Akito Tsuda Photographs

Dates: 1991-2021
Size: .5 linear feet in 1 box, includes 118 photographs
Repository: Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington Library Center, Special Collections, 400 S. State Street, Chicago, IL 60605
Collection Number: spe-n00162
Immediate Source of Acquisition: Purchased from Akito Tsuda in 2021.
Conditions Governing Access: Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use: Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.
Preferred Citation: When quoting material from this collection the preferred citation is: Akito Tsuda Photographs, [Box #, Photograph #], Special Collections, Chicago Public Library.
Finding Aid Author: Michelle McCoy, 2021


Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda enrolled in Columbia College in 1990. Between 1991 and 1994, his photographic explorations in the city led him to the Pilsen neighborhood and the city’s Lower West Side community where he forged intercultural bonds with the predominantly Latinx residents.

Biographical Note

Akito Tsuda (1966-) is a Japanese photographer. Born in Hamamatsu, Japan, he came to the United States in 1988, attended English as a second language classes and enrolled in Columbia College to study photography. In 1990, he moved to Chicago to study photography at Columbia College. While working on an assignment to document a neighborhood in Chicago, he stumbled across the Pilsen neighborhood located in the city’s Lower West Side community area. Despite speaking very little English and no Spanish, Tsuda forged an intercultural bond with the area’s predominantly Latinx residents. He composed approximately 400 images of the Pilsen and Maxwell Street areas from 1991 to 1994. The subjects of his black and white photography include candid groups of Mexican-American children, family activities, interior scenes with domestic activities, street scenes and a few workplace interiors. “An immigrant among immigrants,” is how Tsuda describes his experiences in Chicago.

Tsuda has stated the following about his photography:

“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.”

Tsuda returned to Japan in 1994, taking his photos with him, where they were kept in storage for more than 20 years. In 2014, he began posting images on various social media sites in an effort to reconnect with members of the Pilsen community. The response by community members to Tsuda’s posts led to return visits to Chicago, community events and exhibition opportunities.

Tsuda created several limited edition publications of his photographic works, including: Street Cats (2001), Maxwell Street (2004), Breath in Breath out (2015), made me better than before (2015), Tom (2016), Pilsen Days (2017), Pilsen Days: A Neighborhood Story (2022), Chicago 1994 (2018), you in me (2018) and we are all mirrors of each other (2020).

His work has been exhibited in Japan, Italy, and the United States.

Scope and Contents

Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda came to Chicago in 1990 to study at Columbia College. Between 1991 and 1994, his photographic explorations in the city led him to the Pilsen neighborhood and the city’s Lower West Side community where he forged intercultural bonds with the predominantly Latinx residents.

Akito Tsuda chose the 115 unique images for inclusion in this collection. Tsuda printed Photographs 1.4-1.118 from negatives and contact sheet prints in Japan for the Library in 2021 and 2022. To contrast with his artistic printing choices in the 1990s as a young photographer, the Library also acquired three vintage photographic prints created from negatives (Photographs 1.1-1.3) during his Chicago stay in the 1990s. Photographs 1.1-1.3 correspond to Photographs 1.4-1.6 respectively.

Photographs 1.19, 1.51, 1.58, 1.99, 1.104 and 1.105 are Tom, a man who Tsuda frequently visited and is the subject of a limited edition publication, Tom, created by Tsuda in 2016. Tsuda is pictured alongside local residents in Photograph 1.53.


The photographs are numbered sequentially.

Separated Materials

The book that arrived with the collection was cataloged and available for viewing in the Special Collections Reading Room:

  • Tsuda, Akito, Pilsen Days: A Neighborhood Story, Japan, 2022, Call number: F548.68.P5T82 2022
  • Tsuda, Akito, Tom, edition of 250, Tokyo, Japan, 2016, Call number: F548.68.P5T88 2016

Subject Headings

  • Lower West Side (Chicago, Ill.)
  • Mexican Americans -- Illinois -- Chicago -- History -- Sources
  • Mexicans -- Illinois -- Chicago -- History -- Sources
  • Neighborhoods -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Pictorial Works.
  • Photography -- Illinois -- Chicago.
  • Pilsen (Chicago, Ill.)

Related Materials

  • Chicago Department of Urban Renewal Records
  • gloria cassens Photographs
  • David Gremp Photographs
  • Lower West Side Community Collection

Collection Inventory

Box 1 Folder 1 Tsuda, Akito, articles, website page captures, 1994, 2016-2021
Box 1 Photographs 1.1-1.118 Pilsen community and residents (118 photographs), circa 1991-1994
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