A 22-year-old from Naperville, IL, Timmy Risden has quietly made a name for himself throughout his years as a photographer. Grabbing his sister's old camera during his junior year of high school, his skills have grown to where his work rivals that of some of the most talented photographers in the Chicagoland area and beyond. Already having worked with the likes of Vic Mensa and Lucki along with companies like Lyrical Lemonade and Daily Chiefers, Timmy has a lot to look forward to in his future.
HM : Growing up in the suburbs, how did you get involved in photography and the Chicago scene?
TR : "I got into photography my junior year of high school, because I needed a Fine Arts credit and the easiest one was film photography so I went with that. I had this digital camera that my sister left behind because she moved out, it was a Canon T3. At this point I was just taking pictures of my friends just for fun, we would always take the train to the city to shoot.
I went to a house party with some of my friends and Dionysus was dj'ing there. Dionysus was a DJ duo from Neuqua; they’re a year older than me - I graduated in 2016. After the party, I messaged them on Instagram and said, "if you ever need any photographers at your show I’d come." I just wanted to be at shows and go out. I knew I liked photography at that point, but I didn't know where I wanted to go with it.
So, I hit them up and they said, "We have a show next week, just come through”, and so I did that. I actually took mostly video and I was just experimenting with it all. They liked it even though it was garbage, which is cool. I knew for a fact that it was garbage because I didn't know what I was doing at that point. All I really knew was from classes and that was film, so I was really just guessing on how to use a digital camera.
Over time we were going to more shows; we would do two to three shows a week, it was really fun. Through that, I met promoters and they mentioned I should try rap shows. DJ photography is cool, but they are all just standing there, so it’s kind of the same thing for every artist. It was cool to learn, but I got bored of it pretty quick.
Hurt Everybody was taking over the city and we would go to their shows and Warhol.ss shows. Honestly, I don't give Warhol.ss enough credit; he was doing shows every week. He would do these shows and everyone would pop out and go to them. I don't even think he was trying to do this, but he really gave a platform to a lot of artists that wanted to perform just because he could bring out 100-200 people not even trying almost every weekend.
I started getting into rap photography and this was when Lyrical Lemonade was just starting out. They had the cyphers. I would go to the cyphers with Lil Jake when he made music and I would take photos of him and the rest of the cypher. I met Cole and all of them super early. I ended up going away to school at Western Illinois in the middle of nowhere for a year, and throughout that year I started working for Lyrical Lemonade as a writer and photographer.
Fast forward to now and I’m just doing my own thing. I work with No Future now as well. I work with artists like Lucki here and there, along with Vic Mensa. I also like to find newer artists to kind of like A&R. I like to build with newer artists too; I don't like to only work with bigger artists because it's just not what I want to do exclusively."
HM : What was your first paid gig?
TR : "The venue was called Mojoes, but now it's called The Forge. I learned about The Forge through the DJ shows. All the shows thrown at Mojoes back in the day were done by the same promoter. No matter what genre, it was the same guy. I met him and eventually did some rap shows for him. I met some smaller artists that would just throw me around 30 to 50 bucks to come all the way to Joliet and shoot their shows, which was cool. It's cool to do free work in the beginning, but it's nice to get paid literally almost nothing just because someone kind of values what you're doing and they're going to take you a little bit more seriously just because there's money involved.
When there's money involved, you have to really push yourself even if it's 20 dollars. You really push yourself to make it the best you can. You're not just shooting it for yourself, you have to have what they want in mind. Money puts the pressure on you to do better."
HM : Where did you come up with the name Timmy No Toes?
TR : "This goes back super far. I was on a soccer team with some of my friends when I was in elementary school and it's really stupid. My friend's mom was the coach, and I would kick the ball with my toe and you're not supposed to kick the ball with your toe in soccer because you can break your foot. To remind me not to do that, she called me Timmy No Toes. So, when Twitter became a thing, I made it my username. It just stuck. I’ll see my old group of friends from elementary school and they’ll call me that. Only a few people know about that, that's funny."
HM : Do you prefer shooting portraits or live concerts?
TR : "Honestly, I like portraits more (specifically artist portraits) because I really like the music process more than anything, but I really like live music too. Live music can be a pain in the ass sometimes honestly, just because when I did DJ shows, there would be a couple photographers. It's good that there are a lot of photographers now, but it also makes it a pain in the ass because there are so many people and it's just hard to get where you need to go.
I like a nice mixture. I like doing the work I've done for Lucki, where I kind of do both, or going with Vic Mensa and going wherever and capturing things people don’t normally see. I think that stuff is important and it's not shot enough, just because to shoot that type of material. you have to be trusted to not make them look stupid; they are people too, they have private things that they don't want out. They want to trust that you're not going to put something out that makes them look weird, which I totally understand. I put out the healthy medium of those types of things that people don't see, but isn't too personal."
HM : How did you get involved with No Future? And what about No Future is special to you?
TR : "In high school I was a big Vic Mensa fan, so I obviously knew about Jake (Osmun), because he did Vic’s visuals for so long. Jake was actually someone I really looked up to in high school, and I guess I still do but we're friends now, so it's kind of different. I'd say a little over a year ago, I was at an UnoTheActivist show and I saw Jake there. We kind of knew each other, but not really. We spoke there because we were both shooting the show, but he left early before Uno even went on because he had somewhere to go or something. So, he messaged me on Instagram that night and he asked me to send him the Uno flicks because he wanted to see what I shot. I sent him some and he was like, "Oh, these are cool”.
A week later he was shooting a video for Lil Wop and he told me to come and shoot some pics. I went and our creative dynamic went together pretty well. I ended up helping him with a few more videos; we did some work for Sprite last summer and we ended up becoming friends. He put me in touch with Vic, and I was kind of already in touch with Lucki, but he definitely got me closer to him because they work together a lot.
I think what makes No Future different is that a lot of similar brands or groups, they didn't really value the archival aspect. We do these No Future volumes where it's just a little throwaway footage that we think is cool, but fans love it and would be like, 'This is crazy'. We really like mixing design with the camera work."
HM : You had a podcast called Un(s)ensored, right?
TR : "I had a podcast for a little bit in 2017. I was at the College of DuPage and I was really bored, so I made a podcast. Originally, I was just going to have photographers on there, but then I had my friend Connor who makes clothes on the podcast - his brand is called Misguided. It’s crazy because I heard of him from a No Jumper video. I showed my friend and she was like, "Oh yeah, I know him. He used to live in the apartment near me in Chicago." So, she put us in touch and he was like, “Yeah, I'm actually from this town called Naperville,” and I was like, "You're from Naperville? I heard of you from No Jumper, what the hell”. We had like a 2-hour episode of the podcast just talking about clothes, talking forever. I ended up not having much time to do it, but it was fun."
HM : You wrote for Lyrical Lemonade, is writing something that you're still passionate about? How did you get involved with them?
TR : "I started writing for them because my freshman year I was studying journalism. I'm still passionate about journalism; it's not going downhill per se, but you don’t need a degree to do it anymore. So, if I want to do it; I'll just do it. I don't really need a degree for it; I'll just go study business or something, which is what I'm doing now.
I met Cole and then one day I was just like, "I want to work and shoot for Lyrical," and he was down because we had known each other for probably a year at that point and Lyrical was still pretty small. I think they had 30,000-40,000 followers on Instagram. Those are still the homies, but we kind of went our separate ways just because their company was expanding super big and I was still focusing on school."
HM : I saw it on your LinkedIn; how did you end up doing social media for Daily Chiefers?
TR : "Joey, my friend, runs DailyChiefers and I was running their Instagram for about a year. I just wanted to understand Instagram more, so I hit him up. I told him that if you guys ever need a photographer or help with anything in the city to hit me up. I just kind of wanted to shoot for them and he was like, "Yeah, we actually need help with the Instagram, so that's perfect”. I was just finding stuff to post on Instagram and we had a couple of posts go pretty viral. I just understood analytics and what works.
Those are still my boys. I don't really do that anymore just because it was actually a lot of work. I was putting out a minimum of two posts a day. There were days when there were festivals, for example when Rolling Loud was going on I would have hella people texting me photos which is awesome, it was a ton of photos and videos from peak moments from the sets.
I actually learned a lot and I'd be down to do it again at some point, but just not right now."
HM : What is something that you've learned through your years of photography that you wish you knew when you started?
TR : "I wish I knew that a lot of people are going to undervalue what you do because of the iPhone and things of that nature. You have to find people that value your work, because they're out there. Those are the people that realistically are going to make it longer in artistry, because they see value in all types of creative outlets. There's people that just put out dog shit music because they don't want to pay for beats. You're not caring about what you're doing, and it goes the same way with video and design. There's people that actually care about the branding and those are the people you actually have to put your energy into.
There's going to be a lot of people that ask, “Can you shoot it like this person?” and it's like, "why don’t you just go hire that person then?"
At first, I was scared if I set my price too high and someone would say, "Oh, it's too high,” or I say, "Oh, I want 50 bucks," and they respond, "I want to give you 20.” If you say no, you just up your value to $50, but if you say yes, you just lowered it to $20. Saying no: it's important to say no to some budgets, which is another thing I wish I knew. It’s self-respect and knowing what you're worth."
HM : What is your favorite project that you've worked on?
TR : "Young Jasper’s album cover. I shot his album cover for him this year, at the very beginning of the year. That was fun; I feel like that's my first real cover, which is cool. I met him in Naperville actually. He's from the city, but I met him at a friend's house in 2016. My friend had this little studio set up and this is still off topic, but Jasper had this one song and he was like, “Yeah, I'm going to start rapping,” and in my head I’m like, "This kid is fire, he actually has the image, his voice is cool”. I kind of convinced him, I told him he should actually start rapping and that I could help him because I just started working for Lyrical and I could help get his music out there. We're still friends today.
I also have this picture of Lil Reese at the Vlone pop-up in 2018. It's not a project, but that's my favorite picture because I'm in a bunch of group chats and it's a bunch of kids from Chicago that shoot, and a lot them do it professionally, but I'm the only one that has a solid picture of Lil Reese. He never goes outside and I remember I was in line at the Vlone pop-up with my friend Gabe and it was downtown during Lollapalooza. There were cars everywhere; there was this SUV that pulled up and just parked in the middle of the street. The dude looked like Lil Reese and I made a joke, "that guy looks like Lil Reese,” and then he walked by us, and I was like, "Oh my God, that's Lil Reese”. I'm glad I had my camera that day, and since then I bring my camera everywhere."
HM : In a previous interview with Chicago Creatives, you talked about how Alternative Trap was the first rap project you liked. What was it about the album that clicked for you?
TR : "I don't really know, it was just different. I feel like when I first started listening to rap, Mac Miller is one of my favorites of all time, but the first rap song I heard by him was "Donald Trump." I thought it was more of a joke, I didn't really realize there were people seriously listening to it, but now Mac Miller is one of the GOATs. At first, I thought people just liked rap to be funny, and then I realized there's a serious side of rap through Lucki.
Once you understand the serious side of rap, you can have more fun with it and listen to "Donald Trump" by Mac Miller. I think a lot of people still today don't really understand rap and it’s the dominant genre right now. Alternative Trap made me recognize rap as a serious genre."
HM : What do you think is the best spot to eat in the city?
TR : "I'm not a chicken guy, so I’m not going to say Harold's.
I talk about this with my friends all the time and my friends think I'm tweaking on this, but I don't even know why there's still bones in chicken. Like why the hell is that? That’s like some caveman shit. I’m a boneless guy. It's so much work to take it off the bones, it's just not me.
This place is called Luke's, it's this pizza place right downtown. I used to get that right off the train because it’s right by Union Station. If it's not Luke's, I’ll just get some fast food because I'm lazy and impatient."
HM : What is the most unreal experience that you've had throughout your time in the industry?
TR : "The first time I ever worked with Vic was Fourth of July last year. We went to Summer Fest. It's a festival in Milwaukee. I was following Vic taking pictures and I shot his set.
He has a non-profit called Save Money, Save Life. One of the ladies from his non-profit was there and she had her daughter with her. I don't know how old she was, probably five or six but she was drawing.
I was shooting and she walked up to me with the paper and it was all folded up. She gave it to me and I didn't even know what it was because I was busy so I was like, "Oh, thanks” and I just put it in my pocket. Later that night, I get home around three or four in the morning and as I was taking my pants off, I realized I had the drawing and I was like, "I wonder what this is?”. I unfolded it and it was a drawing of me and I was like, “That's so sick”. I still have it and it has the Summer Fest sticker on it."
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