Portrait & Landscape Photography w/ Nicole Helena

Nicole Helena
I. C. Contemporary

Ignazio Colt Nicastro: Welcome everyone, to I. C. Contemporary's First Digital Exhibition and artist interview. Today, we'll be walking through Nicole Helena's exhibition and be gaining an inside perspective on her work. So Nicole,for our first question, what do you hope to achieve with your practice?

Nicole Helena: So right now, I'm so in the midst of figuring out what I really want my work to achieve. I graduated from college last year and in this past year, I have solely worked in the commercial industry and there's things that I really love about the commercial industry. But on the other hand, I've been introduced to some amazing photographers who have amazing goals and they really influenced me greatly. Their work has meaning and they're trying to achieve a positive change in the world rather than simply creating advertising to sell products and et cetera. So it's a bit - I'm still a bit confused. And putting together this exhibition also made me realize I really enjoy fine arts and maybe trying to achieve something greater with my work is something that I'd love to do.But for now, some sort of balance between the two commercial and fine arts, I think would be like the ideal end goal. So that's pretty much where I'm at right now.

ICN: Just to lead off of that point you made before about making a change with the photography or with the work you're doing, not just on the marketing means. Do you have any early stage ideas that you want to do, what you'd want your art to speak to?

NH: I haven't put that much thought into it, but for me personally, in the year alone that I've been in the industry, I've noticed a lot of gender inequality. I think that's something that I would love my work to push past. It's a bit hidden, but I'd love to work on that a bit. But then there's also so many inequalities in the world. That are so much bigger than my experiences that I would love to bring light to. So it's a bit hard trying to pick one specific one. Whatever I can I can tackle. I think I'd love to start that first.

ICN: How old were you when you started photography and what drew you in to actually continue that practice?

NH: When I was a kid, maybe like ten or eleven years old, my sister, my older sister got a digital camera.And I remember I was so jealous of her and I would steal her camera all the time. And my parents eventually, you know, they got me my own digital camera, which was a big deal as a kid back in, like, I don't even know what year it was, like 2007 or something like that. I basically photographed everything that was in sight around me, and I did that all throughout elementary school and high school and college. And it wasn't actually until I finished my first diploma in a different study that I realized I could actually pursue a career in photography. And it actually wasn't until I started my bachelors degree in photography that I realized that I had so many options. And there's there's such a huge world of photography that I had no idea existed. I didn't think I was allowed to be a photographer just because, you know, a career in the arts is like pretty much heavily frowned upon yet. Once I started my bachelor's degree, I realized it was just an endless opportunity for anyone to really have a career photography and there's lots of money to be made. If that's something that you're worried about.

ICN: You did two years in VCA at Sheridan, right?

NH: Yes, I did. I love to paint and draw and sculpt as well. But I found that photography was just like my number one love.

ICN: Now that we've covered the foundation of your practice, I would love to jump into this exhibit at hand, which is actually your first ever solo exhibition. Is there one piece in this exhibit you would love just to highlight and talk about?

NH: So I have two favorite pieces in the show right now. The first one is the piece Reykjahlid. It's a very dark landscape photo of a mountain. And it just, I, I didn't expect that photo. I took it while I was on a trip and Iceland and I had no idea that I could take a photo like that. And I just love the emotion that comes from it and. It has like it's a very dark piece, but there's sunlight shining on top of the mountain. It brings so much emotion and it's so moody and there's just so much I love about it.

ICN: There's something about how dark it is and then that little cascade of light pours over the mountain. It really does speak to the audience.I know that went in there actually sending in the exhibit when it's framed and in person, you really can see the texture of every little bit of it, despite how dark it can be around the edges.But that one spot of the light honestly turns this piece into something that's ethereal.

NH: Yeah. Printing that piece and getting it framed was a huge challenge for me, especially as someone, you know, I've never done a solo. I've never really exhibited anything before. And suddenly I have to print this huge black photo. And for anyone who knows anything about printing, blacks are pretty difficult to work with. And then having to frame it and getting the proper gloss, it was all such a difficult experience because it was so dark and shiny that the glass was reflecting it. It was pretty much a mirror. So I had to do the research and get the proper glass and everything. So that was a bit of a challenge. The second one was the wall of Polaroids.

ICN: One of my personal favorites, too.

NH: Yes. I had no idea that I could put together something like that. And I didn't even really realize that I had work that look like that. So when I was putting it together, I was pretty shocked at myself, but in a good way. I was very happy to see that outcome. Most of those photos were taken on a road trip I took to the States. And it was just something that I'd always really wanted to do, but never had the chance. And I never had the funds either. But it was right after my graduation. My boyfriend and I went on that road trip all the way down to Georgia and there's just something about the states that's so, so beautiful to me, even though, you know, America can be somewhat of a mess sometimes. It's just this ascetic of The United States and the beauty that their country has. And it was also a time where I, last year I had a mini instant Polaroid camera and I just wasn't getting the right photos I wanted from it. I found that the photos themselves were too small and they didn't hold too much detail. So I invested in a larger Polaroid camera and I just like absolutely fell in love with the format. It was just so much and it still is so much fun to photograph things with you, to just hold your camera and have it printed on site is just such a magical feeling. And, you know, it's been quite a challenge working with the camera because you don't always get what you want and it's not a manual camera, so, you can't choose the settings you like. So on that trip was really when I got to use the camera and learn to its full potential how it works. And it was just such a beautiful moment for me as a photogrpaher to have these landscapes and all these idealized landscapes that I was creating. And, you know, seeing the final results while I was still in front of, like, whatever I was looking at, it was that. Yeah, really great experience.

ICN: Yeah, I can totally get that in the way you explain this process is very almost intimate, like intimate relationship between you and the point camera. And it's funny because I get that similar feeling when I'm looking at your portraits. They're so strong in color, they're dynamic and again, very intimate with the viewer. And it's seeing that very intimate with you as well. Is there any inspiration behind these portraits or any photographer you look up to who helped guide you in this direction?

NH: You know, I have a bunch of, like, entire lists and books of photographers and artists and cinematographers that inspire me daily. So a lot of it is aspects pulled from all the other artists that I admire. But usually each portrait I take is often driven by an emotion inspired by my real life experiences. So I will interpret whatever I'm feeling or whatever I'm going through and I'll interpret that and turn it into something visual and then that emotion that I'm feeling is communicated to my model and then they work, whatever I give them, they'll they'll work with it. But sometimes I just have a visual end goal that I'm working towards, whether it just be one strong graphic element or maybe I just want something that's completely blue and white and maybe I just want something that's very graphically strong and incorporates, you know, like just basic shapes into the actual portrait. So sometimes it'll just be that visual goal that I have and communicate to my model. And they take whatever they're seeing on set and they portray that emotion through their bodies and their movement. So it's a, it's a better mix of both.

ICN: Between those now, between the landscapes and the portraits, do you have a preference of the two, what you actually prefer working with? Or how are you currently torn between the two of them?

NH: Yeah, yeah. So I'm honestly not sure which I prefer the most, but I think it's okay not to have a favorite. I've balanced between wanting to shoot products full time to shooting landscapes to shooting portraits, and I just love them all so much. And I think each category has its own pros and cons. For example, sometimes it can be hard working with models. And sometimes they don't have enough experience you're looking for. Sometimes they just don't understand the emotion that you're trying to portray. And then sometimes you get to work with the model who it seems like there in your mind and they know exactly what you want and the whole shoot just passes by like a breeze. And then shooting landscapes is difficult because sometimes you don't get to choose the weather. I mean, you really get to choose the weather remaining landscapes and you're kind of left with whatever Mother Nature decides to give you that day. And then sometimes when you're shooting landscapes, it can be hard to work around your schedule when you're traveling. Sometimes you have a really tight schedule for that day. You don't have the time to sit around and wait for the sky or the sun to be in the right position that you want it to be on. So it's a bit hard. So sometimes, sometimes you get the perfect day and everything is going so perfectly and things are happening and it's all magical. And then sometimes you get so many setbacks and so many challenges to get through. And it's just, every genre of photography has that.

ICN: Mhmhm, I can see that. So now I want to actually acknowledge the back wall, which is truthfully so astounding. It covers interiors, exteriors, hierarchy's, horizon lines. I know I keep saying this, but it is also another favourite part of this show. It really just draws me in cause it's so complex in nature and there's just a wide range and subject matter and you came up with this collection all on your own to exhibit. Could you tell us a little bit about your thought process behind the selection of works to be presented here?

NH: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I'm not even sure I'll be able to put this in words. It was honestly really hard putting that together, and I wasn't even sure I'd ever be able to come to a final layout just because I had such a large pool of work to pull from. And, you know, I, I went between many themes of maybe I should keep these old black and white and maybe I should keep these all warm colors, or maybe I should do like a mix between warm and cool colors. And it took me hours upon hours trying to sort this all out. But in the end, I kind of went for a mix of film photography and my favorite digital shots. So I think most of those photos in the back wall are all of my film photography, which within the past year have really blossomed into. And I really am pursuing a lot more film photography nowadays. And so it was just a mix of my favorite black and white film shots, and I was trying to balance the color photos I had in there to kind of match and not feel overwhelming.

ICN: Yeah, there is a great level of tonal range between the black and white throughout the piece, and then with the glow from Morning Comfort and the bronze on Midnight Black paired with the sunlight casting over Transience up against all these black and whites, it really just came together on this wall. And even through this digital walk through you'll be seeing, it comes together so nicely.

NH: Thank you. Yeah. That was also something - I noticed that my black and white photography so dark and almost, you know, almost depressing and and very moody. So I have those few shots of, you know, like the light and the sun that really makes me feel warm inside. So it was a it was a mix of those as well.

ICN: We're even in a gloomy and dark time now and I guess my next question leads to that, is during this time at home in isolation, have you been staying creative? Have you had the means to make new work or edit old work or to continue your practice during isolation.

NH: Yeah. So I actually haven't shot any photos at all during this quarantine, which is a bit sad. But I've been pursuing other things. And yeah, I didn't go back and edit some older content. It was, you know, a really nice feeling to look back on my older work and see how much I've grown. But I've, um, I've actually been pursuing quite a few new projects in different areas. I did-I did those two years in my past dipolma of painting and drawing in, et cetera. So since starting my bachelors and graduating last year, I haven't been able to get away from photography. So these past few months in quarantine I've been painting and drawing and sewing, and I've gotten quite a few projects that I've been working on. So it's been really nice, honestly, to do to get the time to work on those.

ICN: Of course. And I'm really thankful, and I'm sure you are too, that we have the luxury of being able to sit here and have this conversation and continue our practice and be able to stay creative during these times.

NH: Exactly. We are very lucky

ICN: So hopefully something amazing comes out of it. For our last question for today, outside of the exhibit, is there a photo that you've taken that you absolutely just adore? You just love to pieces and it didn't quite fit the exhibit, but you know it's a great photo.

NH: I have two possible answers for this. There's this one photo of a tree that I've taken. It was a photo that I took on a medium format film camera, and it was my first time experiencing medium format film. You know, shooting in the fog is really difficult and in the photo it turned out, I mean, I just adore it. The tones and everything, the contrast in that one photo of the tree. It just it's so beautiful to me. And it really speaks to me. And I really, just really, really love that photo so much. But then also, it's not just a single photo, but, this one time I have this series of photos when I visited a honey bee farm in Milton and I happened on it completely by chance. And coincidentally, I had my camera with me. So I spent the afternoon traveling and photographing the beekeeper as she was working. And she told me all about the honey bees and it was just a really amazing experience to see it firsthand. You know, having the honey bees crawling all over me and all of my camera and just learning about this woman, this beekeeper. She had an amazing stor and the house she lived in is actually like a heritage site. And she took me through the house and told me the story of her house. And it was just such a beautiful afternoon that I spent with her. And I was privileged to photograph her and the bees. And that series of photos, I think that was one of the first times I've ever really documented something in real life, and it was just, I don't know, it's just something about that series  in whole, it just really speaks to me. It was really an awesome experience.

ICN: Thank you so much for taking the time with the interview, because there is so much in this that I actually thought I knew that I did not know.

NH: Wow

ICN: So you taught me a lot today, too so that's great. Thank you so much.

NH: Thank you.

ICN: Just a reminder to everyone that all of her works are for sale. And if any questions or inquires about purchasing a piece, please contact myself. And please be sure to check out the digital gallery that was fully developed by Luigi Cody Nicastro that will allow you to stroll through this exquisite exhibition at your own pace. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next time.