In celebration of the wonderful Nikki Toole and her new photography book, ‘Skater’, which is being launched at Geelong Gallery this month, we sat down with the artist herself and had a chat about her process, travelling and creativity itself.
So you are Scottish by birth, how did you come to live in Australia? … And why Melbourne?
I am indeed Scottish. I have lived in Australia for 11 years. My partner and I thought it would be fun to live here for a while, even though we had never visited before. We lived in Sydney for 6 months and came to Melbourne for the weekend and fell in love with the city. It has everything we need and there is always something interesting to do. If it had pine forests and was closer to Europe it would be perfect.<
Do you think your upbringing in Scotland has influenced your style and work?
I think any artist’s upbringing would influence their work to some degree. My parents were very interested in art and cinema and my father taught us to paint and appreciate art from an early age. There were always interesting books to read and we were exposed to cinema, dance, music and art. I grew up in a small village near Edinburgh next to a forest with lochs and castles nearby. Using my imagination came easily. I will always be Scottish first before anything else.
You seem to move around a lot, how has travel influenced you?
Many of my best memories are from my travels and my experiences working in Paris and the USA, I lived in London for 15 years and love that city. Travelling is one of my greatest loves. I believe that travel makes you fall in love with the world and realise that wherever you go on this planet we are all essentially the same.
I planned on becoming a cinematographer and studied Film, but discovered the darkrooms one day and the large format cameras. I enjoyed exploring my narrative ideas through photography taking my inspiration from film. Working alone on a project is more fun for me as I don’t have to compromise and can work at my own pace.
Your photography explores portraiture in a really simple but beautiful way. What do you aim to capture when you are taking someone’s photo?
I always have a conceptual idea before I start a project or a session. I am inspired by Carl Jung and film-makers that explore the human psyche, such as David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman. My subjects are always placed in a mindset that I have observed through personal experience or while watching them.
Is your creative process an emotional one?
I wouldn’t say it’s emotional as such. It’s so much fun. The prep is the tough part, finding subjects, especially when travelling. Many of my interactions are fleeting. We meet, talk a little so they understand the concept and then they disengage while I shoot. Even though I use digital now, I only shoot 5 frames per person. This comes from my film days or being very conscious of the limitations of film stock. I also feel if I can’t get it after 5 shots its not going to happen.
With people all around able to see your work almost instantly, do you believe there’s even such thing as cultural context anymore?
That’s the magical thing about art, it can resonate with different people for different reasons. I present my view and their experiences determine how they will interpret it.
What tools do you use to make your work?
I did use a Pentax 6×7 and a manfrotto tripod. I sometimes take a silver reflector with me. I always use daylight only. This makes the process easier for everyone participating. While shooting in the USA my images were blurry and I couldn’t understand why. My retina had detached 90% and I couldn’t focus properly. I lost a lot of great skater shots that were fun to shoot. My retina was lasered back on and I bought a Canon Mark 2 and a good 50mm lens. I now always use live view to make sure my image is in focus.
Did you want to be a photographer as a kid? Was photography all you wanted to do?
I wanted to be a cinematographer from an early age and my projects always take their inspiration from my personal experiences, film and painting. My end product is a photograph but looking at other photography has never really been part of my process.
Is there any advice you would offer to young artists starting out?
Don’t care what anyone thinks of your work as long as you are happy making it. Feedback can be interesting but nothing more than that. Everyone has an opinion on everything. People always say to me ‘why don’t your subjects smile, I would have had them smiling’. I tell them that we don’t walk around smiling all day, its not our natural state (especially when skating) and when they shoot their Skater project they can have their subjects smiling. Have an interest in as many things as possible. An enquiring mind is the best education. Read books and watch old movies. If people like your work, that is lovely and I appreciate everyone who supports my work, but never depend on that for validation. When you depend on that you will lose yourself and produce work that you think other people will want to see. This type of success is very short lived and too much hard work. Be kind and have fun. Those two things get you very far indeed.
What are three qualities that are really important to you personally as a creative
It must be enjoyable otherwise what’s the point. An enquiring mind.. I have a thought and am curious to see how that would translate into a photograph. Kindness. Never exploit your subject.
Original text from PRJKTR By Stacey Williams .