Nicolette Clara Iles is a photographer and writer based in London. She uses her experiences of borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder to influence her surrealistic photography. Her photography is “inspired by the surreal and turning the real into the surreal, along with early photographic inspirations (such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Pictorialism etc).” She uses colour and form to illustrate feelings and tell a story in image-form.
What is your background in photography? How did you get into it and how would you describe your work?
I always loved taking pictures but I first got into photography during and after a 6-month stay in a psychiatric ward as a teenager. I snuck a disposable camera into the building and took film pictures of my surroundings etc. When I left, I started doing self-portraits on a little pocket digital camera then got a cheap SLR soon after. It was then I started doing portraits and more artistic ‘work’ with my photography. At 16, I began doing test shoots with agency models and friends etc. I would describe my work as surreal and based in colour with emotion mostly.
How do your own experiences with mental health (you mention your BPD diagnosis) manifest in your work?
Well I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder first, then BPD so technically it’s a co-morbid diagnosis that I deal with. I never used to see that it manifested within my work until I was told that my photographs were very ‘emotional’, then I realised that indeed how I feel corresponds with how images turn out, and even the ideas behind them, too. I recently did a shoot that was a gentle nudge towards my symptoms, with scissors to represent ‘cutting off’ and I think my common usage of hands within my work shows a lot of personal things. I also created a ‘demon’ character who was supposed to be the version of myself I fight with.
How important is process to you? What is it like to create the work for you?
Process, especially recently, is quite important to me. If I feel a certain way, it almost always shows in the images. I find the build-up to creating an image exciting but also exhausting, in the way that it takes up a lot of energy to be excited and the worry of getting it ‘right’. I like to have a calm atmosphere when I’m shooting for everyone involved, all the while pushing to get the shapes and forms the way I initially imagined them to show through.
Where does the value lie in your work — in the creating, or the final piece?
If I can say both, then yes both! Sometimes it feels as though, once a story or image has come into fruition, that it’s like ‘right, I can move on from that chapter now’ and sometimes it’s something that never ends and continues to be a theme within my work and life. I like seeing the final result and it being how I imagined, or even different in a better way, but the creation of that is part of it, too.
What do you hope viewers take from your work?
Feelings, I just want people to feel ‘something’ when they view my work. Whether that be disgust or love or even a relatable, familiar feeling, just something that takes away from the sometimes-dull aspects of life – colourful emotion, that’s how i’d put it perhaps.
What are you working on now?
I currently would like to venture into more self-portraiture and also creating characters from other people, based on these real and unreal selves – a series of these would be ideal. I also am hoping to work into doing art therapy for people, combining my experiences with both art and the mind to help others fulfil expressing via creation.