Gallery Talk with Nicole White

You are using historical and contemporary photographic processes to investigate and document the American cultural landscape. You are currently living in the Bay Area but have also lived on the east coast and in the midwest. Do you seek out specific locations for your work or do you let yourself be spontaneously inspired by the moment?   

It depends on the scenario. I would say that I'm a much more reflexive photographer than I used to be. I intentionally spend time now wandering and getting lost in order to find whatever it is I'm looking for in that moment. That said, I do have specific projects that I am working on; I oscillate back and forth between spontaneity and strategy. It helps to keep me engaged.



In describing your work, you mention “the transformation of the world around us through natural and artificial illumination”. Can you say a bit more about how light and time influences your work? 

That quote is from a specific project entitled "Luminaries". Obviously, light and time are critical to all photographs, but that particular grouping of images is made with the intention of examining or highlighting the passage of time within an image. I think that most photographers become attuned to the strange power that the camera has: it is capable of condensing time in the most magical way. Those images try to play with that notion and embrace the unpredictability of the light I am working with. 

I love how you describe your time working in photography labs and the “second home” it provides to many artists who work there. Does the romantic notion of the artist working in the studio still exist? 

Maybe not in the Bay Area, but I'd like to think it's very much a part of an artist's practice. Having a space that is dedicated to work is critically important, even if you are relegated to a closet. I have a unique set of circumstances in that I oversee a college photography program and have access to a fully functioning lab. For photographers, a lab (not always the wet kind) is a critical element to finishing work. We cannot all house our own printers, monitors, lights, enlargers, etc. We require a communal space where we can produce our work. So, while the singularly-owned studio space is more rare, those shared spaces are very much needed. 

What cameras do you use and do you always carry one with you? 

I don't always have a camera, but if there's time in my day to make photographs, then I will bring one. I have everything from 110mm to large format (film or digital) and will work with whatever seems to fit the project. I'm not committed to one format.

What makes a photographic image exceptional? 

I don't know if this question can be answered; my personal relationship to images changes pretty frequently. Images I thought were exceptional ten years ago may no longer function the way I want them to anymore, while other images I may have discarded in the past take on new relevance. I guess that's one of the problems with photographs -- to make a very terrible photo pun -- they don't really stay "fixed". 

Which artists inspire your work and/or motivated you to become a photographer? 

I look at a wide range of artists and materials based on what I'm working on. Recently, I've been revisiting some Surrealist photographers and painters and also doing some research on instructional photographs (think illustrated textbooks). However, the things I regularly return to are situated in a dialog about place, land, and society. 



Your titles seem simultaneously playful and make you question the subject matter. What is the connection between your use of language and an image? Do you title an image while you shoot it or afterwards when you review the final product? 

Titles are tricky. First, I like, I am going to be fairly particular about my word choice. The words associated with images (either as a series or individually) set the tone for how the images are deciphered. There's a nice space between clearly articulating the meaning in text form and completely obscuring it. I generally leave things a little open ended, where interpretation is possible --- I could probably say the same for some of my photographs as well. :) 

For you as an artist and educator, the photography lab still plays an important role. Has digital photography influenced your creative process and how do you balance the transition between film and digital photography?

Of course it has; there's no way to avoid that negotiation....even if you only shoot film. I shoot what seems appropriate for the task I am trying to accomplish. For me, digital tools are almost always a part of my process to some degree. They give me another means to find photographic form; one that looks and feels different from a film-based image. Sometimes, I'm more interested in the conceptual negotiation of the image, "It should be shot this way because the medium expresses a portion of the meaning...." while other times I'm thinking about what process will make the image technically possible. I don't tether myself to one camera because I don't see one camera as an all purpose answer to the problems I design for myself.

Although film photography is making a comeback, many artists no longer develop or print their own work. Is it important for an artist to print their own work or do professional labs do an equally good job? 

Photographers can do whatever they want....whatever gets it done. I think it's important to have a comprehensive understanding of what it is you are producing (whether you physically made it or not), but beyond that, use the tools that are available to you. 

Has teaching photography influenced your work?

I am probably capable of breaking any obsolete "film loading speed record" thanks to my students. :)

Teaching has heavily influenced what I do in my own work. For nine months out of the year, I talk about what photographs do once they exist in the world. It makes me that much more cognizant of my own work and what it does. I also think about the capability of images to communicate ideas and information more than I ever have before. On top of that, teaching requires me to look at other photographers' work all the time; not that I wouldn't do that on my own, but it's a very different agenda that I have in mind when I am looking for new photographers to introduce in my classes. That process, in turn, brings new ideas and influences into my work.