Brett Nadal Shows Us What it is to See and Be Seen

Much of the work that we see from photographers tell the story of who they are as artists, their beliefs, experiences, and values. We sat down with Brett Nadal and asked him to put into words what colors his perspective and how he developed his photographic vision.

Born and raised in Chicago, son of a Cuban father and a German mother, I grew up steeped in a beautiful fusion of cultures, languages, and beliefs. 

As a child, I was lovingly shaped by every gathering where both sides of my family could come together, a time when the elders would share their wisdom and traditions. I learned that language could be precarious, words mattered, and that how one communicates is vital.  When words could not articulate one’s thoughts, what always mattered was love. Love and acceptance always translate.

From this tight-knit amalgamation that is my family, my siblings and I learned what it means to represent one’s heritage. We learned about what it means to have a deep appreciation for cultural diversity, and that the ability to cooperate and understand multiple sides is necessary to one’s success.

As a student, I channeled a love of words into public speaking courses. By night, I would feed my creativity with adoration of Cuban, Latino, blues and rock music, playing percussion alongside my brother and his bands, in clubs and bars around town. Both equally ideal environments to learn about turning what could be daunting and intimidating into something fun and enjoyable, of staying open to the ideas of others, of seeing and being seen.  

During a brief time as a fine art student in London, I discovered the work of Robert Doisneau, a French photographer whose portraits of the working class and whose style of reportage engaged all my senses.  My love for his work inspired me to learn the art of photography and journalism as a medium for storytelling.  I returned to Illinois to earn my degree in photojournalism … and in 2007, I began work as a photographer at the start of one of the most significant economic downturns in American history. I became resourceful, agile, and resilient during a time when saying “no” was never an option and every assignment was an opportunity. I fought for commissions from local design firms and for assignment work in the fast, cut-throat world of journalism, for clients like the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press; and I created award-winning photojournalism.

My style of photography today is an extension of myself. Each project an opportunity to reflect my passions, my influences of music, food, language, history, hardship, love, and family. And for this, I live to take risks. 

Risk is what I love most about photography and a quality which shapes me most; those times when I can stretch myself to think in bold and innovative ways, of what is possible when we make ourselves vulnerable and approach our work with love. Risk in storytelling is when I am at my most creative, my most collaborative.

Ultimately, I want the work I create to help remind people that it is a gift to be seen by the people around you. To be known and accepted is the foundation from which you can leap. No-one stands alone — belonging matters.

Follow Brett on Instagram to see more moments of seeing and being seen.

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