Photographer Interview: Michelle Nolan

Photographer Michelle Nolan

I discovered Michelle Nolan’s photography through a Design*Sponge post where she and her husband shared their recipe for a “mixed” cocktail called the “Eurasian”. Her crisp and colorful photography accompanied the post and left me feeling like I just had to find out more about Michelle.

Follow Michelle Nolan on Facebook.

D&B: Where are you from?
MN: I grew up in Milwaukee, WI but I live in Chicago, IL now.

D&B: What kind of photography do you shoot and how did you get started – any “formal” training?

MN: I mainly shoot people, whether it be portraiture or conceptual. A blend of both is great too. I also love shooting landscapes and do that more as personal work. I do assignment work both editorially and in advertising.

I did have formal training at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. It was a great learning experience for me because to be honest, before my education, I never really picked up a camera. I knew absolutely nothing about photography other than I appreciated looking at it.

Copyright Michelle Nolan

D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?
MN: I’m more or less all digital now. I use my Canon 5D Mark II almost religiously but then again, it depends on the job. As for techniques, I try not to rely heavily on one technique, lighting style, or “look.” I think a lot of photographers can get stuck doing the same old thing over and over again.

I try to take each assignment and image making process independently of one another – think about what I’m trying to accomplish with this individual shot. I would say the technique I use most regularly is research. I like to research the subject I’m shooting, the location, etc. etc before coming up with an idea. I think it gets the creative juices flowing so my vision is clear before I start shooting.

D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?
MN: Someone current would be Nadav Kander. I admire how he can shoot editorial to advertising, people to landscapes and still make the image his. That kind of unwavering vision is hard to accomplish.

Chris Buck is another because subtle and smart humor is so hard to do with a portrait and he nails it all the time.

Sally Mann has always been a favorite of mine as well. I like images that haunt me and her work always does that for me.

Bill Brandt was an early love for me. I always like a touch of the surreal and his ability to do that via composition and perspective always amazed me.

The ParkeHarrison duo simply because I love everything they produce whether it be in black and white or color.

D&B: Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a woman and/or photographer of color? (this question is optional)
MN: I think being a woman in this business is tough. I don’t feel like I’ve been directly treated differently because of it, but I do believe that most of the photography world is still a boys club. I’m not sure why because there are many talented female photographers out there. I think many times women photographers are pigeonholed.

For instance, in advertising, there are many more women who shoot lifestyle and food than cars. Many others who’s style is soft versus hard. It seems expected. With that being said, I think being a woman photographer is a unique perspective in its own right and should be valued.

Copyright Michelle Nolan

D&B: When did you realize you could have a career in photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.
MN: I didn’t realize it until I was in school for it. I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be good at it. Turns out I was and also loved it at the same time. In my mind, when those two things come together, the choice has been made. I just had to decide how to make it happen. Right out of school I started assisting, shooting weddings, shooting portraits, shooting anything someone would give me.

It’s been 4 years and I still feel like I’m just starting. The journey is tough and I’ve realized that it doesn’t really get any easier. You just have to get your work out there for people to see whether you’re ready or not. Photography is a funny thing because you’re put out there for people to judge – the real “you”, the what’s-going-on-in-your-head you. People will either like you or they won’t. But, that “you” changes.

It grows and regresses and so does your work. It’s not a static thing and therefore either is the journey. So, I think the moment you decide you’re a working photographer, then you are. Doesn’t mean, however, that you’ll get any work.

D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?
MN: On a personal side I just want to be able to do this (or some form of it) as a career the rest of my life. If that happens, then I’ll be happy. It’s really a selfish ambition. But, if somewhere in-between all that, people are into my work, then I guess I’ve gotten lucky.

D&B: What’s your dream photography project?
MN: I have many but off the top of my head, it would be either…

1. To be the photographer shooting stills for any and all episodes of Planet Earth.
2. To direct a music video for Radiohead

D&B: What’s the biggest (life) lesson you’ve learned through photography?
MN: That you have to define what “successful” means to you and then realize that it can’t be rushed.

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