INTERVIEW // Nick Tucker
THE DEPTHS OF LONDON, ENGLAND
Nick Tucker, former writer for British street artist Banksy, turned photographer is our next feature on ARC and we are over the moon to have him join us. Nick’s wit and charm is evident and he is very open about how he feels about wedding photography and his relationship to it. Nick tells us about his inspiration from photography books, his love for shooting fashion and being part of a street photography collective.
Interview by Sachin Khona // March 2016
Portrait of Nick by Stephen Bunn
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
Hi Nick. Stoked to have you on ARC. Can you tell us Where is home for you and where do you work? Have you always lived there or was there a conscious choice to move to where you currently live?
I live in the depths of London. It is a forgotten place. A place of slow turning traffic. If you Google London it just comes up with a blank page and the words ‘Here be Dragons.’ Very few people have ever heard of London. I like it that way. I hope this doesn’t spoil it.
In what way, if any, does your location influence your work?
To be honest I don’t think it does. With photography being the visual medium it is and those images being so accessible these days, I kind of live inside a placeless world of photographs from everywhere all at once. I’m as much influenced by the American exteriors of Stephen Shore, Larry Sultan and Todd Hido, as I am the exterior world I happen to live in.
Humans are everywhere dragging the human condition with them.
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
I didn’t know it for a very long time. I studied photography at A’level, but if you look at my A’level work there is absolutely no signs of any nascent talent whatsoever. That’s not faux humility. I think I took one good photo in two years. When I’m old and famous and archival historians dig around my early work they will politely gloss over those years and pretend they never happened. Then skip 20 years until I really picked up the camera again at 38, and I was like, “Oh, I remember this. This is fun.”
Do you have a designated workspace or office? Do you have a picture to share of that?
You don’t want to see my workspace. Picture one of those TV documentaries about hoarders where you can’t see the floor and there’s a large section of the room devoted to mouldering pizza boxes, a desk that you can barely tell is a desk where the computer monitor appears to be floating on a sea of detritus and a mouse pad that’s ringed in coffee stains.
Towers of photography books lean against the wall and threaten to collapse.
Do you feel there was a turning point, monumental time, or series of events in your life that you were felt as though you were on the right path in regards to your photography career that bought you to where you are now?
There’s a photo I took about two years ago. It’s at a wedding. At about ten at night. It was on the groom’s family home and they had a bridal-white bouncy castle. One of the guests, drunk and giddy on the fact the wedding had a bouncy castle, managed to break his nose, doing some kind of backflip that involved hitting himself in the face with his own knee.
I took a shot of him pinching the bridge of his nose with blood dripping onto his white shirt and his friends laughing at the fact I was taking a photo. That was a big turning point for me, because it made me realize if you approach it in the right way you can shoot anything.
There’s a tendency in wedding photography to pretty everything up, but a wedding is an inherently glamorous day, you don’t have to guild the lily. But equally you don’t want to lose sight of the fact that it is a wedding day. For me it’s still a happy image. The guests look good, they look happy, they’re laughing. What’s not to like?
Can you describe your style via a series of 10 photos that you feel define the work you’ve done in the last year and where possible describe why each one was included.
Editor’s note: These images are spread throughout the interview.
What inspires and motivates you?
Photography inspires me. But I have to admit I never, ever look at wedding photography. It feels too inward looking to look at other wedding photographers’ work. And let’s face it, as good as some wedding photography can be – and it can be very good – the best of it doesn’t even come close to the best of photography out there. In my own work what I like to do is look for little moments that are a microcosm of life, rather than of a wedding day. Something that could resonate with people who weren’t at the wedding and aren’t even getting married.
High-end snapshots of real life is what I’m always striving for. I’m not a fan of hero shots – shots that have taken careful orchestration say more about the photographer than they do the subjects, and really, who cares about the photographer? That’s okay in fashion but documentary should be all about the subject.
What creative training do you do outside of your work?
My feeling is beyond a couple of workshops when you’re starting out training is kind of pointless. There seems to be a bit of a personality cult around workshops these days and for me they seem to benefit the speaker much more than they do the attendees. Although, before I alienate everyone in the industry, I do think the multi-photographer events like Snap and Nine Dots etc do offer a lot more bang for your buck. Plus the beers and community part shouldn’t be underestimated. But I do have a problem with a lot of very average photographers passing on their ‘expertise’ because it’s a good business model for them, not for the people on the course, paying the money. And besides, the things you can teach about photography aren’t the things worth learning. It’s not about f-stops or ISO or that swirly pattern you can super-impose onto a photograph to show how clever your composition is.
A great photograph has something intangible about it, and what that is you’re just going to have to work out for yourself, on your own.
The most important thing I think you can do — certainly for me — is to not get stuck in any one discipline. As well as shooting weddings I shoot fashion, author portraits and street photography. I’m part of a great collective called The 8 Street, which is equal parts holiday, photographers’ jolly and very focused street shooting. The variety really is the most important part of all this for me. Shooting mostly one thing and I very quickly feel as though I’m both stagnating and going slightly mad. Fashion is a great balance to weddings as well because it feels left brain, right brain. Weddings are inherently reactive and fashion is inherently pro-active. I even shot behind the scenes tour stills for X-Factor winners, Little Mix recently. If it’s people photography I want to be doing it whatever it is. Well, except maybe stop-frame claymation and those family studio shoots where the kids have to look delighted by beach balls because they’re slightly more fun than a hoop and a stick. But apart from that, all of it.
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
I usually binge on photography books. I have about a £1,000 a year photography book habit. But I don’t see it as a frivolous luxury. I kind of see it as essential really. Each new book is nourishing. It feeds a desire to do better work.
You’re absorbing the photographic language and that can’t help but make you a better photographer. In about half of the photos included here I’ve referenced various photographers. That doesn’t mean I’ve set out to imitate them. It just means that at the time of taking the photo you kind of sense that you’re inhabiting the world of a particular photographer and bounce off that.
How do you know when a piece of your work is finished and needs no additional work?
My feeling is you always need to stop before the viewer can see what you’ve done to a photograph. The processing should be in the background, not part of the picture. Again we’re talking weddings here. I love Ellen Von Unwerth’s contrasty hard light fashion images, but I feel documentary should be about the subject. That’s not to say you shouldn’t recognize the photographer behind the camera. William Klein has an incredibly distinctive eye, but it’s never at the expense of the subject. Unlike, say, Dougie Wallace, whose uniformly hard, unflattering processing creates a brutal and ugly aesthetic which just invites the viewer to judge the subjects in the same way Wallace does.
Are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share? Or Best piece of career advice you were ever given?
Take the photographs you want to see in the world. If you try and second guess the market or play to the current trends or ape the latest cool photographer name you’re already a watered down version of something that’s not you in the first place.
Do you have a photograph burned in your memory that you never took but wish you had?
Yes. I was in Southern India about five years ago with my wife. We’re on a bus barreling along a country road the way Indian bus drivers like to barrel along country roads and suddenly out of the forest, lit by a magical beam of soft evening light an Indian man in a loin cloth appeared carrying a large, long, dark, knotty piece of wood across his shoulders. He looked Christ-like, as if he was making his way towards his own crucifixion. I must have seen him for a second, two at the most, but that image still haunts me. Of course Steve McCurry has books full of images like that, but one would do me.
Can you share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
I can’t, sorry. It’s all kind of instinctual. So just be open to that.
What are the 3 most important things in your personal life?
My wife and cat, my family & friends and the photo I haven’t taken yet.
Do you work in any other fields of business?
I used to be a writer. I was employed to be professionally sarcastic for Banksy for a while. I’m currently writing a novel that’s nothing to do with the industry.
What was your hardest / painful creative failure to deal with and what did it teach you?
I did a woodland bridal fashion shoot once, where I didn’t really establish ahead of time that it would be shot my way. I felt compromised and the images ended up looking like horribly generic bridal shots. It taught me that, if it’s not you, it’s better to turn something down than take it on just because it might get you some industry mileage.
What will you be doing (or hope to be doing) 5/10 years from now?
I would hope I’m still shooting weddings – I really do see them as sanctioned street photography. Where else do you get the chance to photograph people running through all kinds of crazy emotions without someone coming up to you and telling you to fuck off?
But I’d also like to be doing more fashion. So more of an equal split between the two.
Can you share an image that you’re particularly proud of and tell us why?
The shot above that I’m proud of is of an LBGT drag act called The Familyyy Fierce. Only one of them knew about my photography before I turned up and they were initially a little guarded. I got this shot within the hour and in a way it feels like a mix of fashion, social commentary and, believe it or not, bridal prep – knowing how to shoot chaos and put people at ease even though you’re pointing a camera at them is a key part of portraiture. Mario Testino is an okay photographer but a genius at getting people to relax.
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule? What within your work do you not like to do and why?
My daily schedule is a blur of forgotten promises, best intentions and too much whisky.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
Are there any mantras that you live by?
Do you own thing.
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how else would you express your creativity?
I would write.
If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
In a numb panic achieving very little. So business as usual really.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
I doubt it constantly. Every time I pick up a camera I think I’m going to fall short of the standards I’ve set myself. And I don’t think you ever work through it. I think it’s necessary. I think it’s how you stay on your toes and keep raising the bar for yourself.
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
That we’re all just people, trying to get along and trying to make it through the day.
A question that I haven’t asked but should have or something you’d like to share with others?
You haven’t asked me about my new shoes. They’re green leather. I’m very fond of them.
Also, you didn’t ask me if I liked fashion photographer Guy Bourdain. If you were to ask me if I liked fashion photographer Guy Bourdain, I would reply yes I do. I like him tremendously.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
Your Favourite Podcasts
Music // Share a Spotify playlist
Here’s one I have patronizingly called Girls:
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading
40 Stories by Donald Barthelme or White Noise by Don DeLillo or A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (so that’s a book of short stories, a novel and a book of essays)
Currently reading a lot about neuroscience. And retaining less than a quarter of it.
A website you regularly follow?
You won’t like this Sachin, but Cartilage Free Captain. It’s a Spurs blog…
Last place you travelled?
I’m currently writing this in Thailand. From what I can tell right now it seems to be equal parts Thai people, German families and happy beach dogs.
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
Wow. There are so many but if I have to choose one I think it’s Bruce Davidson’s Circus project, 1958. I’m drawn to outsiders and he took the most beautifully melancholy photos of the circus dwarf, Jimmy Armstrong.
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’ – Samuel Beckett
A flat white from Federation Coffee in Brixton Market or Lagavulin, 16 year old single malt whisky.
Those both sound fairly pretentious but they’re also true.
Favourite (photography related) TED talk
I honestly didn’t know there were any. I’ll go and check them out now.
Last gallery / exhibit you visited
Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth at the Science Museum, London
Your favourite photography book
Chromes by William Eggleston. I’d love to be able to shoot stillness and emptiness the way William Eggleston can. But I can’t. And quite frankly, nor can anyone else.
Links to your personal work // projects
The Royal Wedding Party in the Park: http://nicktuckerphotography.com/portfolio/personal/the-royal-wedding/
The Other Side of this Life: http://nicktuckerphotography.com/portfolio/fashion/fashion/
Can you share a short assignment / project that has benefited you in the past OR create / describe an assignment that you feel can help those reading this interview?
This was an incredibly lavish, well-to-do 18th birthday party in Mayfair, London last year. It was a tough assignment at the beginning because they’re the Instagram generation and all just seemed to want professional selfies. However I knew I could get some amazing shots if they loosened up a little, and, luckily, thanks to the head-spinning amount of booze flowing from the free bar, that’s exactly what happened:
THANK YOU FOR JOINING US NICK!
You can see more of Nick’s work here // Web
UP NEXT … LARA JADE!
Stay tuned for an interview next week with NYC and London Fashion Photographer, Lara Jade!
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