Through the Eyes Of... Kwe Bentum and Alberto Santiago

We take a look ‘Through the Eyes of’ two photographers transitioning the seasons of Chicago. From the arctic-like winds and snow of Winter and the first signs of spring and the phenomenon that is Chicago-Henge. Photographer Kwe Bentum’s (@quake18) shares with us the why Chicago’s wintery conditions inspire, recharge, and help fuel his creative spirit. Whilst - and in complete contrast - Alberto Santiago (@solaphotos) tells us what it’s like to witness and capture the natural phenomenon that is Chicago Henge.

Kwe Bentum | Winter

Snowfall in Chicago could be a magical or terrible experience depending on weather conditions. The anticipation of the type of snowfall is a thrilling experience. From high wind gusts to low visibility or lake- effect snow, there’s no telling how the snowfall will shape up until you’re in the moment. Primetime during snowfall is when it’s slightly above freezing and there is lake-effect snow. This causes the snowfall to be heavier, magical, and more photogenic. 

The idea of wearing thermals, several layers, and warmers to  get bundled up isn’t motivating, but the thought of seeing a whole different world out there because of these extreme conditions is the incentive. Lake-effect snow definitely motivates me to go out and document the world around me. Extreme cold also motivates me to explore certain parts of the city. For example, a couple of weeks ago, it was about -5.8F/-21 C. Such extreme conditions create a surreal atmosphere at the lakefront or river. There will always be steam rising from the lake and in the moment, it feels like a dream or movie depending on the time of day. The people of Chicago also inspire me because there is always going to be someone embracing the cold doing something out of the ordinary that will make you laugh or pause in your thoughts such as snowmobiling through the streets or people running in such extreme weather. 

I feel very peaceful watching the city completely transform into something surreal. There are very few people outside and, therefore, makes me feel like I have the entire city to myself. It’s the same sensation when I’m running outside at a park during winter - I have the whole place to myself. I watched the skyline with one of my friends (by the Adler Planetarium) disappear as the snow engulfed the buildings. We stood there silently just watching and felt like we were in an apocalypse. It was very surreal witnessing the city disappear right before my eyes. I feel like I’m in a whole different world or planet.

I pay attention to strong lines and graphic detail- these are the backbone of my style. I try to weave it into every art I create. I look for an interesting backdrop or complementary colors in the storytelling I try to create. 

I love to photograph the West Loop, downtown, and the neighborhoods during snowstorms. Once I feel like I've documented a decent variety of stories, I patiently wait for extreme cold so that I can either photograph the Chicago River or lakefront for a sunrise. I also explore the riverwalk when it gets a bit warm during winter- there is usually floating ice that completely gives the city a whole different look. 

Alberto Santiago | Spring

Capturing the Chicago Henge is always a fun activity to do as a photographer. You’ll either find people who follow you on Instagram, people who you follow, or you end up meeting new people in general. It’s something that allows you to connect with others if you allow it. My first time shooting Henge was back in 2018. I was introduced to it by a friend of mine and though I’ve lived in Chicago all my life I wasn’t sure what it was. I was fairly new in photography by that time. 

Experiencing Henge is always an incredible experience. Of course, you try to get a good spot to take the picture, make sure your settings are on point, and so on. Nevertheless, in my opinion, taking a shot of it doesn’t measure up to how it looks when you see it yourself. The camera doesn’t do it justice. You see the busy street illuminated by that orange light, people’s shadows stretched out in the foreground, faceless bodies just living life and going about their ways. It’s almost like a movie scene. Unfortunately, it’s a short one. When that sun starts peeking out from one side it only takes about 15-20 minutes (don’t quote me on the time. Lol) to reach the other side until it’s gone. It’s definitely a moment that requires precision to capture. You want to get everything ready (lens, camera settings, etc), so when you release the shutter you’re confident you captured it. It’s definitely a moment worth capturing. 

As far as the image I took. It was a little challenging, only because it can be packed with people during Henge. So, when I took this shot, I had a 70-200mm lens but no tripod. 70-200mm lens are heavy, so I had to make sure not to move so much when shooting. Luckily, I have firm hands so it wasn’t a big deal. I set my aperture around f16-20 and began to shoot away. Hence, that was my best image on that day.