On Tuesday, December 19, Schubas hosts a release party for Take It Outside, the debut book by 24-year-old Chicago music-scene photographer Tim Nagle. Headlining the show is Phoelix, the talented multi-instrumentalist and singer who coproduced Noname’s Telefone and Saba’s Bucket List Project. Rookie opens, and throughout the night members of young rock bands (including Twin Peaks and the Orwells) spin records. The bill reflects the kinds of music Nagle follows: he spent most of his youth on Chicago’s south side, devouring rap and rock, and he was a teenager when the Smith Westerns broke out. He didn’t even consider the possibility of making a career as a photographer until relatively recently—he took his first photos with a professional camera in 2013. Today he makes money with his art, but not quite enough to support himself; he also works part-time for a bottled-water distributor.
Five years ago Nagle reached the crossroads that would eventually lead him to Take It Outside. He was attending John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland and playing tight end for the school’s Division III football team, but during his sophomore year, in fall 2012, an injury ended his football career. He came back to Chicago and enrolled at Loyola, switching majors from business management to journalism. He took a photography class to fulfill a requirement and discovered he loved it. At the same time, he’d begun to acquaint himself with the local music scene. “I started just going to house shows and shows around the city,” he says. “I realized how big it is.”
As Nagle befriended more and more musicians, he started hitting the road with some of them to document their shows. “The Walters and the Orwells were the first couple people I ever traveled with,” he says. In July 2016 he went to Seattle with the Walters for a recording session, and while wandering around the city he took the earliest of the photos compiled in Take It Outside. (The latest come from this past September.) The book is roughly two-thirds music-related photos, but less than half of those are from concerts—Nagle prefers to capture folks from the subscenes he follows in their unplanned, private moments.
Most of the images are accompanied by only a couple bits of information: the date, and who or what is pictured. When I was able to determine that a photo was from a show I’d seen, I’d often try to remember the exact moment in the shot—but that’s not the point of Take It Outside. Nagle’s lively, sometimes intimate images take me out of my head and into the scenes he’s captured. In the interview that follows, he talks about the inspiration for the book and his work in local music communities.
Leor Galil: When did you decide to make a book?
Tim Nagle: The conscious decision was around April. At a point I realized I had this stockpile of images that I really liked and weren’t being used for anything, so I just started putting photos aside. Probably around May or June, I decided to end the book in September. I planned some shows and traveling with some bands—I knew I was gonna have a lot in September, so it was like, “Just end it there.” Probably in August I started sifting through all the photos, putting it together.
September is the end date—why did you start it in July 2016?
Everything from before wasn’t anything crazy that I really wanted to include in it. The first good shot that I really wanted in it was July of last year.
What was that shot?
It was a couple shots. I was in Seattle around the Fourth last year. There was a day I just walked around with a camera. There’s three shots in the book that were from that day. There’s one shot of the [Space Needle] and one of the Pike [Place] Market.
You describe Take It Outside as all about impromptu moments. What other themes does the book have?
I feel like in photography in 2017, everything’s very orchestrated, very clean, and kind of directed in a sense. Which I think is cool, and I like that, but I wanted to do the opposite. The one overarching theme is none of the photos were planned out. Some of them, like, I told somebody to pose, but they were just in a moment and I took the photo. There were actually a couple shots that I left out that felt too staged—I really wanted it to be very candid in the display.
What else does the completed collection say about your experience over the course of the past year?
There are some cool things in the book, but I kinda wanted to do this as an introduction to my photography, at least in a storytelling sense. I just broke it into three sections of subjects: urban landscapes, portraits, and live music.
What does the live music section say about your experience with music and your position in the local scene?
Well, I don’t know. Everyone that goes to shows has an iPhone in their pocket and can take a good-looking photo. [I’m] looking for breaks in character, in a sense, ’cause people are performing. That could be translated in a lot of different ways—like somebody crowd-surfing or rolling around on the ground. But really just making the photos say something.
In Chicago, there’s so much talent going around right now. It makes my job very easy, because if you wait around long enough those moments will present themselves.
The year encapsulated in the book—what does that year in local music mean to you?
When I was putting it together, I wasn’t thinking of it as much in the sense of a scene. Obviously there are familiar faces throughout the book, if you’re familiar with rock and hip-hop around here. But I tried to, as much as possible, not make it about the people in the book as much as the photos.
You work with rock and rap acts. What are the connections between the young hip-hop scene and the young local rock scene here?
They are very close. I think the bridge is very short. I feel like a lot of people already know each other, and I feel like they’re in the same room, artists on both sides. I think [it’s a] talent recognizes talent type thing.
At what point did you start to feel at home on that bridge between these communities?
To me it never feels that there’s a difference between the two. Obviously there’s different people involved, but the constant thing is people really being into something—their music—really working hard at it, and making that good thing. I think that’s universal, throughout music. At least from my experience, anyway.