street photography is captured not posed. I will continue to follow Henri Cartier-Bresson’s footprint and do what I believe for true street photography. I never staged the scenes and used Photoshop to alter original work to make a fake one. This is my way.
My work was exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center and the Water Tower and published in the CITY 2000 book and Chicago Tribune. The University of Illinois at Chicago Library has collected more than 8,000 of my photos.
I like what Jack Kerouac wrote in the introduction for Robert Frank’s “The Americans”, “As a picture–the faces don’t editorialize or criticize or say anything but This is the way we are in real life and if you don’t like it I don’t know anything about it because I’m living my own life my way and may God bless us all, maybe” … “if we deserve it”…
Feng Liu Chicago Street Photography
Exhibitions at Chicago
1. Chicago Cultural Center
2. Water Tower-City Gallery
Publications at Chicago
1. January 10, 2001
Tempo, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, USA
2. April 2006
Book: City 2000, Chicago, Illinois, USA
3. February 21, 2013
“Feng Liu: – Pictures from Chicago” L’oeil De La Photographie, Paris, France
4. September 13, 2014
“Feng Liu Chicago” L’oeil De La Photographie, Paris, France
5. January 17, 2015
“Feng Liu” L’oeil De La Photographie, Paris, France
6. May 7, 2016
“Feng Liu : Chicago Streets” L’oeil De La Photographie, Paris, France
7. June 14, 2017
“Feng Liu, photographer of Chicago’s melting pot” L’oeil De La Photographie, Paris, France
8. April 6, 2019
"Feng Liu - Chicago" L’oeil De La Photographie, Paris, France
9. September 28, 2019
"Feng Liu - Shanghai" L’oeil De La Photographie, Paris, France
10. October 24, 2020
"Feng Liu" L’oeil De La Photographie, Paris, France
Collection at Chicago
The Library of University of Illinois at Chicago
Events Families Portraits Weddings Architectural
All Photographs © Feng Liu