Interview with artist photographer Nicole Small: “Creation of images that evoke emotion”

Interview with artist photographer Nicole Small: "Creation of images that evoke emotion"


Nicole Small is a Montreal photographer. She’s been working independently on several projects involving the “creation of images that evoke emotion.”

It was last month, as I was checking her blog, that I stumbled upon one of her self-portraits. It was a post meant to announce an upcoming photo series following the same path of ideas that she’d kept flowing, and I was intrigued.

Although I couldn’t stop myself from admiring her very aesthetical fashion photography and her work on beauty, there is something to be said about portrait photos in black and white. They seem to be timeless, perfectly imperfect stories that never cease to be relevant, no matter the time or place in which they are told.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, hers are certainly worth unfathomable emotion. Meet Nicole Small: a photographer, an artist, a young woman but an old soul. Anyhow, you’ll have to “take it… or leave it,” because that’s just who she is, and although she doesn’t need to actually “say” anything in her video preview “I AM,” we still hear her loud and clear.

Nicole Small tries to understand human emotional complexity and deserves credit for it. Each piece in itself is a life-form that one gets to experience a “mind meld” with. Some of the themes coming through are emotion, freedom, strength, nature and openness, which harmonize and resonate very well with me, and probably most people with a heart and eyes to see. All you need to do is keep that heart and those eyes open, and let the art do the work until you and it, very quickly and smoothly, become one. Diversity is also a key element in her approach of transcending the image in order to keep with the spirit of nature and human reality.

CT (Chloe Touma): Tell me a little about yourself. How do you like to live in Montreal and what are your hobbies?

NS (Nicole Small): I love Montreal! I love Montreal for its diversity in food, culture and art. Some of my favourite things to do is eating out with good friends trying out the different cultural foods, going out dancing, working out, cycling and walking the streets with my 35mm Minotla camera. I am a sucker for movies! Now what is a movie without popcorn and candy?
I mainly shoot fashion and portraiture and for my personal work, I enjoy dabbling into conceptual photography.

CT: How long have you been working as a freelance photographer?

NS: I have been freelancing for 7 years.

CT: What’s a typical productive day in your life as an artist? Do you work in your own studio for hours?

NS: Typically, most of the time if I am not shooting portraits, I am experimenting with ideas, lighting, and have recently gone back in time and started studying some of the old photography processes that were here way before the digital age. I can sometimes be in the studio for hours, other times I can be at a park or roaming the streets trying to find locations that I feel would suit my ideas.

CT: Did you study in photography or are you a self-taught photographer?

NS: I never studied photography in school, I am self-taught. I pretty much learned from reading books, watching online webinars and from trial and error. I was lucky enough to eventually assist photographer Pascale Therien for one full year back in 2008. She is a wonderful person and I learned so much from her. I could not have asked for a better person to learn from.

CT: What made you develop such a strong passion for photography? Were you always driven by arts in general as well?

NS: Growing up, I was introduced to a lot of different crafty things by my mom. Sewing, crochet, knitting, macrame, just to name a few. Over the years, I never really stuck with any particular one, until 2004, when I one day decided that I wanted to start sewing. There was no real influence other than the fact that I have done it before. It started off pretty innocently and slowly I started to think big! I started a small line called “NIXX,” women’s casual wear. At this time I can say I was influenced by competitive sports in which I played many of them. The idea continued to grow and I ended up finding myself creating clothing not only for my own personal clothing line, but for photo shoots. This was a huge turning point for me. I discovered working alongside photographers that the camera was an amazing tool! I thought to myself, maybe I could photograph my own clothing line. One particular photographer that I can honestly say that has helped me become so passionate about photography was photographer Marc Bourcier. He was one of the photographers that I often shot with in my designing days. One day I decided to ask him if he could show me how to photograph fashion. Without hesitation, he showed me the basics and from then, there was no turning back for me. Till this day, we are still friends!

CT: Which artists have inspired you?

NS: In the beginning, I was inspired by a lot of the old black and white scanned fashion ad campaigns which consisted of a variety of photographers. Today, I can say photographers such as Peter Lindbergh, Karsh and Richard Avedon have inspired me in some ways. It is hard to break it down to just one as there is something in each of their work that I emotionally connect with.

CT: Do you have a specific context to help your creative process? Music? A happening place? Your studio?

NS: Having a studio of my own helps a lot with the creative process as I can play and experiment whenever I want, although I cannot really say that there is a specific place or ambiance that helps me with my creative process as it varies. I don’t like to mentally restrict myself into this way. I can be on a bus, in the studio, watching a movie or reading a book. Ideas come to me everywhere and when they do, I sketch them on paper!

CT: What was the most challenging part of becoming a freelance photographer?

NS: A challenging part is finding consistent work. The industry has become quite saturated and it has become harder and harder to stand out from the crowd. But this does not stop me, it actually inspires me to want to do more and try different things that have me explore out of my own personal space. Finding a fan base is also difficult. Today I am a lot more geared towards personal work, and exhibiting this work.

CT: What’s your most memorable experience?

NS: My most memorable experience was discovering the darkroom and now working in it for most of my personal work.

CT: Which piece of work are you the most proud of?

NS: I would have to say my self-portrait with the feathers. I honestly never saw myself doing this. I cannot tell you exactly what I was feeling when doing them, it was all happening very fluidly. There was no real preparation other than a bag of goodies with a trillion different knick knacks that I picked up from the dollar store. It is amazing how self-portraits have given me a confidence and a clear reflection of myself, and at the same time are very scary. I never realized how personal the images were until weeks later, when looking through my images. Did I really post that for everyone to see? It was as though I was in a zone when doing them, not realizing how much of myself I was revealing. The images were created at a downtime in my life, how I felt powerless and vulnerable to someone who never cared for anything but himself.

CT: Do you have specific themes you prefer to explore in your work?

NS: One thing I love to have come through my images is emotion, real emotion. Continuity of a story line.

CT: Do you have upcoming events or exhibits you’d like to invite people to attend?

NS: Yes I do! If all works out, I am looking to exhibiting some personal work closer to the month of December 2015.

CT: What can we expect? Is what you are currently working on going to be very different and new? Or is it a continuity of your past work?

NS: My work has changed drastically in the last few years: the way I see, what I want and the output. I shoot digitally but find myself mostly shooting film for most of my personal work. It is a challenge, but a challenge I love.

CT: Do you hope to make photography your only career and live off of your art someday?

NS: I do!

Quite dedicated to her art, Nicole is always looking for collaborators who will share her passion with her and work on her amazing projects.

To check out her latest and past work, visit her blog and facebook page, thoughtfully called “One On One Art.”