Michael Nelson, Photography, Atlanta, Georgia USA


Michael_Nelson-headshotEWW: Michael, I am curious to know, if someone were asked to make a comment about your work as a whole, what do you think they would say?

Michael: I’m not really sure. Maybe that it is evocative or intuitive. (Or else just boring.)


EWW: What would be your comments about your work, as a whole?

Michael: Oh, I am the worst person to ask about my work. I am never satisfied with anything I shoot (at least for a few months), and I spend days after a shoot lecturing myself on how I should have done something better.

For me the whole of my work represents a journey and an exploration – a long and sometimes misdirected one.

I think I have always been exploring romance, femininity and vulnerability, sometimes without even realizing it. I think I am beginning to find a point of view that I am comfortable with. If I can get my brain out of the way and just let my eyes and my heart work together, then I may get somewhere.


EWW: What is unique about your photography? Would I be able to immediately pick out your work in an exhibition?

Michael: Maybe the quality of the light, the creation or capturing of atmosphere. I look for a painterly style, with depth and richness.

But in my more recent work, I hope the sense of intimacy, of vulnerability, of innocence comes through more than any technical aspect. I need the walls to come down and have the subject show me that part they are hesitant to reveal. I want to celebrate that one person in that one moment. Andrea says I take images about the subject, not of the subject.


EWW: Excluding subject matter, are there any themes that consistently run from one work to the other such as perspective or composition, lighting, movement, style, etc.?

Michael: I think my light is pretty consistent. I look for diffuse light, but very directional. Shadows are as important to me as the mid-tones and highlights. The old masters – Vermeer, Rembrandt – wow, what light! And it works with the other concepts I am exploring – the romance, passion and (hopefully) perception.


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EWW: Almost all of your work is in black and white. When you do use color, why?

Michael: I actually use color quite a bit. In the past few years I have started shooting a lot of color negative film for the latitude and that “something” that separates it from digital. (I also shoot some digital, but film is where my heart is.)

I’ve also been using Fuji-FP100C, then clearing and scanning the negatives. The results are wildly unpredictable, but often quite beautiful. And each one is completely unique.

I have an affinity for a certain type of very subdued color palette, almost like a painter has a certain palette they pull from. Again, I am often influenced by the old masters in a studio setting. Even in available light situations, I tend towards subdued or muted rather than hyper-saturated colors.

When I want black and white, then I definitely use black & white film. In those cases there is a mood, a graphic quality that I am looking for like in 407 West Howard. In that case, the black and white helps illustrate the juxtaposition of the human and architectural forms.


EWW: You refer to you work as projects & visual stories. Is there one project or visual story that you enjoy doing more than the others? Why?

Michael: I have a hard time shooting just one image in any situation involving people or a compelling location. My mother and I used to watch old movies, and I tend to see some situations as part of a story, my images being individual frames cut from the film.

I enjoy any situation where there is a human story to tell. The Atlanta Ballet (Before the Curtain) was a great experience for me, and that body of work spans 2 years. I was much more intrigued by the life in the wings than the audience view, by what went on at dress rehearsals, by all of the things that the audience never sees.

Then I beat cancer a few years ago, and that tended to affect my work. I began to focus closely on one individual at a time seeking to capture that “something” that lets both of us know that they are alive and that they matter. I guess that in turn means I matter too.


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EWW: What have you found to be the most successful marketing strategy for you and your work?

Michael: I haven’t really tried to market my personal work a great deal. I have been in a few galleries and some exhibitions, and a few private collectors have approached me for prints. I am in the process of developing a new web site to focus on the market for my personal work and images that could be sold as prints, so ask me again next year!


EWW: Do you use social media platforms to market and promote your work? If you do, which social media platform seems to work the best for you?

Michael: I use social media to promote the commercial side of my work. I use Facebook and Tumblr for the behind the scenes and previews of upcoming work, and I’ve recently created presence on Instagram. I like it as a type of secondary portfolio, and I find I can put both personal and client appropriate work there.

I am sure I will create pages to promote the personal work as well. I guess I will find out which ones are the most effective.


EWW: Michael, just to wrap up the interview, do you have any final thoughts about you and your work, that you think would be important for others to know about?

Michael: I never expected to have a career as a photographer, even though I was always interested. I was a Lieutenant in a metro fire department for 17 years, and had the opportunity to explore a lot of things on my days off including owning my own sailing business, learning to fly a plane (the small kind), and becoming a PADI scuba diver.

Finally, I bought some photo equipment and took a class. When the relationship between aperture and shutter speed was explained, the proverbial light went off. I taught myself everything else by trial and error. My interest in photography kept growing, and I kept shooting.

One of the good things about my time in public service was saving lives, helping bring life into the world at birth, or even offering comfort and care as they were leaving the world. I saw people at their worst and at their best, and at their most vulnerable.

The death of a young girl in my arms was a turning point for me. This beautiful girl had so much life in front of her, but it was wasted by driving too fast and not wearing a seatbelt after a day at the lake.

So in photography I choose to focus on the beauty in life, the strength, the fragility, the vulnerability.


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Website: http://michaelnelson.com

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