We are pleased to introduce you to Nicole Small, the winner of our “Negative Space” challenge and feature of our current artist spotlight.
Nicole is a fine art photographer and self portrait artist from Montreal, Canada. She was gracious enough to answer our questions about her winning image, self portraiture, her body of work and artistic journeys, and photography in general. We hope you enjoy soaking in her answers as much as we did! ❤️✨
How did you come up with the concept for your winning shot?
A few years ago my very good friend and portrait photographer of mine decided to venture into opening a photo studio which was located in one of the well known art districts in Montreal, Canada. Thinking of it now, I have to say it was one of the most loneliest times in my creative journey of photography, art and portraiture which was my sole purpose in opening a photo studio. Overtime for reasons I still do not understand, it had become a mystery to me on how to get clients to come to the studio and experience what it is I love to do so much and so a year before we had decided to let the whole concept of having a studio go, I had felt the need to create nonetheless. This image came from a series of images during that time period of which I felt lonely, solitude, hurt and disappointment. I think my voyage into the art of self portraiture was inevitable and here I am now creating images almost daily.
What was your first self portrait, and how did it come about?
My very first self portrait, well not sure if I would really call it that now! It was taken for my profile on Facebook. This was when I had just started dabbling in the field of photography. I knew nothing about it but was drawn and connected to it the minute I discovered it.
What is your inspiration for your self portrait photography?
The very same thing that I have been so passionate about photographing…..people. People have inspired me to self portraiture. I do not want to sound negative, but due to a long and daunting period of time where I found myself to be unsuccessful in “convincing” one to choose me to photograph them, it brought me to a point where I just couldn’t sit on the sidelines with the hopes of it happening anymore. I was drowning in a sea of creativity and ideas and I knew I had to make a decision.
1. Sit and wait for things to happen while investing in a studio space that remained empty and have my creativity windle to bits.
2. Forget about my original plan of focus and resort to a way in which I could create anytime I wanted and in the way that I wanted without having to rely on anybody else = self portraiture.
I guess you can figure out which choice I decided to follow through with!
Although self portraiture has become my main focus now, I had in the past from time to time experimented with self portraiture but it was not in the way that I do it now.
What do you find to be your biggest challenge when creating a self portrait?
I enjoy and love having faces fill the frame, even with portraits that I have had the opportunity to photograph of others. I would say my biggest challenge is being able to open up on my self portrait images. I work with old vintage cameras which do not always have a timer that works or has one at all. So I am limited with the amount of space to work with in regards to distance from the camera. Although most of my work I have done was in my living room, I would also have to include that finding the right locations is another challenge for some conceptual work that I have yet to dive into and create.
In one word, what does self portrait mean to you?
What is your opinion on people suggesting narcissism is part of self portraiture?
I think it all depends on the intent which you can easily figure out upon looking at a self portrait image. If I am standing in front of a mirror with a pouty mouth, tight clothing while pushing out my chest and buttocks that is one thing, but if the image clearly shows a depth of character, ambiance, mood, a scene and creativity, this to me is something I cannot see as a narcissistic approach or presentation. Even more so if there is text attached to the self portrait image that is expressing a particular feeling, thought or experience.
Have you made any discoveries about yourself through self portraiture? If so, what are they?
What I have discovered through self portraiture about myself is that I am ok with the way that I look no matter how the outcome is. My objective is a creative image as a whole and not a focus in the way that I look in it. I have also discovered how creative you can be with very little.
Do you mainly create self portraits?
Yes, I would say self portraiture is what my main creative focus is. I do, however, enjoy photographing still life in the form of lumen prints and cyanotype portraits, (which may turn over to another dimension of self portraiture).
Which of your works is your favorite, and why?
Some of my own personal favorites (was hard to break this down!):
In all of these they show my strength and inner being that has finally been able to get out and create.
We noticed that you’ve been working on a pinhole photography project – can you tell us more about that?
Working with the pinhole camera started out solely as experimentation but through time it had projected out once again into portraiture not only of myself but of others. It seems that everything I do creatively has a way of making itself back to photographing people, (which has been my most passion to photograph). I knew that I would probably end up with the same results as before which was an empty chair and so I thought instead of calling out to anyone, I would call out to a more specific group which were local Montreal artists. Having it being a different take and an old photographic technique on portraiture, I thought that I would get more interest from those that were artists than the average person. I was proven wrong! I still hold this pinhole portrait project dear to my heart and is ongoing and open to anyone from anywhere.
What is your typical workflow from idea to execution and beyond?
I usually will start off from a series of image ideas out of my sketch book. Sometimes I will lay out different props on a table, (I have loads of them!), let them sit there and as I pass and go by them whatever ideas trigger I write them down or sketch them out. Sometimes an idea comes from a simple walk outdoors or from riding on a bus… most of these ideas I do sketch out are for my conceptual ideas but as for my self portraits I have been doing, they simply come from emotions I am feeling at the time, with some influence from my sketched out ideas. I do not really prepare too much as I find I lose too much spontaneity. My sketch book is actually a book I started for my conceptual ideas which were sketched with a person in mind, not myself. So most of my newest work has come from those ideas which I have had to review, recompose and alter to fit for myself.
Who has influenced your work?
Do you prefer color or black and white photography? What influences your choice?
I prefer black and white mostly because I can process my film or paper myself. I do love to work in color, but I do not like to have my work processed by a lab. I have done it in the past and have never felt good about the results. I can process color film at home, but it is a whole other process.
What challenges have you overcome in your photography so far?
The way I shoot my pinhole portraits is probably not the way many would do them because I use hot lights. In the beginning I did not realize how much time and light I would need in order to get the right exposure and this is a big challenge when working with paper opposed to film. Although this is a big challenge, I still prefer working with paper over film, I just like the look better. I have now fine tuned this somewhat and now work with 3 minute exposure times opposed to 6 -13 minute exposure times. I am still trying to find better solutions to minimize some of the kinks in getting the exposures just right.
Any tips or techniques about self portraiture or photography in general that you would be willing to share with our community and followers?
Once you have come up with a general idea or concept, don’t think too much. Just do it. Play with the concept on the spot and think of it in more ways than one. You will be surprised what you will come up with and how that one idea can turn into many different ones, and if you can write them down, write them down as soon as you can!
Don’t be discouraged if you fail at an attempt, do it again and if you need to break from it, break from it, try something else and then come back to it again.
Don’t be timid on what you want to express, or doubt yourself on what you think others may think or say. If you want to be bold, be bold, if you want to be mysterious, be mysterious! A self portrait is your world of creativity, go for it!
Wonderful advice and inspiration from a truly unique and talented artist.
If you’d like to connect with Nicole and follow her continued journey in art, use the links below: