Nic Salmon Interview
VSonoma: Welcome Nic and could you tell us about your show at VSonoma Gallery.
I recently stumbled upon, while rooting through my brother's garage, a whole stack of negatives that I had thought lost. Among them was the complete archive of a portrait project I undertook during the mid-1980s. The location was Scunthorpe, a town in northern England grown from the fruits of a single industry, the production of steel.
As a photojournalist, I had documented the decline of the industry in the town from the start of the decade and the outlook was perpetually bleak with the then British Steel Corporation making many cutbacks including the cessation of all ore mining operations and the closure of two major plants.
In contrast, the local 'alternative' scene during this same period was incredibly active; populated by determined, resourceful and highly original individuals, I felt that straight portraiture might be a way of trying to document it. Gigs were well attended too and many of these pictures were born from asking those who attracted me if they would let me meet up with them sometime and do a portrait. Other times I would find people in the streets and approach them there.
All in all, I made over eighty portraits. The photographs were made using a Mamiya 6 x 6 camera, film stock was generally Kodak Tri-X Pan. Some of the photographs were exhibited in the local Museum and Art Gallery in 1986, others have not seen the light of day until now. I believe I caught something that goes beyond the surface in these portraits: I probably tried the patience of many of my subjects while I attempted to realize it.
VSonoma: How did you initially get interested in Photography?
Following my secondary education (High School) I was accepted onto an Art Foundation Year at a college in London. This was a pre-degree course that gave the would-be art student a taste of different areas of work and it was during a photography 'block' that I picked up a SLR camera for the very first time. For my project I opted to make photographs at Covent Garden which was then still a wholesale fruit and vegetable market (it was relocated at the end of that year). I would go down there at midnight and shoot until about seven in the morning when main trading had ceased. The difficulties of the harsh flourescent lighting were a challenge for the complete novice, but the busy atmosphere was infectious. I doubt I got much in the way of decent results, but that did not deter me from choosing photography as a potential career.
VSonoma: ...and when did you get serious about it?
I got serious about photography in the mid-seventies once I had been accepted (on the strength of some poetry I had included in a portfolio woefully lacking in good photography) by the then new, and groundbreaking, degree course in creative photography at Nottingham Trent (in conjunction with Derby). This was the course that eventually set the standard for future media courses, both in the UK and internationally; places were limited and to this day I am thankful for having been part of it all.
VSonoma: What are your favorite subjects or area(s) of interest?
Documentary work has always interested me and is reflected in the paid work I have done in the past, both as a photojournalist and a a resident photographer within a museum environment. On a personal level I simply record what interests me as I come across it and then make a print that reflects my initial response to the subject. I have an interest in the history and development of photography: not only in the work of photographers past and present, but also the views of those who have written (or who are writing) about photography.
VSonoma: Please tell us a little about your style and process...
I work as simply as possible, with one digital camera and one lens which I keep in an old canvas bag of the sort you can buy at an army surplus store. I ensure that I have a spare, fully charged battery (I use a mirrorless system to keep size down to a minimum, so there can be quite a battery drain due to the video display), a spare memory card and a lens cloth. I never use automatic settings and prefer manual focusing. I regard the camera as a simple means to an end and at the time of exposure I put a lot of faith in the big processor contained within my skull.
I use photoshop to realize what I felt to be the image at the time (straight out of camera would be a soulless result, in my opinion), using the tools that would have been available in the darkroom of old. The advantage of the photoshop toolkit is the degree of subtlety and precision that can be achieved. I am not a prolific shooter and like to enjoy the experience of what is going on around me, becoming a part of it, rather than overshoot and miss it all.
VSonoma: Do you cite any other photographers, past or present, as mentors or as having a special influence on your work?
I would have to mention three of my college tutors: Paul Hill, Thomas Joshua Cooper and the late Raymond Moore for an education, a philosophy and hugely inspiring work. In regard to those who have inspired me along the way, there are many. Condensing this long list (which would include most of the usual suspects) I would arrive at Eugene Atget (1857 - 1927) and Tony Ray Jones (1941-1972). All the above are represented on the web and well worth seeking out. I do look at a lot of contemporary work online, and there are a couple of photographers whose new work I anticipate with particular relish: for his eye in the field of monochromatic photography, Andy Leggatt and for his eye in the world of colour, Gabi Ben Avraham.
VSonoma: Where do you see yourself 5 years down the road?
Still being around, still looking and learning. I'd like to think I may have been writing, too.
VSonoma: Last question...If you could choose a location for a 'grand photo expedition', where would it be?
I've never visited the USA, but would love to so I'll go with a gut feeling and say Memphis to Tupelo, with a short stop at New Albany. Just beats Detroit to Chicago, with a long stop at Battle Creek, by a whisker.
VSonoma: Thanks so much for this interview Nic! Fantastic concept and execution to say the least!
Additional work by Nic Salmon can be found at:
All images © Nic Salmon