CHRIS NICHOLLS NEEDS NO INTRODUCTION. A PROMINENT FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER AT HOME AND BEYOND OUR CANADIAN BORDERS, CHRIS HAS CAPTURED INCREDIBLE FASHION IMAGES FOR MAJOR BRANDS, CELEBRITIES, AND THE UPPER ECHELON OF EDITORIAL.
LAUREN WALKER LEE SPOKE TO THE VETERAN PHOTOGRAPHER WHO WAS CANDID AND GENEROUS WITH HIS STORIES AND INSIGHTS. DISCUSSING WHAT DREW HIM TO PHOTOGRAPHY, WORKING WITH CELEBRITIES AND HIS TAKE ON THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF THE INDUSTRY.
By Lauren Walker-Lee
Published Jan 23, 2021
Do you remember the first time photography entered your consciousness? Wow, not really. My grandfather ran a portrait studio in England for a short while and my father was also interested in photography. When I was a young teenager, I wanted to buy a cheap plastic camera that had caught my eye. My father would not hear of it and insisted that I buy a 35mm camera. I was initially upset, but soon grew to appreciate the much better camera. I suppose that was the beginning.
Who were your first influences in art or photography? I was not initially at all interested in fashion photography. My first influences were quite diverse. Diane Arbus, Duane Michals, Robert Frank, Irving Penn, Joel Meyerwitz, Avedon, Ernst Haas, Ansel Adams…the list goes on and on.
What drew you to fashion photography? By chance, I assisted a fashion photographer for a few years. I wasn’t looking for that and I clearly remember thinking that I did not understand a fashion aesthetic. All the same, I greatly enjoyed working with fun, creative people in exciting locations, travelling and just the general camaraderie of the industry. It was a natural progression to want to shoot in that kind of environment.
Can you speak to working with celebrities and capturing a portrait? Celebrities can be easy going and they can also be very difficult. Everyone is different. They are just people after all. Some like being photographed and some really don’t. I try to always make them as at ease as possible, to reassure them that I am on their side and I want to make images that they will want to be a part of. It is important that the subject always has confidence in the photographer and trusts that they will like the final result. A celebrity’s agent/manager is the first one that I must win over, because they will be the first ones to pull the plug on the shoot. The agent/manager always wants to be seen as protecting the talent and in most cases that means trying to shorten the shoot.
“I HAVE BEEN DOING THIS my whole life and I AM JUST GOING TO KEEP ON DOING IT.”
Do you participate in other art mediums? I am learning to paint, I like to build things.
What is a typical Saturday like for you or how do you like to spend a day off? In the summer, at my cabin on the lake with my family, boating, swimming, wake foiling, cliff jumping.
Aside from your incredible work as an image maker, what other skills or traits are in the toolbox of a photographer? I think it’s very important to be nice, though I know I don’t always come off like that (a work in progress). A good business sense is important. Dealing with money can be a tight rope walk. Anything else you can bring to it is a bonus. I like set design and I am proud of some of the work that I have done designing sets for my shoots. For someone else it could be dance or ballet, or a keen interest in makeup or graphic design. All additional interests have the potential to add a distinct look to a photographers work.
Can you describe some of the changes you’ve seen in the industry both positive and negative with the advent of technology and social media? Well, the good news is that technology allows everyone to be a much better photographer. I love photography and to see so many people exploring photography in a way that was just not possible before is fantastic. Good news for photography, but bad news for the business model that had existed for decades. Everyone loves to consume imagery, and technology has enabled it to be produced and consumed at a faster and faster rate. The demands on the photographer have increased ten fold, but there is also less money. Photography is increasingly disposable and the consumer has no time to linger on iconic imagery. Also, the industry, in its attempt to be “new and relevant” is so often just acquiring the aesthetics of the inexperienced. Don’t get me wrong, there are more talented photographers than ever before, creating great work. Much of it passes by so quickly, we don’t notice. All in all, times have changed, as they do. Video is becoming more important than photography. Everyone loves to see things move, I know I do.
What advice would you give someone wanting to get into photography? My advice would be to study video and photography equally. The new photographer will need to be adept at both.
Fashion photography and the traditional high budget fashion magazine spread has drastically changed, have you thought of how your work or fashion imagery in general can reinvent itself or its process while keeping some of its purity? Editorial photography has always been a self motivated art. Photographers have always worked hard to express themselves fully in this medium, to demonstrate the scope of their creativity. Magazines were great for this because they provided a focused audience, an audience that would revisit the pages throughout the month. Before the pandemic, I began filming my shoots and creating small behind-the-scenes stories about the making of them. I think the consumer still wants the photoshoots, they are just going to consume them in a different way. They want to see how it’s done, be along for the ride, and see the final imagery come alive before their eyes. I believe that is the future of editorial work. I can’t wait to get out there and shoot the next one.
What is next for you? I have been doing this my whole life and I am just going to keep on doing it.
If you could please choose a couple of words to describe the person or day on the set for the below:
Late, fun, kind, no underwear.
Expensive, the caterer forgot her lunch so she delightfully ate off everyone else’s plates, lovely, no secrets.
Hard working, apprehensive, protective, no pierced ears.
Silly, great celebrity impressions, no lack of confidence.