“It didn’t start with my photography, no.” tells me London based photographer photographer Lizzy Nicholson when I speak to her about her remarkable attention to detail. And she explains that she has always loved noticing details in other people’s work. “Interesting details show somebody’s imagination and ability to think outside of the box, and sets them apart from all the similar images and sounds you’re faced with each day.”
‘Photographer looking for trouble’ is how you introduce yourself on your instagram. When was the last time you got into trouble?
I guess me looking for trouble is most of my life being a photographer, collecting experiences outside of the norm. My jobs have led me to regularly shooting content for high end escorts in 5 star hotels, on stage at shows and inside studios of some major record labels, seeing the inner workings of what people consume.
Your images evoke a nostalgic feeling. Going through your feed on Instagram, I found photos of old phones, audio cassettes and vinyl coversols cartoons and mid century interiors. . Are you a nostalgic person and if so, what do you connect with that nostalgia?
So, my studio-mate is Welsh and there’s a Welsh word ‘hiraeth’ which means nostalgia for something you haven’t experienced before. Just earlier we were looking at a photo of Keith Haring, Grace Jones, Fela Kuti and Basquiat all together at a party. Something we both admired about the photo was they were all together in one place and knew each other despite no social media to connect them. Scenes and connectivity were different back then, more of a family vibe, you didn’t have social media to connect with strangers — you had to know people and be in physical places like that to connect with everyone.
Social media has been great for enabling remote artists to showcase their work, build relationships with others and nurture their career. But because it’s been so easy for everyone to do, these days, that everything’s oversaturated. Also back then because of that difference, I guess art was a bit less disposable? The fact that there is so much art and easy networking now is cool, but there’s something about previous eras that made it different.
So I think I’ve felt especially nostalgic during this covid period, as music, art and interesting conversations have only been digitally experienced.
“Scenes and connectivity were different back then, more of a family vibe, you didn’t have social media to connect with strangers — you had to know people and be in physical places like that to connect with everyone.”
I love the details you see in things. Have you always paid attention to details or did this start when you started with photography?
It didn’t start with my photography, no. I’ve always loved noticing details in other people’s work, whether it’s a photograph, journalism or a DJ set. Interesting details show somebody’s imagination and ability to think outside of the box, and sets them apart from all the similar images and sounds you’re faced with each day.
What was your motive to pick up a camera in the first place?
I drew, painted, did sculpture, but photography ended up being the most efficient way to get out what was in my head. My work definitely isn’t limited to just photography, though!
It taught me to work with people as well, tuning in to what the person I was shooting might be feeling and how my interactions with them can affect the final image. Although I work with performers a lot of the time, and they’re usually instantly comfortable in front of the camera.
When I work with artists, I like to dig into their character, find out what their mission is, why they’re doing what they’re doing and what we reference to communicate what they’re about.
An image is usually the first we see of an artist these days, and if we’re attracted to that we’ll have incentive to go find out what they sound like. You can totally change the way people perceive a song by changing the image that goes alongside it, as well.
“Interesting details show somebody’s imagination and ability to think outside of the box, and sets them apart from all the similar images and sounds you’re faced with each day.”
Is it important for you to put out a certain message with your art or is your main focus to create a visual eye-catcher?
I love digging deep into things! Everything has a meaning. It doesn’t take much brains to say “it is what it is”. Why would you not have any kind of thought process over your own work and why you were making it.
But at the same time, I can get turned off by art that is all concept and has no visual merit.
Name us some photographers that you admire…
Bruna Kazinoti, Ysa Perez, Kenneth Cappello, Natalia Mantini, Jason Nocito — to name just a few. Bruna Kazinoti makes everything look like it was legitimately shot in the 80s and Ysa Perez’s documentary photographs are so honest.
There’s a lot of really interesting talent about and I’d like to curate a show in the coming year, when London is back to normal. Probably in Autumn. So, watch this space.
You are based in London – is that where you are from, and what does home mean to you?
I’ve lived here for 13 years, but I was born in a small coastal town called Weymouth, in Dorset. It’s very beautiful and I miss it more and more these days. I go back as often as I can and I like to run, hike and swim.
I am very particular about my home. London’s a really difficult city to rent or buy in and I never feel settled because I’m always sharing with other people. I’m really picky about the design of my space. I move a lot.
Though I’ve now got a studio now and it feels really good to have a separate home away from home to work in. It has amazing views over Southbank.
“I can get turned off by art that is all concept and has no visual merit.”
What do you usually listen to in order to seek inspiration?
That depends on my mood at the time, listening to music definitely gets me in the headspace for making work. I guess that’s because I can’t listen to it and not want to be a part of it somehow. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of italo, 80’s jazz and some new UK artists like Ojerime who have a slightly psychedelic take on R&B.
When I’m working though it’s usually a podcast I have on, because I find voices more relaxing than music early in the morning. Lately it’s been this really good one by journalist Robert Evans called ‘The Women’s War’ interviewing Kurdish female militia in Rojava, the north east Syrian part of Kurdistan. It’s informative, characters are well portrayed and the narrator has a very dry humour.
I’ll listen to the same episode on repeat the whole day to absorb all of the information from it as I zone in and out of concentration.
You practise Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. What has doing martial arts taught you the most?
Gosh, I haven’t been able to train for coming up to a year now. In fact, the very last time I trained was on a shoot trip in Barcelona, and I flew back hours before they announced the very first lockdown in the UK.
Starting something new and being really terrible at it forces you to confront a lot of your own BS. Like, why am I getting so frustrated with X move? How do I feel when X happens to me in sparring, what’s really going on? Rather than just learning how to execute external moves, it gives you a lot of room to explore yourself internally.
You mention your trips to Eastern Europe, California and the Middle East. What different vibe do those three places have for you and what attracts you the most to each of them?
I guess what really draws me to Eastern Europe and the Middle East is the fact they’re so misunderstood in the west. I’m taking Arabic lessons, so when I go back to visit Palestine again, I can communicate more easily. I’m looking forward to training with Ramallah’s Jiu Jitsu team again.
The draw with California for me is that a lot of art and music I love comes from there, and I like the laid back lifestyle. I could imagine myself living happily there. For a while, anyway. I’d miss Europe.
Your biggest dream in life is…?
My dream house, with 3 cats and lots of art on the walls. Achieving everything that I want to do. I don’t feel like I have enough time in my life to adequately contain all of my interests.