conversations with bianca

Photographer Harmony Nicholas: Conceptual Portraiture, Stopping Fraud & Exorcising Creative Demons

 

Australian-based photographer Harmony Nicholas’ images never cease to fascinate me. Mixing her love for all things Pop Culture, 90s, Music, Film, Fashion and People Harmony creates arresting images that stop you in your tracks and that demand your attention. Her work focuses on “conceptual portraiture, creative fashion and promotional work for actors, musicians, personalities.” She is without a doubt one of my favourite Australian photographers–her work is world-class!

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

HARMONY NICHOLAS: A Pop Culture nut, armed with a camera, a 90s fetish, and a sarcastic Sense of humor.

 How did you first start down the creative path?

HN: As far back as I can remember I was always obsessed with reading, comic books, drawing, colouring, writing stories, acting out characters, etc. Being an only child with very few social skills until school, I found I’d live in my own head growing up, so a lot of my creativity came from those formative years. It helped that our house was always filled with endless amounts of books, art, film, music – you name it. I had a wealth of inspiration at my finger tips right from the very start, and if it wasn’t for my open-minded upbringing, I probably would have become a psychiatrist.

Have you ever been to art school? Do you have any ‘official’ qualifications? Do you think having formal training is important to what you do?

HN: Yes, I studied for four years at the University of South Australia’s School of Art, specializing in Painting with my minor and honours in Photography.

Personally I think formal training is useful in teaching you the history of your craft, the individuals involved, the techniques and methods, the various genres, the construction of the work etc. but you do not necessarily need to study with an institution to obtain these skills or information, it really depends on the style of work you want to achieve. I know a lot of extremely talented photographers and artists who had no formal training whatsoever, and who purely relied on their own trial and error, personal study and occasionally training under a mentor. I think each person needs to decide for themselves if they would prefer to learn by their own methods or through a set program, but I always encourage people to do as much research and experimentation as humanly possible when dabbling in their chosen field.

 

What kind of photographer would you call yourself?

HN: I always have difficulty answering this sort of question when people pose it to me. The best I’ve been able to come up with so far is a Conceptual Portrait Photographer, but that is only one definition. I’m essentially an artist who works with photography as my medium, with the occasional fashion or commercial element thrown in. If you can think of a more catchy or succinct way of putting it, by all means let me know!

How would you describe your approach to photography?

HN: For me, photography has so far been the best method I’ve found to convey the images and concepts I see in my head to the outside world. I spent years trying to do so with my painting and failed, because no matter how hard I worked at my technique, I could never replicate what I envisioned onto the canvas accurately. I still struggle to do so with photography, but it has a much higher success rate. So in that regard I use photography as a tool to exorcise my creative demons, if you will.

Is photography your full-time gig?

HN: Over the last four years I’ve been working full time on my photography and editing. I am planning a slight change of pace for next year, to shake things up and bit and go back to my roots, my inspirations and my art.

Is there a photographer whose work has changed your expectations of the medium?

HN: There are many! I am constantly surprised and impressed by people interpreting and using the medium in their own unique way, be it film or digital and everything in between. Just as an example, I recently saw some of the three dimensional work by Australian photographer, Mark Ruff, that seems to employ a variation of the old Stereoscopic style of image-making. Similarly, there is a technique involving several cameras mounted in an array firing at the same instant around the subject to create a full 360 degree three dimensional image or ‘Time Slice’. I have seen it used in Julie Taymor’s Titus and the video for Smoke City’s Underwater Love, but I do not know the names of the individuals who came up with it, nor the technical name for the process itself, though there are several companies now that specialize in the method. But when I first saw that, it blew my mind.

What is your favourite part of the process in regards to the images/art that you create?

HN: It varies from shoot to shoot. Most of the time I really just love coming up with the concept and trying to research/source the various items or elements I’d need for the final image – be it the appropriate model/subject, the outfit, the hair, the makeup, the props, the setting etc. The downside is then trying to get what I see in my head out into real life and then onto the camera – it very rarely happens that what I’ve imagined in its perfect entirety translates exactly the way I wanted into the final product, but I do what I can with the resources and skills available to me at the time. If I could employ a creative team to carry out the work involved with making the concept come to life precisely as I saw it, I would be very happy spending the rest of my days just coming up with the ideas.

Do you listen to music while you work? What could I find in your CD player/on your iPod?

HN: I usually tend to have movies playing either in the background or on one side of my monitor. At the moment I’m going through a massive horror phase, the scarier the better.

Normally I get sick of an album or playlist two or three songs in and have to keep constantly stopping work and finding new things to listen to, so films are just easier. I do always need some kind of distraction though, it’s like reading the same passage in a book over and over again otherwise – silence drives me crazy! But in terms of songs, I’d tend to listen to whatever it is that day that I’m obsessing over, usually on repeat. Over the last few days it’s been a mix between Lonely Island’s Jack Sparrow and The Beatles Because, whereas today it’s Joe Cocker singing live at Woodstock.

What has been the most challenging concept for a shoot that you’ve done?

HN: The most challenging concepts I’ve imagined are actually resigned to the shoots I haven’t yet done, hence why I haven’t done them – they’re all written down in my little notebook for future reference though, when I have the appropriate skills, team and elements required to successfully bring them to life. I’ve had difficult locations and taxing weather on shoots, from wading neck deep into the ocean with my camera hoisted above my head, to fainting in hellish summer heat in the Dandenong Ranges, but every shoot I’ve done is its own adventure. The most challenging shoot I’ve ever been on actually involved me modeling for a fellow photographer in art school – we were shooting underwater in an unheated pool in the middle of winter, late at night with no light save for the occasional camera flash. It was absolutely freezing and I was convinced I was going to drown in the blinding darkness, in a wedding dress of all things.

Unfortunately you have had a lot of issues with companies taking your images/work and manufacturing merchandise without your consent, please tell me about this.

HN: Basically what has happened is a few small clothing companies operating out of Thailand have managed to get their hands on some of my photographs, and are printing the images on shirts and dresses and selling them – all without my prior knowledge or consent. I first learnt of this back at the beginning of 2010 when a friend of mine sent me a photo from her phone of my image of Sabina Kelley on a singlet in a shop front, somewhere in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. Since then, there have been four other images that have made their way onto shirts, despite my best efforts to dissuade people from buying the clothing, and trying to further safeguard the images I upload on the internet. My assumption is that the original images must have come from scans taken from tattoo magazines that have featured the photos in question in the past, as the files I upload are not large enough to print on clothing.

I have since managed to track down the names of two of the companies involved – Arai Na is the main one – and am in the process of trying to finance legal aid to help stop the shirts from being made. It’s an infuriating, slow, depressing and costly process, but I’m doing what I can. Plus I have had an overwhelming amount of support from my peers, something of which I am still greatly appreciative.

What are some steps people that find themselves/their work in this predicament can take to rectify the situation?

HN: Make sure you watermark your images with big, clearly worded readable fonts and logos stating your name, or your company’s name. I have people constantly criticizing me for the size and placement of my watermark, but I would rather half a dozen people than have to go through more intellectual property theft in the long run. Try to upload images that are 72dpi or lower, with small measurements and medium or low quality (if JPG). As long as the image looks clear, it doesn’t have to be a huge file that dominates your screen. It also helps to clearly state where possible that you are the copyright holder of the work (assuming it is your work) and that any unauthorized use is not allowed – it’s not the greatest threat in the world but it does sometimes help. And never be afraid to stand up to people stealing your images, be they t-shirt companies or the typical Facebook fraud.

On your Model Mayhem profile it says: “No more time wasters, bullshit, divas or fake friends” in your line of work is that something you come across often?

HN: My MM profile page changes constantly, so don’t take everything written on there as gospel. That being said, in the time I’ve been a photographer I’ve come across most types of people – everything from the self-involved divas to the most down to earth and lovely individuals you could ever hope to meet. As with many things, you have to expect a broad range of people and personality types, and take every situation with a grain of salt. I just try to do the best I can to fulfill the brief or the concept with as little fuss as possible – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but every shoot is unique, as are the individuals involved. There are definitely some I am lucky enough to call friends, and a few that I won’t be rushing to work with again in a hurry.

Who are the people you admire in the creative world and what is it about them you love so much?

HN: My hero is Storm Thorgerson, the mastermind behind Hipgnosis. They were the creative team behind many incredibly imaginative images, including the album covers of Pink Floyd, which are to date my biggest inspiration. Beyond that, my favourites are Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz, Bill Henson, Guy Bourdin, Ellen Von Unwerth, David LaChapelle, Patrick Demarchelier, Mark Seliger, Rankin, Nick Knight, Mert & Marcus, Tim Walker, Paolo Roversi, Anna Gaskell, Anton Corbijn, Mario Testino, Steven Meisel, Deborah Paauwe, the list goes on and on – and that’s just the photographers.

Mark Romanek is an absolute favourite, as I find music videos to be just as inspiring as photographs, especially as Romanek’s tend to venture more into moving art than a simple visual accompaniment to a song. Alexander McQueen’s creations make my mind sing and my heart ache. Tim Walker and Paolo Roversi pull me back into a waking-dream fantasy state, reminiscent of my childhood. There are painters, sculptors, directors, illustrators, writers, fashion designers and musicians that constantly bring forward new ideas, concepts and imagery that amaze me. It’s extremely hard to narrow it down to a few, or go into detail as to why, because we’d be here forever. At the moment though, I’ve been exploring the work of Ray Caesar and rekindling my endless love for David Lynch. That man is pure genius.

What sites do you have bookmarked/subscribe to for an inspirational fix?

HN: I’ve recently become quite addicted to Tumblr. There are hundreds of people sharing thousands of images on there daily, so it’s like a constant feed of inspiration right at your fingertips – fashion, photography, art and design, everything you could want really. I’ve discovered a lot of new artists, designers and photographers through that handy little website.

What are some things you love in pop culture right now?

HN: I love that colour is coming back in a big way. I missed the bright bold statements of the late 80s and early 90s, clean lines and fun patterns with a lot of ‘fashion as art’ themes. I also love that the Robert Palmer/Helmut Newton Girl look has made resurgence in current fashion photography. I definitely want to take advantage of that with my own work – I’ve always adored that look!

What projects are you currently working on and what’s on the horizon? 

HN: Lately things have settled down nicely, which is rare because this is the first time in a very long while that I’ve had a chance to relax a bit and catch up with a lot of my personal work that had, until recently, been relegated to the ‘backburner’ for months on end. There are many images that I have shot over the years that have never seen the light of day due to time constraints and job commitments, so with any luck I’ll be able to create more of a balance between commercial work and personal art in the future.

 And as I’ve stated previously, I am looking at a change of pace, a change of scene and even a change of style in the new year, and hopefully with that will come a whole new world of inspiration. I would like to start exhibiting my work again, maybe publish a book at long last, and get back on track with my plan to take over the world, one image at a time.

 For more Harmony Nicholas. Harmony at Model Mayhem.  Harmony’s Tumblr. Harmony’s Twitter.

Create forever!

*Photo credits: All photography/concept/styling: Harmony Nicholas

1 – ‘Interview with the Hampire’, 2011 For the Togs on Togs Exhibition – Model: Benjamin Nichols
(w/composite elements from Adrian Nicholas)

2 – Rapture, 2011 (from a series) – Model/MUA: Jessamyne

3 – The Sirens – Models/MUAs: India Rose and Victoria Veins

4 – ‘You Can’t Beat the Feeling’ Model: Hana, Hair/MUA/Nails: Mishka Mink, ‘Coca Cola’ trademark is copyright Coca Cola Amatil

5 – Eat Your Words, 2010 – Model: Miss Muffin, MUA/Hair: Sarah Powell

6 – Kiss & Tell, 2010 – Models/MUAs: India Rose and Victoria Veins

 All images are copyright © 2011 Harmony Nicholas

4 Comments

  1. Shmoe
    January 13, 2012

    Really cool interview and pictures. Really vivid stuff.

  2. Bianca
    January 13, 2012

    Hey Shmoe! Thank you! Sonny work is incredibly beautiful. It’s nice when people you interview give you thoughtful answers too liek Sonny did :)

  3. jon
    January 19, 2012

    excellent article. found it very interesting and suprised alot of harmony nicholas inspirations are the same as mine. great read. also love your website bianca. i’ve bookmarked it and going to go through it alot more. looks like a lot of great stuff here. glad i stumbled over it while reading harmony’s interview. brilliant

  4. Bianca
    January 24, 2012

    Hi Jon, Thank you so much for dropping by and loving the site so much that you bookmarked it! That’s awesome and super appreciated! Harmony is an amazing photographer and our interview has some really nice insights into her world and what she does. I’m stoked to feature her on ConversationsWithBianca.com.

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