Akito Tsuda Returns to Chicago from Japan for Photography Exhibition of Pilsen in the Nineties

Photo: Akito Tsuda '93
Columbia alum Tsuda documents spontaneous and authentic spirit of the communities in Pilsen nearly 25 years ago

CHICAGO (Oct. 19, 2017)—Cultura in Pilsen, Columbia College Chicago, and La Catrina Café celebrate the long-awaited return of photographer Akito Tsuda ‘93, whose documentary-style images capture the cultural diversity and history of the Pilsen community from more than two decades ago. Tsuda recently compiled these images into his newest book, Pilsen Days, which will be released at his upcoming exhibition Oct. 28 – Nov. 5 at La Catrina Café in Pilsen.

“Akito’s book and photographs highlight the history of Mexican families and their neighborhood at a time of cultural erasure and displacement, so for many, his book is a way to rediscover the heyday of the Mexican Pilsen of the Nineties,” said Moira Pujols, one of several organizers from Cultura in Pilsen. “This project is a community effort that we are excited to present to Chicago at large.”

Tsuda, an alumnus of Columbia’s Photography department, worked on various projects while attending school, that ultimately documented changes in urban environments, including the Maxwell Street area in Chicago. He earned respect from his peers and teachers for his unique ability to connect with people from all walks of life, and often described him as a visual historian.

“Akito always had a gift for engaging people, nature, and the environment, using the camera for what it is: a conduit, or a passport, that connects the heartbeat of humanity across the world,” said John H. White, Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist and Columbia faculty member. “Akito is a person of action and nothing great happens without action. His images of the Pilsen community are pure, uninterrupted, photographic talent—visual treasures reflecting his ability, energy, and light. I tell students that the world is their playground of limitless intellectual and creative dreams. Columbia gives wings to such dreams. I’m excited for Akito, for the Pilsen community, and for generations yet to come.”

Matthew Shenoda, Dean of Academic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Columbia, contacted Cultura in Pilsen when he learned of the project. As Tsuda’s accomplishments reflect Columbia’s role in encouraging cultural and social awareness among its students, who then can go on to diversify, advance, and celebrate communities, Shenoda proposed that the college co-sponsor Tsuda’s visit to the U.S.

“Tsuda’s photography captures an incredibly important moment in the history of Chicago,” said Shenoda. “His photos create a candid and often unseen cross-cultural engagement with the Latino community of Pilsen that helps document and illuminate the vibrant and lived realities of the cultural space that has and continues to exist there. “Works like this are not only significant in their artistic merit, but will become necessary records of the ever-evolving neighborhoods that make up this city.”

Tsuda is scheduled to attend several events during his visit to Chicago. Among them is a meeting with White’s current photography students on Oct. 26, and a flamenco dance performance based on Tsuda’s book by Clinard Dance on Nov 4.

“Akito's photos of the tailor shop, the shoemaker, and the smiling lady at the laundry tug at the heart, and inspire the percussive footwork of flamenco to join with the rhythms of the sewing machine,” said Wendy Clinard, director of Clinard Dance. “They invite a dancer to turn and jump, waking us up to our shared humanity, to celebrate the beautiful, ordinary, and everyday neighborhood of Pilsen.”


Born in Hamamatsu, Japan, Akito Tsuda first arrived to Chicago in 1990 while a student at Columbia College Chicago. As a newcomer in a foreign place, he felt at home with and was particularly fascinated by the Pilsen community. Through his love of diverse cultures and people, and with the help of his photographic lens, Tsuda came to be accepted by the Pilsen community as one of their own, an extraordinary example of intercultural acceptance and understanding. About his photography, Tsuda poignantly states:

“My interest is not to find an answer or draw a conclusion of what I have seen, but rather taking a photo of people is more a learning experience that helps me grow as a person. I usually click the shutter of my camera only a few times for each subject. It does not mean resistance against the growing proliferation of images everywhere these days, but I prefer concentrate on staying in the moment so that I can take a photograph without being too emotive or invasive. The presence of others and sharing the moment with people have been essential to enriching my life and those experiences have helped to build my self-esteem. I've learned the value of authenticity from people who have trusted me and stood in front of my camera. I would like to live up to what I believe I've learned from people's everyday lives”. 


Cultura in Pilsen is home to contratiempo and Gozamos, two organizations that have come together to highlight culture in the community, foster artistic experimentation, develop collaborations, and share knowledge through art and activism. Together, with several organizations-in-residence, Cultura in Pilsen brings even more vitality to bilingual Latinx cultural activities of the city. For more information, please call 773.510.9742 or visit www.culturainpilsen.com


Columbia College Chicago is a private, nonprofit college offering a distinctive curriculum that blends creative and media arts, liberal arts and business for nearly 7,500 students in more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Dedicated to academic excellence and long-term career success, Columbia College Chicago creates a dynamic, challenging and collaborative space for students who experience the world through a creative lens. For more information, visit www.colum.edu.




Alejandra Moran


Anjali Julka
Columbia College Chicago