Dan Nelken was born in Tel Aviv and immigrated to the United States with his family, becoming a citizen and residing in Chicago. He attended Pratt Institute in New York, where he received his BFA degree.
By the time he was 11-years old, Nelken had lived in four countries where three different native languages were spoken. As a result, he developed an innate understanding of being "the other," who struggle to adapt to new circumstances. As a documentary photographer, he is known for his portrait work of those outside society's mainstream. His portraits aspire to accentuate individuality while acknowledging the importance of group behaviors, habits, and rituals. His ongoing project, HeadStrong: The Women of Rural Uganda, exemplifies his commitment to this theme. The portraits focus on the contribution of women in a predominately patriarchal society.
Nelken has received many awards and recognition for his HeadStrong project and earlier for Till The Cows Come Home: County Fair Portraits. His work has been published and exhibited widely and is in both museums and private collections.
Dan owned and operated a photographic studio where he produced advertising and promotional images for design firms, ad agencies, publishers, and corporations. This work helped support his multi-year personal projects.