Nicola Davison Reed is a photographer based in Nottingham, UK. Her dark and often haunting black and white work toys with themes of identity, fragility and gestures.
What was it that attracted you to photography during that long hot summer of 1976 in Blackpool?
The Instamatic Camera and the fact that my muse, my big sister who was a shy teenager, refused to have her picture taken, so it was fun trying to grab her portrait. Also photographing my parents chilling out in rolled up trousers and a bra (my mum not my dad). Capturing them taking time out, the four kids were safe playing the the sand dunes and their work was miles away. Blackpool was where it was at that moment in time and I was enjoying the instant capturing of it.
In a number of your images each of your images there’s the removal or obscuring of the face — is there a specific reason behind this?
When I shoot portraits, the face and they eyes are everything. When I shoot conceptual the face is a mask, so I am playing with the idea of identity, the soul versus the body and also using the body more as a frame, a structure to convey a mood. Also the face blurred retains anonymity which I like.
What is your creative process for each shot? Talk us through from idea to shooting and editing.
Each type of photography has a different approach. If I walk you through conceptual… I might be working on edits from a business shoot, perhaps a family portrait. I may have been working flat out, after busting a gut in the shoot, (believe me I really do work up a sweat), and then re-focusing just as hard on the processing and creating of galleries. So within that my mind may wander, I think it rescues me, it says “time out, do something personal, something creative.” I may be listening to some music at the time, or I may refer to a note I had made about a picture I wanted to create. Then i set up my tripod and experiment. I fail a lot, I experiment again. The first idea may metamorphose into something completely different or I may just bin the whole experiment. It’s all trial and error. With street photography I take my camera with the same lens I always use for street portraits. I take my street cards, which have photos of of all my past portraits and hit the streets. If i see someone who takes my eye, it might be because of their style or the way they walk, their eyes, or the way they look at me with eye contact without even seeing my camera. I approach them, never from behind, and explain my 30 Seconds of Street Portrait project and hand them a card and hopefully if the wind is blowing in the right direction, the birds are singing and the moon is on my side, we make a portrait together. My business work is done in my natural light studio. I shoot mono portraits with available light.
What is it about black and white photography that appeals to you? Do you ever work in colour?
I love the old masters Atget, Kertesz, Adams, Maier, Woodman, Arbus, Claude Cahun, Bresson, Duane Michals and contemporaries like Sally Mann, Giles Duley, Bernd Schaefers, Lawrence Del Mundo, Betina La plant, Sarah Lawrie, Brett Walker, Chris Floyd, John Free and so on. BW just appeals to me, conversely I love the bold colours of Parr & Dougie Wallace. Yes I work in colour, if colour shouts “hey don’t change me to BW you fool” then I do.
The way you work with identity and anonymity is really compelling. Each single image leaves the viewer with questions. What feelings are you hoping your viewers are left with?
When I add images to my Saatchi site they always ask you three questions. One of which is this question you have asked. The answer is always the same. I do not want to impress anything on the viewer other than that of their own feelings. I cannot possibly know or begin to imagine what a viewer will feel, I only know how I feel when I make the picture. After that the rest is up to anyone else. It’s for them not for me.
Is there an element of therapeutic practice within your work?
Absolutely, I have always taken photographs, beginning with that summer. Then as a teenager my dad bought me an SLR with developing kit. In my bedsit I would take and develop and enlarge my own pictures. This continued for some years, I moved to London, needed some cash or probably owed rent and flogged my camera to my then boyfriend. Photography stopped. Years later I moved back to my hometown, met my husband, had a family, bought myself a bridge camera — a Sony Powershot with Carl Zeiss lens. My love affair with photography recommenced, this time digitally. I photographed everything, I took my camera to bed and took those early morning shots of my babies when they toddled into my room. I was getting older. I had done a bachelors degree whilst having my babies in the hope that I could get more than farm or bar work to help put food on the table. I was wrong. I was not even on the shortlist for a receptionist at a museum and I failed at an interview for a secretary on a flower farm, the same farm I had picked flowers for years earlier. Everything was starting to look a bit bleak. Then I became pregnant with my third child. This was not meant to be and at my 3 month scan I learnt that my third child had not survived inside. Through grief and a sense of confused maternal longing, sitting on my doorstep smoking rollies, wondering where my child was (the invisible bond takes time to dissolve, if ever it does, but it does become easier) I made a decision. That a job with photography would become my third baby. I knew I had miserable attempts at finding work and I knew that I had to work, so at my lowest I decided I would raise my work in photography as if it was that child I lost. I would nurture it, I would comfort it, learn from it, research it, behold it, cherish it, go through many stages with it, get exasperated by it, worry about it, be fearful for it but most of all love it. So yes, there is a large element of therapeutic practice to my work. …not all doom and gloom though, it’s all very good in the hood.
What are you working on next?
Keep loving and respecting what I do.
@nicoladavisonreed on Instagram.