Featured Artist Interview: Nicholas Bell
With a stunning catalog of moody and atmospheric black and white photography, Tennessee-based photographer Nicholas Bell’s passion to capture a moment in time rarely ceases. Zatista’s contributing writer Nancy Cost talks to Bell about inspirations, hurdles, and favorite recent photographs.
How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve been photographing with a purpose for about twelve years, over twenty counting the hobby years.
What are three favorite photographs recently shot?
“The Journey”, “Silence” and “Lakeshore Trees”
How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh?
Motivation comes fairly easy because I’m never satisfied for very long and I have an incredible passion for photography. I also have a huge catalog of images in my mind that I’m always searching for so it feels like a never ending treasure hunt. Many times I have to force myself to slow down on my photography so I can do the other necessary things in life.
As far as keeping things fresh, for me this just comes from wanting to grow creatively. There are definitely times of frustration when things feel stagnant, but usually all it takes is me getting in the right place at the right time again and the inspiration comes right back.
What’s the best part about being a photographer?
One of my photographs (“The Journey”) was inspired by a personal loss. A few weeks ago I visited a gallery where the image was being exhibited, and found that it had sold. The gallery owner explained to me that the person who bought it cried when he saw it, saying that it reminded him of the loss of his father. Knowing that my work has touched someone on an emotional level is the best thing about being a photographer.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Self-promotion. I tend to be a fairly quiet and reserved person so I’m never entirely comfortable walking into a gallery and talking about myself and my work. I do it, and I do it often, but it doesn’t feel very humble and there is always considerable anxiety involved.
What types of environments inspire you to make photographs?
I like to convey a strong sense of mood in my photos so I’m always looking for atmospheric environments. Scenes that inspire me range from the very tranquil to mysterious, as long as a scene has a dramatic element or conveys a particular mood, I’m usually attracted to it.
Some of my favorite times for photography are when conditions outside are anything but sunny. I like to photograph in fog, rain, and falling snow – these conditions can create some beautifully dynamic moods, and qualities of light.
How much do you digitally alter your images before making prints?
I always make some adjustments, it really just depends how much adjusting they need. I usually adjust the contrast or do some dodging and burning if I feel it will convey a stronger mood in the image. I almost always do some amount of sharpening as well.
The adjustments I make specifically for printing usually deal with luminosity levels so that the print looks as close as possible to what is represented on the computer.
Do you have favorite places you like to go and shoot?
One of my favorite places is Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a historic settlement site located in a valley and is one of the most inspiring places I’ve been. It gets a lot of fog and has a mysterious and rugged beauty that changes dramatically with the seasons. There are fence lined country roads, cabins and churches from the 1800’s, and horses in the fields. My absolute favorite time to photograph there is after a heavy snow. The trees that line the narrow roads get heavy with snow and hang low creating a real ‘winter wonderland’ feeling. I truly feel privileged to live only an hour away from such a beautiful place.
Who’s the first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Michael Kenna. I saw his work for the first time in the mid 80s and remember feeling an instant connection to it. Something about his images felt very personal to me, almost as if I am there. His work makes an instant and lasting impact on me and it inspired me to explore the art of photography.
What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t yet have?
The only piece of equipment I feel like I’m missing is a four wheel drive. My favorite time for photography is in the winter and I miss many opportunities for great images simply because I can’t get there. Living just outside the Smoky Mountains, it is very hilly and it gets hard to get around, even after a light snow. The roads in the mountains are often only open to four wheel drives, so this is something I really look forward to getting.
Where do you see your work in 5 years?
I hope my work is still evolving and that I’m still growing creatively. I don’t really have specific expectations as far as venues or exhibits. I measure my success as a photographer on the quality of my work and how well I’m able to express myself through my images. So far, I’ve found that if I work hard and with enough passion, good things happen and opportunities open up.
What’s hanging on the walls at your house?
I would love to be able to say Michael Kenna, Paul Kozal, and Rodney Smith, but currently my art budget only allows for a collection of my own work. Maybe someday!
What would our readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m a bit of a technophobe. ‘Technophobe’ is probably not the correct word, but while most photographers I know are very “techy”, I’m very much the opposite. I don’t get very excited about the latest and greatest cameras or gadgets that come out, and I’m sure I don’t even know everything my camera can do.
I think learning to use a camera to take sharp, properly exposed pictures is easy. To me the art of photography and what interests me the most are the things that technology can’t do – developing vision and style, learning what to photograph, what to leave out, and how to photograph with expression.