Publikum – Hello Nico! Thanks for taking the time out to speak with us and getting involved with the open call. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Nico Smith – My name is Nico Smith, I am 25 years old, from the U.K. I work full time as a chef (begrudgingly) and practice photography whenever I can. I’ve been messing around with cameras for around 2 years now and I find myself more and more determined to make something out of taking photos, exactly what, I’m still not sure, but I know that its the only thing that I have been interested in enough to consider it a potential career.

So, now when people ask me what/want I do, there’s not so much Umming and Arrring. For a short period of time, I studied photography at uni. After dropping out of education for the 3rd time, I realised that I work a lot more efficiently on my own, which pretty much results in me staying up until the early hours of the morning watching countless YouTube tutorials on the exposure triangle, and crying, because I can’t make photos like Grant Spanier.

The dream, as [I] said earlier, is to one day make photography my career; I’m still not sure what photo-making avenue I want to go down, but I do know that I never want to shoot a wedding ever again.

Erika, March – 2020

P.Since you started taking photos, you’ve progressively developed your style and approach, including varied formats throughout your projects, what was your drive behind this?

N. – A few months into shooting with my first camera (which was a point and shoot thing off eBay) and becoming more and more interested, I decided to buy a pentax k1000. I found myself becoming obsessed with old, American street photographers such as: Mark Cohen, Garry Winogrand, and Bruce Gilden.

Somehow, in being somewhat naïve, thinking I could replicate their work in the modern day streets of London, this gave me enough influence and courage to get out on my own and take pictures of strangers. I ended up going through a handful of cameras whilst playing around with street photography, from the k1000 to the Leica m6.

Preacher, Peckham – 2018
People, Peckham – 2018

I found 35mm to be the most ideal for the pictures I was trying to make, but I also came the conclusion that I’m not a big fan of rangefinders. Plus, my interest in the typical street photography wasn’t very long lived. I’ve noticed that my changing interest of photography styles, usually results in a change of format.

For portraits I always lean towards the medium format cameras, the Mamiya RZ and Pentax 67, I also temporarily shoot with a few 4×5 cameras, but due to not using them and having zero pounds, I sold them. It’s definitely something I’ll hope to invest in again, though.

I also made a video a few months back, it was a shoot with my friends and a 4×5 camera. It was all shot on an old Sony video8 handy-cam, just because I like the look of the footage, it reminds of old home videos and it was a fun project… until I actually had to edit the footage because I had no experience with video and will probably never do it again. 

A first of two videos on Nico’s photography process videos

P. –    You’ve kept busy throughout 2020, would you mind sharing what projects you are working on?

N. – So, I think my first project in 2020 started off during the lockdown. I initially had the intention to make a mock set up of what an 80’s living room looked like in my head. With projects like this, it almost all just comes into my head and then I do some research to get some more ideas and try to make it accurate to the time period I was aiming for  but as well as what I originally had planned.

After painstakingly taping and lining up wallpaper with my girlfriend, I decided to start a ‘Living Rooms’ project, basically, recreating living rooms from different eras. I’m yet to do anymore with this as of yet just due to finances. Projects seem to just come and go with me, I’ve had an idea to make a project of my local area but I also don’t want to force anything and do it just because its there. 

Nico, Self-Portrait taken from ‘Living Rooms’, Essex- 2020

“I initially had the intention to make a mock set up of what an 80’s living room looked like in my head…

With stuff like this, it almost all comes into my head, then I do some research to get some more ideas. I decided to start a ‘Living rooms’ project, basically recreating living rooms from different eras.”

P. –    On that point, you’ve recently been working on a number of different shoots, noticeably during lockdown, utilising different set designs, can you expand on the reasons for that?

N. – Specifically when it comes to taking portraits, I’m really not a fan of just a model and a backdrop for my own work, even though I have done this, but that’s mainly to test out new gear and for when I was first using artificial lighting. I personally think that the set is just as important as the model, which is just as important as the outfit. I’m not necessarily trying to make a ‘story’ from the photo as such, but I I think using some props or making an interesting set can give the photo character as well as exaggerating the era in which I’m going for. 

Nick & Steph Lattimer, Chelmsford Social Club – 2020
A series of portraits, taken from ‘Wedding Photos‘, Chelmsford – 2020

P. – Across your work, from bingo halls to wedding shoots, it seems that you place subjects and concepts at the heart of your photos, what was the reason for this? Is this something you proactively represent in your work?

N. – I think this a result of me still not being entirely sure on what avenue of photography I want to purse and put all my focus on. I’ve found myself on a number of occasions seeing a scene that I would want to photograph but not knowing wherever I should photograph just the scene or bring in a model in, or make a whole project on it, I find myself getting easily overwhelmed. For example, with the bingo hall, I originally photographed it intending for it to be 1 body of work with photos from my 4×5 and 35mm camera, then I had the idea to make a project on the whole area it was based in and now I have recently done a portrait shoot there with a band. Its almost as if I want to do absolutely everything at once. 

Rio Bingo Hall, Canvey Island – 2020
Star Court, London – 2020

P. – How have you found the challenges of lockdown(s) from a creative perspective?

N. – Solely focused on the creative perspective, the lockdown has both been ideal and also a burden. Ideal because (when we first we into lockdown) it meant the streets and roads where eerily quiet which meant I could take photos a lot more comfortably.

I am a very anxious, shy person and there has been so many missed opportunities for potentially good work for me just because my nerves and overthinking stops me from taking a picture, but because there was practically no one around, I didn’t have that stress. Also it meant I was part time furloughed with 4 days off, giving me so much time to focus on my photography. The negative side is that I spent a ridiculous amount of money on cameras and making sets.

P. – Since writing this interview, you’ve started producing some prints, what other projects have you got lined up? Are there plans for a physical publication down the line?

N. – It was somewhat of just an experiment to see if people would be interested in buying my prints, and I was happy to find out they did. I don’t think I will be making prints anytime soon until I have some work that I am very content with.

I’m very self critical so it won’t be for a while. I still have some projects in mind which I’ve mentioned earlier but I’m not in any rush, I think my main focus is to make a lot more consistent work before I think of anymore projects. I never have thought about a physical publication, but it would be definitely be something I would want to do way in the future. 

To keep up-to-date on the work that Nico is producing and for more information, you can discover more using the following link:

Instagram: Nicosmithphotos

Youtube: nicosmithphotos