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Chicago's Hidden Gems: South Side native documents stories of Black Chicagoans

Chicago's Hidden Gems: Nikki Carpenter chronicles Black Chicago with pictures and people
Chicago's Hidden Gems: Nikki Carpenter chronicles Black Chicago with pictures and people 03:44

CHICAGO (CBS) – What would you do if someone walked up to you with a camera and asked if they could tell your story?

That's exactly what South Side native Nikki Carpenter does and the stories she gets are what make her one of Chicago's Hidden Gems.

"I just walk up to them. I say, 'Hi. I'm Nikki. I'm a street photographer,'' Carpenter said.

On any given Sunday, you can see the lifelong South Sider heading out of her home and walking down the street with her camera and curiosity in tow. She's been gathering stories for her passion project, "Black Citizens of Chicago."

"What I do is walk up to random Black people and ask if I can get their Black Chicago stories," she told one of her potential subjects.

And the answer is almost always "yes."

Donlon: "What's the mission?"

Carpenter: "I love telling the hidden story."

She added, "What about the woman taking her child to school? What about the bus driver? What about the person cutting your grass? They have amazing stories that have yet to be unearthed."

Carpenter unearths those stories on her Instagram page, like a custodian who is so proud of his work, and a woman whose love of gardening goes back generations.

"It's people," she said. "It's moments."

They also include people like a 100-year-old man who just voted, or a cool cowboy-type whose "ride" is a 1968 Cadillac, and even a Tina Turner lookalike.

Donlon: "What do you look for when you're walking around?"

Carpenter: "I can't explain what I feel, but when I see the person, I know."

She added, "People always have a story. I feel like they're waiting for someone to even care to ask them, 'How's your day going? What are you thinking about today?'"

Carpenter said she asks questions "that will prompt a story."

During one recent interaction, she asked her subject, "If you could name this season in your life, what would it be called and why?"

Carpenter said she's always had a camera.

"I've always had a love of photography," she said. "I am a master storyteller. I started out acting. I love the theater, and that was my gateway into stories, everyday life."

Donlon: "What have you learned, you think, since you've been doing this?"

Carpenter: "If we don't take photos of everyday life, we will lose what that once was. I can't think of going through a sign that says, 'colored entrance.' I can't fathom that. I was born in '84. Thank God that it was captured, because we can look back and say, 'This is what we come from.'"

And she also wants to document where we are.

She recently asked a subject, "What do you love about Chicago?"

He responded, "There's a solidarity that comes with people from Chicago that you just don't get anywhere else."

Sometimes, there's even a surprise, like bumping into old friends.

Donlon: "Where do you want it to go?"

Carpenter: "I would love for it to be a coffee table book first, then mini-documentaries."

"There are so many more stories," she said. "They're so evident. They're always there, stories everywhere."

Carpenter said her ultimate goal is to make Black Citizens of Chicago into a coffee table book, then bring the work to documentaries. To see her work, visit her Instagram page @blackcitizensofchicago.

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