Karl Solano: Chi-City Gritty...That‘s Got a Nice Ring to it Right?

Karl Solano is a lifelong Chicagoan with a penchant for philosophy, travel, people, basketball, art...pretty much all that life has to offer. Very big on self-improvement and learning from others, he is growing in his craft every single day. Karl is a fan of the Cubs, the Bulls, the beach, green tea, jeep wranglers and nutella crepes. 

I’m a full-time UX Designer during the day and I manage that amongst a plethora of other things in my life. UX stands for “User Experience,” and my position entails user research, digital product development, information architecture, visual design, usability and most importantly people. It's a rewarding job because I pretty much dictate how successful I am, involving plenty of critical thinking and creativity. I aspire to run my own design agency...or company of some sort. If there's one thing I know for certain, it's that life gives you the WHAT...not exactly the HOW. The “how” part works itself out.. but we'd have to dive deeper if we want to get into that. If you haven't noticed by now, I also have a fascination with philosophy and different ideologies BUT my first loves were my guitar and basketball. Before I got into photography, my main creative outlet was making music. I played guitar in a band for roughly 7 years and decided to call it quits after a decent run. After playing the Warped Tour and local venues such as the Metro and Subterranean, I thought it was time to leave music in the hobby department. Since reaching full height as an adult, I sadly realized that making the NBA wouldn't make the cut either. But however way you want to put it, I was meant to be involved in creative endeavors. 

I’ve been shooting seriously since 2015. However, I initially purchased a camera in November 2011 for a study abroad program. I was scheduled to fly to Africa to study birds and their surrounding environments as part of research for my degree. There was no way for me to document my research or memories so I ordered my first DSLR prior to leaving. At that point I was more excited to take pictures of a safari adventure, lions, and the African sunset. The trip was eventually cancelled because of political strife and adversity (it was an election year in Kenya) so I was left with a camera BUT no African adventure.

I ended up documenting videos for the band I was a part of at the time and it evolved into a fun hobby. I then took a PhotoShop class a few years later to supplement my job as a restaurant manager. I was responsible for taking pictures of new dishes for the menu as well as material for the Instagram I started for the business at the time. I watched YouTube tutorials for hours on end, supplementing my videography work as well. I watched skateboarding documentaries a lot as a teen so I was either taking photos or video footage wherever I went. My insatiable thirst for adventure and exploration led me to street photography. I'd walk around with only a 50mm to random neighborhoods trying to capture the essence of the environments and moments I thought were so cool when other people documented them.

Now that I was behind the lens, I was starting to value my experiences and how I looked at things even more. Ever since my creative renaissance, (I always thought I'd be making music for the rest of my life) I started playing around with different editing styles and unique perspectives. Once I discovered the Instagram scene, I knew I had to step it up to progress the way I wanted to and produce the aesthetic I was inspired by.

I find plenty of inspiration with Chicago, but if I can generalize I'd have to say it's history, architecture, culture and people. Aside from the external stimuli, just collaborating with creatives from Chicago give me added insight and inspiration. Being a part of this project will in one way shape or form inspire me. Chicago is an absolutely amazing city I’m lucky to call home and I wish to add to the overall aesthetic through my lens and work. Culture is a huge inspiration amongst the four I initially mentioned mainly because I am a product of this city and no one will ever see it through my eyes. Therefore my art just becomes the tip of the iceberg when defining Chicago as a city and shooting here...it's like a chain of infinite possibilities, and what dictates those possibilities are what inspires the person seeking. 

I would describe my photography as street/gritty...Chi-city gritty...that's got a nice ring to it right? I took a few “elements” (pun very intended) from my skateboarding days when approaching a spot. Scope it out, get the big picture and then start thinking about how to kill it in a new way. Chances are, we’ve already seen someone do a backside 180 down that 12 set. Photographically speaking, that may be the wide-angle shot we've seen in that one magazine...or those leading lines that got him/her that feature...or oh hey that POV is what epitomizes that spot, etc. I put myself in an "alien workshop" and start thinking about “plan B” shots...shots that no one has even considered or dared to consider. Shooting “blind” may get you a few bangers, but immersing yourself in the “habitat” of the site/project will give you more insightful shots. Those 5 words I used in quotations are actually skateboard brands... thought I’d have fun with this a little bit.

Instagram has been very influential in how I shoot. I feel as though Instagram is more catered to those who are looking for a certain look and theme. I couldn’t find any dope street photographers or any inspiration that intrigued me while doing a Google search. I mean I’ve stumbled across some great work while surfing the web, but Instagram is visually oriented so it's as easy as searching a hashtag and you’re in the ballpark. On top of that, Instagram in my opinion is a more personal look into the style of an individual. There are posts I see that don’t make the official online “portfolio” on an artists webpage. I admire what goes on behind the scenes as well, and Instagram stories are a great look into the more organic aspects of the person's life. Anyone can go to school and learn how do excel in the craft... but even at that, some of my favorite artists don't resort to that “cookie-cutter” approach and do what they do for the love of the art. I have mad respect for passion, and I feel that Instagram encompasses that culture more intimately than a generic photography webpage does. 

I stay inspired by watching documentaries on YouTube. I’m all about the process first and then the product. I find that the psychology of why people do the things they do help me develop blueprints of my own. Skillshare and The Creator Class are also great resources for inspiration because I literally learn about how an individual creates things and piece them together. While I study their processes and what makes their brain click, I later practice in my own life to create something more sentimental to me. Hopefully I make some sort of an impact when I go out and apply what I’ve learned. There are two types of people in this world, creators and consumers. Those who have the BEST lives are the ones who know the mechanics of both... I’m inspired by the notion of getting there, and I will. 

@karlsolano