This photographer’s shots of Chicago’s entrepreneurs are a magical twist on ‘Humans of New York’

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LuciLa Espedido, martial artist
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

When Kentaro Yamada lost his full-time job in 2012, he felt pretty defeated.

“[I felt] that society didn’t need me, and it would move along just fine without me,” he told Business Insider.

However, Yamada is an eternal optimist, and he decided to turn the downtime into something productive.

“I decided to make sure one positive thing happened in the midst of that uncertainty, and that was to learn photography seriously,” he said.

Greatly inspired by Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind Humans of New York, Yamada knew that he wanted to document people. He decided to add his own magical take: including levitating objects in the shot.

Photographing both his subjects and their prized posessions, Yamada has now documented a handful of Chicago’s own successful entrepreneurs for a project he calls “The Uplifted“.

As for his process creating a final, finished image, he said, “I usually capture a subject and objects separately and combine the two later in Photoshop.”

Ahead, 13 Chicagoans and their stories, as told by Yamada.


April Carlisle oversees shopper and customer marking initiatives as a senior vice president at Leo Burnett. This mother of two once competed in the National Jigsaw Puzzle Championships years ago. Yamada had her pose with her prized jigsaw puzzle globe.

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April Carlisle, Senior Vice President – Global Shopper Marketing of Leo Burnett
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Bluford Putnam is the chief economist of the CME Group, browsing through weather reports, unemployment numbers, and currency trends around the world to formulate economic outlooks. Here, he proudly levitates his first published book, “The Monetary Approach to International Adjustment”, which he wrote in 1982.

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Bluford (Blu) Putnam, Chief Economist of CME Group
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Bruce Daugherty is a senior vice president at one of Chicago’s most successful pizzerias, Connie’s Pizza. This busy grandfather of four multitasks daily, looking after the supplies at storefronts nationwide.

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Bruce Daugherty, Senior Vice President of Connie’s Naturals Frozen Pizza
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Ed “Mr. Pen” Hamilton is the proud owner of Century Pens, the last standing pen shop in Chicago. “My pen experience goes back 36 years, and I’ve opened seven pen stores over those years,” he told Yamada.

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Ed “Mr. Pen” Hamilton, owner of Century Pens
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Grant Martin is a Chicago native who moved to San Franscico to work in tech. He’s currently a product manager for a manufacturer of lightweight, ergonomic devices. Martin is also a scientist and writer who has contributed work to various financial and economic magazines.

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Grant Martin, product manager
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Chicago’s beloved living legend, Doug Sohn of Hot Dougs, resurfaced for Yamada’s project. Hot Dougs, famous for its foie gras hot dog, closed in 2014. Sohn has kept himself busy ever since then. Here, he poses at Chicago’s Hot Dog Station.

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Doug Sohn of Hot Dougs
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Melissa Stockwell is a paratriathlete, former paralympic swimmer, and a US Army officer. As a first lieutenant, she was the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War. Stockwell told Yamada that her daily motto is: “Be the best I can.” She leads various organizations that assist athletes with disabilities.

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Melissa Stockwell, all-American paratriathlete, former Paralympic swimmer, and a US Army officer
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

When a video of Jake Shimabukuro playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on a ukulele was posted to YouTube almost a decade ago, he couldn’t have guessed how viral it would be (it has been viewed more than 14 million times as of this writing). Now, this Hawaii native is regarded as the “Jimi Hendrix of the Ukulele” and has been touring the world.

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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

According to Yamada, Joe Caccavella, Jr. cuts hair like no other. Taught the craft by his father when he was only 15, Caccavella is the third generation of licensed barbers in his family. He works at the family-run-and-owned barbershop Joe’s.

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Joe Caccavella, Jr., barber at Joe’s Barbershop Chicago
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Martial artist LuciLa Espedido is originally from the Philippines, but has been living in Chicago for over 20 years. For her, martial arts is a “way of finding the self, emoting, expressing, projecting meaning, and affecting the world around from that place within,” she told Yamada.

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LuciLa Espedido, martial artist
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Award-winning chef Rick Bayless specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine with modern interpretations. Renowned in the food world, Bayless is also an actor, dancer, yogi, and all-around perfectionist.

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Rick Bayless, award-winning chef
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Shin Thompson, the owner of ramen shop Furious Spoon, cooks furiously tasty ramen. He has studied the cooking technique both here in the US and in Japan, and plans to open another location of his restaurant next year.

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Shin Thompson, owner of Furious Spoon
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted

Dutch artist Theo Jansen is known for his Strandbeest structures — large mechanisms made out of PVC that are able to move on their own, feeding off of only wind and water. His remarkable animated works are a fusion of art and engineering. Jansen has exhibited his work all over the world, and has appeared on Ted Talks.

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Theo Jansen, artist
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Kentaro Yamada/The Uplifted