Meet the “Messengers” of Chicago. This portrait series by photographer Thomas Chadwick introduces the daring individuals that bike through bustling city streets to make deliveries rain or shine. Selected to debut in the 8th edition of Lürzer’s Top 200 Ad Photographers, this project combines portraiture, lifestyle photography, and documentary storytelling to introduce the fascinating characters that make up Chicago’s underground network of counterculture enthusiasts. Thomas comments:

The Messenger project is a personal project, but the desire to shoot this group of people was born from an editorial piece I shot for Red Bull the summer before. I had been assigned to follow Nico Deportago-Cabrera, a bike messenger hailing from Chicago as he took part in the annual NACCC (North American Cycle Courier Championships). While photographing this event, I was really drawn in by the sense of family & comradery from the group of a 100 or so messengers, and their tattoos were just incredible. So from there I knew I wanted to photograph more of these impressive alternative athletes.

Being that Nico is a Chicago messenger, when we got back in town for the NACCC, I reached out to him about getting in touch with local messengers I could photograph. To make it more interesting I wanted to photograph these people in the dead of winter. During my first few winters I spoke with a couple bike messengers who were out when it was 10 degrees in February. They had told me – anyone can be a bike messenger in the summer. If you’re still a messenger in the winter, then you’re a proper bike messenger. Fewer people are hustling for your gigs.

The “Messengers” answered Nico’s calls, agreeing to brave the city’s harsh winter for a photoshoot. The stunning series that followed sheds light on these biker’s bold personalities – where each portrait offers its own rendition of the easygoing demeanor one might expect individuals that choose high-risk yet thrilling occupations to project. While the “Messengers” lifestyle does seem to fulfil a certain lust for adventure, the occupation does have it’s downsides. Thomas elaborates:

What was an eye opener & pretty depressing to be honest was their treatment by drivers in the city. A few of them have been hit & left for dead in late night hit & runs. Most of them have had a fairly serious injury and few of them have health insurance. During the NACCC, the riders had a slogan they used to honor a good friend of theirs who had passed a few years before from a messenger accident. Yet they’re still drawn to riding their bikes like a moth to a flame. I can see why. Riding is liberating – you get a sense of freedom on a bicycle that you don’t get in a vehicle. Once on a bike, you also get a little dutch courage and probably take more risks than an onlooker would like you to. The overall purpose of this series was to document these people who had so impressed me. They drew me in.

Thomas Chadwick is an English photographer based in Chicago that specializes in portrait, lifestyle, and sports campaigns. Some of his major clients include Gatorade, NY Times Magazine, Harley Davidson, Coca Cola, Nike, Miller Brewing Company, Men’s Health Magazine, and Starbucks. To view more imagery by Thomas, check out his portfolio or website.