Today on Artist Strong we are lucky to have Nicole Fishkind, an artist and resident of Salem, Massachusetts. (If you have never been to Salem, it is a special city, couched in a unique history of witch-hunting and witchcraft. It seems to be a creative well for many and we are here today to talk about Nicole and her creative practice. Thank you Nicole for taking the time to share your Creative Spirit!
Carrie: Welcome Nicole to Artist Strong! How would you describe your art to Artist Strong readers?
Nicole: Hello, and thank you for having me! I suppose the easiest way to describe my art for other people is connection. Connection is crucial for human understanding, and in a modern world full of technological distractions, it’s nice to remember there are more personal ways to connect with people. What my most recent project aims to do is reconnect individuals with the world (and the people) around them–one photograph and one story at a time.
Carrie: What projects are you working on at the moment?
Nicole: Currently, I’m focusing on the Snapshots of Salem project, which features local portraits, stories, and advertisement for business in the area. I’m hoping to show people how the ordinary can be extraordinary–and get them engaged and enthusiastic about the town of Salem!
Carrie: What kind of camera (s) do you use?
Nicole: I work with (and swear by!) Canon. My current camera is a Canon 5D.
Carrie: Do you do a lot of processing to your images? How/Why?
Nicole: I do run my photos through Adobe Photoshop, but for this project, I only do the following: sharpness adjustment, and, upon occasion, some grayscale. I want the pictures to be as detailed as possible–and I won’t touch up blemishes or people’s physical quirks. They’re meant to be seen, warts and all, because that’s how they really are. The grayscale option is used only when I feel it will enhance the mood of a photo (such as a silhouette or of something old-timey).
Carrie: What is it like going up to strangers to take their photographs? How do you handle it?
Nicole: Oh my goodness, it is nerve-wracking. There is nothing more intimidating than walking up to a total stranger and going, “can I take your picture?” and then proceeding to explain my pitch. I actually got my first “no” the other day. Usually if people don’t want their photo taken, they just keep walking and give me an odd look. People are going to judge you no matter what–but they judge you a little more openly when you’re the crazy girl with a camera chasing them down the street. I typically suck in my breath, steel myself, and smile–all you can do is approach a person positively and hope for the best.
Carrie: What have you learned most from your current project(s)?
Nicole: I’ve learned a great deal about the people of Salem. I’ve learned of their resilience (Christina the jewelry-maker, for example, made it out of an abusive relationship and into the market of crafts as a successful jewelry designer), their diversity, their personal lives (Liev the security guard and his insight into racial profiling), and more. Most of all, I’ve learned that people are surprisingly willing to talk if you ask the right questions–people do want to be heard and seen, if they feel they have something worth showing and talking about.
Carrie: Where do you hope to take this project?
Nicole: I want to take this project and run with it. Run all across the world and back again. It’s a dream of mine to work for National Geographic (said every photographer, ever) or possibly Vogue. But no matter where I go, I want to pursue this idea of expanding the global think tank: how we connect with one another, and how we can all learn from each other. There is more to life than walking around plugged in with our heads down and our eyes averted. I think people need to look up once in a while and take a moment to realize where they are, who they are, and what they want to do. It’d be amazing if we could start communicating again as a species.
Carrie: What has been a creative challenge you face? How do you navigate that challenge?
Nicole: The most difficult creative challenge is figuring out a way to explain this concept when approaching people. It’s one thing to simply say “can I take your photo?” and be done with it. It’s another to stand there, strike up a conversation, and get to know people. You never know what pressure points you might hit that make people shut down instead of open up–but the only thing to do is to try, and keep trying. Coming up with provoking questions to incite conversation is also difficult. You might come up with nothing, or you might be standing there an hour listening to a never-ending tangent about someone’s life. Either way, as a journalist, it’s crucial to know what you have to cut out–and what you have to get to make it all work.
Carrie: What is one thing you wish you knew when you started that you know now?
Nicole: I wish I knew how to approach people sooner. Candids were my preferred format for photos for a long time (still are, somewhat)–but with the right person and setting, a clear shot is so much more effective. And it’s a lot easier than I thought it’d be to just walk up to someone of interest and ask for them to pose. I was terrified of rejection–now I know it’s always a 50/50 chance of it happening, and that’s nothing to be scared of after all. Odds like that are way more manageable than the absolute negativity I was predicting.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
Nicole: Humans of New York, Portraits of Boston–these are the two big projects that made me say, “hey. I want to do that too!” Their efforts in tackling two much bigger cities convinced me it’s doable. Salem is a tiny fish in comparison. I also like to look at National Geographic, Vogue, and various Tumblr photo blogs to get further inspiration. And (I know this is corny), my family and friends who convinced me to keep going with this are a huge inspiration. Especially my mom (Ann Desroches, the Cape Cod Colorful Artist) who is overjoyed at both the concept and the photos I’ve taken thus far. She is my rock. And a shout-out to my roommate Krystal, who has been my bodyguard and backup whilst I take the photos themselves.
Carrie: If you are feeling creatively “stuck,” what do you do about it?
Nicole: I usually go on a “music binge”. I hit up 8tracks, Youtube, and Pandora and gorge myself on sound. I’ll play around in Photoshop and do some editing. I’ll sing or read, go for a long run, swim, or bike ride. I’ll write, edit, and toy with words. I’ll do anything creative to push myself to the next level. Sometimes all it takes is forcing myself out of bed, picking up the camera, and just seeing what happens if I walk around downtown. The biggest problem with feeling stuck is STAYING stuck–you have to keep moving in order to get every part of you in motion again.
Carrie: If someone wanted to work with you, how might they contact you?
Nicole: The best way to reach me is via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I may preach human connection, but I’m pretty much always checking that email.
Carrie: How do you define creativity?
Nicole: Creativity is the process in which a person puts forth their soul. The human soul is full of energy and light, and people can show that energy; that spirit, that light, through the things they do. If you’re a rapper, that comes through in what you rap about. If you’re a gymnast, you can see a person’s soul in the acrobatic feats they produce. Any form of expression is a declaration of the human spirit–creativity is the tool of the soul, and it transforms to fit any medium an individual is drawn to. Most of all, creativity is necessary–everyone has it. It’s a matter of figuring out what defines and directs a person’s energy, and putting that to use–rather than letting it go to waste, stifled by negativity or a lack of belief in oneself. Creativity is belief. Belief that you can breathe life into your own imagination, and introduce your dreams to reality.
I dream of a world where people talk to one another again.
What do you dream of?
Artist Strong Action: How can you extend outside of your own comfort zone? Take the risk! It’s worth it, just ask Nicole.