Cody Bralts describes his work as being focused on the “intersection of space and place.” And though the Chicago-based photographer’s process is steeped in spontaneity — his preferred method of shooting involves walking down the street and training his lens on whatever catches his interest — each of his images feels meticulously constructed. He has a distinct ability to locate the lines and patterns hidden in the chaotic fabric of Chicago’s city life.
We caught up with Cody to learn more about his work, his city, and the way the latter has shaped the former.
Your site says that you grew up near U of I, but you consider Chicago your home. Can you talk about the role that the city played in your upbringing?
Growing up, I spent my time going back and forth between Urbana and Chicago. It was an interesting dichotomy because, while the two cities are in the same state, they could not be more different in terms of visuals and culture. I got to see both sides of living in America: the small town and the big city. Because of this, I try to incorporate both of these environments into my work.
Where are your favorite spots around the city to shoot?
I am drawn to the feel of the West Loop, Pilsen, and Bridgeport. There are some really special places in those neighborhoods that are often overlooked. Although these areas are rapidly gentrifying, I see that phenomenon as an opportunity to capture such changes through my work. To me, properly observing the interactions between the new glass towers and the century-old brick buildings is my duty as a Chicago photographer.
What sets Chicago apart from other big cities like New York or LA?
I think it’s a city where a lot of people can start off creatively and immediately feel welcome, immediately find vibe. It’s a pretty tight-knit community, but it’s also a place where you can meet new people and collaborate on ideas that matter to you. Chicago really is “second to none” in that regard.
How does the city and its distinct character inform your work as a photographer?
Chicago is on a grid system, which I think connects to my work in a lot of ways. Some of my best shots have come from just picking a direction and walking down the street. One time, I spent the entire day walking up Western Avenue on the South Side and ended up in Lincoln Square on the far North Side. It was a 10-hour journey, but it really opened my eyes to how suddenly Chicago can change and morph before your eyes. It’s one thing to experience the transitions of Western Ave. in a car, but it’s completely different to walk it all the way through. To me, walking and photographing is like therapy. I feel most in my element when I connect to the environment around me through my work.
You served as photo director for the first two issues of Ancestry Quarterly, a Chicago-based lifestyle journal. Can you talk a little about that experience? Namely, what did you learn from your time there, what challenges did you face, and how you did you overcome those hurdles?
This experience really opened my eyes, not just to the logistics of working with a team of creatives, but to the process of getting a physical publication into bookstores. It’s a lot of legwork, but it’s very rewarding. One of the biggest challenges was learning how to compromise on what content was going to make it into the final print run. Our team was full of very strong-willed creatives, which proved to be both challenging and motivating.
A lot of your work focuses on unique spaces and textures. What are you looking for in your compositions?
I’m mainly searching for the intersections between space and place, and much of my work focuses on the spontaneous arrangements I encounter as I go about my day. I hope to inspire those who follow my work to do the same. As mentioned earlier, much of my content is passive — I always keep my eyes open and treat my day as if I’m directing it.
What are some of your favorite memories of shooting around Chicago?
Gosh, there are too many to count — as anyone from Chicago can attest to! Some of the best memories range from speeding down Lake Shore Drive to shooting summer music festivals like Pitchfork and Lollapalooza to spontaneously biking to the Indiana border and back. Also, so many tacos.
Where do you hope to shoot in the future?
As I finish my degree in political science, I hope to turn my creative talents more to the political and social realm, whether that be in photojournalism or doing social media strategy for a campaign. I’d also love to work in content creation for an NGO down the line. To me, traveling and discovering new places is one of the greatest joys in life, and I hope to connect that to a satisfying career.