Jessica Nichols understands the importance and intricacy of a moment, and she is determined to capture life's beautiful details with photography. A few thoughts from the inspired creator of Sweet Eventide...
(AW) How did you get started as an artist?
(JN) I believe the seeds were planted in my childhood from my father who was an avid photographer. He built his own darkroom and I definitely grew up with the camera in my face. When I became a parent, I turned to the camera myself to help preserve all the tiny moments in time that I fear I will forget (and do actually forget!). It wasn't until about four years ago that my photography took an artistic turn though. Now that I've gotten my hands on both a DSLR and a Polaroid SX-70, I know I am only beginning my path as a self-taught photographer.
(AW) What draws you to photography?
(JN) Although I have been fiercely drawn to the written word since I learned to read at age three (and I have the English degree to prove it), as a busy mom I find photography suits my creative spirit more easily. There is no fuss, no muss -- I can pick up my camera and express myself in a moment with no clean up required. (I was never drawn to finger painting, that's for sure). Also, and most importantly, photographs positively thrill me -- whether they are mine or from other people. The colors, the composition, THE LIGHT, the subject -- it all makes me giddy and it makes my heart swell. To me, there is nothing better than finding that magic in the ordinary.
(AW) Could you talk a bit about your creative process?
(JN) I have been giving this a lot of thought since I recently read Sarah describe in exquisite detail what visually stimulates her. I want to try to describe what attracts my eye and of course, my lens follows right along. People often say that I take pictures of things that they wouldn't have even noticed. I will come home from a walk with my family and show them photos I took and hear, "I didn't even see that." How do I notice these things? First of all, I move s-l-o-w-l-y. Trust me, going for a walk with me is not going to be an aerobic activity. It's kind of like walking with a toddler, you know how every blade of grass is utterly fascinating?
I look at the edges of things. I look up when I'm on my feet and when I am on the ground, flat on my belly. I look for shapes. I look for colors and the way they interact. I look for the light (don't all photographers say that?) I love the textures in the objects around me, rust on metal, the grain in wood, the bark on a tree, the way wool gets dense when it is felted. I look through my lens more than through my eyes, but I tend to frame the world as if I have a camera to my face. I have always been detail-oriented to a hyper degree and this definitely comes out in my images. I am not a landscape photographer and I do not have a landscape view of life. I have trouble seeing the big picture, which can be bad at times in life but for photography, it seems to serve me well.
For a very long time, I was a major purist with my images. I scoped out good light and great, natural colors and called it a day. I hate my flash with a passion so deep it could fill a room at midnight on a cloudy day. But then, sometime last year, I started letting myself "cheat" I called it and salvage an image here or an image there with a little post-processing. Now I am realizing that post-processing is not cheating. It's just another way of expressing yourself artistically with your camera. I can have the same image not processed and processed and appreciate them on the two different levels in which they exist. I have a new love now for Polaroid photography. Part of the draw there is that I get these very satisfying, processed-looking photographs straight out of the camera. So I'm all over the place I guess, or coming full circle is more like it.
(AW) Why do you think you're drawn to flowers and other natural beauties for your subjects?
(JN) One reason is the colors that occur because nature has the highest skill in color combinations. I tried to take a color theory class in 2001 but I find it easier to learn from botany. Once, I taught my son simply to look outside while drawing or painting to see what colors work well together. Another reason is that I am still in love with bokeh. Bokeh is like oxygen for me because it goes so well with the way I view the world. Focusing on a flower petal or a leaf or a branch and letting my lens blur the rest is a way for me to show what happens naturally in my brain. I get very frustrated sometimes when I cannot get my camera to do what my eyes do automatically, i.e., shutting out the noise and focusing on the beauty in a scene. Overhead power lines are a great example of this kind of frustration.
(AW) What's something that makes you happy? What inspires you?
(JN) Being in nature is one of the most soothing activities for me. Being in a forest or at the ocean gives me perspective. They are so large, so overwhelming, so powerful and beautiful that I cannot worry about my small or even big things in their presence. I can only stand in awe, and breathe it in. Small things that make me happy: pretty paper, buttons, key lime cheesecake, a clean, tidy house, and ruffles!
Artists inspire me every single day, particularly illustrators and graphic designers. I have a keen sense of what is aesthetically pleasing but do not have the software skills to accomplish anything in my mind's eye graphically. So I am in awe of those who can do that.
(AW) ...and in lieu of creating in the world of illustration and graphics, you create beautiful images with your camera, of course! I think your passion is contagious. Thanks for your time and thoughts today, Jessica.