We recently collaborated with Portland-based photographer Nicole Mason to bring to life this book of her instant photography, fittingly titled Instant. The book catalogues Nicole’s travels abroad as well as here in the Pacific Northwest. Nicole came to the shop and shot the beautiful photos included in this feature. We were thrilled to to work with her and talk to her about her career, putting this project together, and what she’s up to next.
Your work covers a lot of different subjects–from weddings to brand photography to personal projects. Does it all come from the same place for you or do you feel like you put on a lot of different hats?
It does cover a lot of subjects! I started out in photographing weddings back in Western New York where I grew up, but I always marveled at the styled shoots that incorporated more design and concept. When I moved out here to Portland, I sought to work with some brands that aligned with the style I wanted to shoot – earthy, natural, minimal. I do my best to connect the different subjects with a consistent style; that way people can see that I can shoot a variety of subjects with the same outcome and quality. I do have to be cautious at times, because it is easy to try to take on every job, but sometimes it’s best just to tell a client it may not be a good fit.
As for personal work, doing a lot of that helps me to remember what I like to shoot and why. It’s often of my own lifestyle, traveling and meeting people or hanging out with good friends. Images of those times turn out to be some of my favorite because you’re in a totally different environment. That’s usually when everyone is in their most comfortable, relaxed state.
Do you have a favorite subject to shoot?
I can’t say there’s a specific subject, but I really love photographing people who are in their element. When people are truly lost in what they’re doing or who they’re with, and they’re not concerned about the camera at all, that’s when I get my favorite images.
It seems like you have been focusing more on analog photography lately. Has that been an intentional choice? How do you see instant photography fitting into your larger body of work?
I have really been loving film over the last couple of years. I took black and white film classes in college where I developed and printed my own images, but I never really thought I’d do much of it after school. Digital was just more practical to shoot professionally. I found the camera I shot with in college one day (Canon AE-1) and just started to take 35mm color and instant photos (with a Fujifilm wide camera) on outings and road trips with friends. The more I did it, the more I thought about bringing them along to more official shoots and snapping a few. There’s something so real and honest when you shoot with film because you think differently and more intentionally when you can’t see an image right away and when you’ve got a limited number of frames; it’s like my brain switches into a different and more thoughtful mode to capture what’s in front of me.
Let’s talk about printing and books. I’ve heard a few photographers talk about how they see themselves as either “print photographers” or “book photographers.” Do you feel like that, and if so, which do you see yourself as?
I don’t necessarily think of myself as a print photographer or book photographer, however I do think that we’ve let ourselves confine images to screens way too much now. Seeing an image on a page or printed on display brings it to life. There’s far more intention and value that we assign an image just with the act of printing it, rather than simply uploading to the internet where it can easily be passed around, modified or deleted.
I don’t think all work needs to be in print to have meaning or impact, but I do want to get more of my work off screens for future projects, more magazine pieces, lookbooks, and photo books.
Could you tell us a bit about Instant, the book you are releasing with us?
The book is a series of images I’ve curated down from the hundreds I’ve taken with the instant wide Fujifilm film over the last couple years. I often take these on travels (road trips) to document moments with people and places. The photos are so much more unique than digital to me for a couple reasons: you’re more limited; you’ve got that one-shot mentality. The film comes in packs of 10, so usually I’m thinking “I’ve got 10 shots for the next few days” which makes you think much more about what you want to capture. There’s also more room for error with this film, and one of the secret things I like to do is press the pack (where it says not to) to get unpredictable results like light leaks and color. But even if you don’t push it with experiments like that, you never really know how it’s going to come out. The physical temperature, the lighting, the chemicals in the film all vary with each exposure. I also think subjects are more comfortable in front of these kind of cameras because they look like toys. They’re kind of goofy-looking and oversized.
To me, the series of images in the book are a reminder to enjoy the ordinary in life, and to remember that some of the simplest times are what we define our lives by. There’s not a lot of money or fancy things involved, in fact most the situations I was in when taking these were nothing more than driving around with friends and eating cheap food. When I use this camera to shoot, I’m often thinking “what do I want to remember about this time?” and these photos are the answers to that question; they are a lot of the most joy-filled and memorable moments in my life.
What was it like working with your photography in a book format like this?
It was really cool! This is actually the first book of my work I’ve made and had available for people to get their hands on, so it’s really exciting to be able to share it and have it in peoples’ lives.
It’s definitely a lot more work than it looks like – curating down to a select number of photos, scanning in all the images, cutting them out in Photoshop, and then arranging them into the pages and designing the book. It was a great learning experience.
What’s next for you and where can people follow along?
I’m always figuring that out! 🙂 I’ve had my hands full between my studio and van, (@theportlandstudio + @donnathevan on Instagram) they’ve been projects I’ve been pouring all my extra energy and time into aside from keeping up with shooting for my own clients. I’d say you can expect to see more travels and film images – and most likely some sort of new project soon!
Thanks Nicole, we love the books! You can purchase Instant directly from Nicole’s website. Be sure to follow her on Instagram, where she regularly shares her work, travels, and thoughts on art and creativity.