Interview with Photographer Nicole Wolf

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Interview with Photographer Nicole Wolf

Photographer Nicole Wolf’s work on the wall at 7 Tide has been capturing the attention of many who visit us in the Seaport. Wolf is based in Portland, Maine, but is from Grand Manan, an island off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada, and a place of extreme weathers, which has had a great impact on her work. At 7 Tide, one of her favorite subjects takes center stage—food. Her dramatic use of light exposes the beauty of ingredients, the passion of culinary professionals and exquisite dishes of a truly artistic and creative industry. Beyond the kitchen, Wolf has traveled the world for assignments, including to Haiti multiple times, where after photographing the devastation after the earthquake in 2010, she has returned ever since. For more information on Nicole Wolf, visit nicolewolfphotography.com.

Where are you from—and has that had an impact on you as a person? As a photographer?

I am originally from a small island called Grand Manan in New Brunswick, Canada. It’s a small fishing community in the middle of the Bay of Fundy and I come from a family of lobster fishermen. Being from such a small, close-knit community certainly has impacted me as a person and as a photographer. I grew up with a very strong connection to the people on the island and have always been interested in the lives and stories of others. My grandfather and I were very close. He was a lover of relationships and always gave of himself first to others. I think because of him, my love for people and the human connection was formed. Ten years ago, I worked on my first long-term photo essay called “Sea of Faces,” in which I followed several fishermen and their lives on the sea over the course of three years. The body of work won many awards, including ASMP “Best of” and Photo District News “World in Focus.”  Almost all of my fine art work is shot on Grand Manan as it is my place of release and reflection. I feel like I witness something new every time I go home.

 

Who are your artistic influences?  

I am drawn to several different types of visual influences. A lot of my work has been described as emulating the feeling of a Rembrandt painting—moody and haunted. Rembrandt’s paintings have always been an inspiration because of his use of light. I love how that era of work translated light on a subject’s face. The use and manipulation of light challenges and fascinate me. I am drawn to the truth of emotion communicated visually in photography. When you are able to see that photographer is devoted to knowing not just seeing. Sebastiao Salgado is one of my personal mentors because of this as well as his mesmerizing use of light. I am also very much drawn to the work of Gilles Nicolet, particularly his series “Six Degrees South.”

 

How do you describe your photography?

I would hope others would look at my work and see vulnerability. I suppose that depends on the subject matter. With my portraiture and journalism, it is important for me to connect. I have to get to know the subject. Whether I have ten minutes or several years, I want to make sure that they know I am interested in discovering something about them and that they can let down their guard and trust me to convey a piece of themselves through my lens. Artistically, my brain is always thinking about new ways of seeing. I am always pushing myself to see things from different perspectives both in terms of content and composition.  Light, and the manipulation of it, is always a fun and challenging experiment for me. I guess I have a style—some call it moody, minimal and dramatic. I also like capture a piece of the subject to let the viewer’s mind wander into the parts that are hidden just behind in the shadows.

 

What do you photograph the most? Why?

Over the course of the past eighteen years, I have photographed just about everything but I am most drawn to portraiture and culinary. Food photography became part of my repertoire when I started to capture portraits of chefs.  It was a natural transition because I believe their dishes are a reflection of themselves—a portrait really. Portland, Maine, is such a food town and I have had the privilege of photographing many of the restaurants and chefs. I am primarily a commercial and editorial photographer and have shot for several national and regional publications over the years and that has led to travel all over the world. My commercial work allows me to photograph for different types of companies and help translate the missions of their brands through creative visuals. My work over the years has led to such a variety of clients and subject matter that it has always kept things fresh and forward-thinking for me.

 

What has been your most powerful experience as a photographer?

When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, I was on a plane shortly after to go and participate in whatever way I could to help. My camera became a catalyst to help multiple aid organizations get the message out about the devastation in the country. I worked for months as a journalist documenting some of the most riveting scenes, helping to raise awareness and funding for those that had lost their homes. For me, a paradigm shift happened, and I was personally and professionally motivated for change because of what I was experiencing. I decided to live in Haiti for a period of time to document the lives of three families as they tried to survive and rebuild their lives. The traditional approach to photojournalism has always been difficult to capture for me. Typically, you somewhat disengage in order to not manipulate the authenticity of what is happening in front of you. While I have taken many images like this, I am always pulled in to know more about the subject I have just photographed and I have a difficult time not being emotionally vested in them. So I decided to live with these families and I became part of their daily dialogue and I was able to convey a level of intimacy that would only translate based on the trust that I gained from being on the inside. The series is called “Behind Broken Walls” and is one of the most powerful groups of photographs I have ever taken.  Over the course of three years, I captured life moving forward during a time of complete chaos. Families having breakfast together, studying for an exam, ironing a shirt for church, getting ready for a date—small yet meaningful life experiences while living within an 8-by-12-foot USAID tent and trying to carry on the same routine they did before the earthquake. This is the work I will carry with me, this is the work I am most proud of, this is the experience that moved me to my core and why I believe I am meant to be a photographer.