Interview by Michela Coslovich
All images © Nicholas J R White
Nicholas J R White is an English photographer based on Dartmoor National Park.
In 2017, Nicholas was named as a winner in the Lens Culture Emerging Talent Awards and three years later in the IMA Next Landscape Award.
His photographic work focuses on the analysis of natural elements in relation to the interactions with the human.
We talked about his project “The Militarisation of Dartmoor”: without giving a critical key, Nicholas explores this war wounded territory.
Michela Coslovich (MC): Hi Nicholas and welcome to Pellicola. How did your career as a photographer start? Did you know it will be your future?
Nicholas J R White (NW): Thanks for having me! I think with most people, it started as a hobby. I didn’t take it too seriously, it was just a way of documenting my walking trips with friends and family. I spent most of my teens playing the drums and would always take my cameras to the clubs and shoot the other bands that were playing. I actually chose to study music originally, but veered off course and took a last-minute degree in photography instead!
I graduated in 2013, and bounced between various retouching and studio jobs until choosing to go solo in 2017. Since then, I’ve divided my time between working on advertising jobs alongside developing my own personal projects. None of this was planned, and it still isn’t, I’m just having heaps of fun with it at the moment!
(MC): You currently live in Dartmoor National Park, located in the English county of Devon. How much does this place influence your artistic research?
(NW): Living on the moors has a profound impact on my work, regardless of whether I’m taking pictures there or working on projects away from home. If I need to research new ideas, or even think about how I’m going to light a commercial job, I usually do all of this on long walks.
For the kind of work I shoot, it makes sense to immerse myself in an environment that inspires me. I have a small studio that looks out over the moors, so it’s easy to get into the right frame of mind.
(MC): Analyzing your portfolio, we can see the great presence of issues related to the landscape. How do you develop this topic in your photographs? Where does your interest about nature come from?
(NW): My love of the outdoors predates my love of photography – I was lucky to have spent most of my childhood out in nature and all family holidays were spent hiking in the UK. Taking pictures of these trips was the obvious thing to do. As photography became more of a focus in my life, I began to think less about the landscape as the ‘view’ and more about the reasons why we choose to inhabit these areas and the many ways we interact with them. From Dartmoor’s long history as a military training area, to the construction of a National Park in the Southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania, my photography is always rooted in our relationship with the natural world, and the many ways this relationship manifests itself.
(MC): Your work “The Militarization of Dartmoor” (2011-2013) analyzes the place where you live and its relationship with military practices. Can you tell us more about this project?
(NW): This was a project I shot during the final two years of my degree. It was a time of immense change in my photography; I’d only just started working in series as opposed to single images which marked a significant new direction for me and my practice. It was also the start of my relationship with Large Format. I was interested in investigating this apparent ‘double-life’ of Dartmoor: how can an area be so important to warrant National Park protected status also play host to large-scale preparations for war, the processes of which leave a severe footprint on the landscapes of North Dartmoor. It wasn’t intended as an overtly critical documentation of this land-use, rather, an acknowledgment of its presence and how it weaves into the cultural heritage of Dartmoor, an area that has traces of human intervention dating back thousands of years.
(MC): In addition to being a photographic series, your work was also published as a book in 2020. How did you review your project seven years after its closure?
(NW): Another Place Press launched their new series of Zines with two editions of this work. It was wonderful to blow the dust off an older series, and fantastic to have it in the capable hands of APP. But the project isn’t what I’d call refined. There are a lot of holes and things I’d do differently if making the work now. But that’s sort of the beauty of this journey – you’re always adapting and changing, your likes and dislikes develop over time.
That said, it’s interesting for me to reflect on this work. You can see the start of the journey being made, my curiosity with regards to interactions with landscape, man vs nature etc.
(MC): Is there a specific place that you have not been yet able to photograph, but which you would like to?
(NW): I spent a lot of time in Scotland when making work for my first book, Black Dots, but only scratched the surface. I need to commit to a solid amount of time exploring the other 99% of that country!
(MC): Which are your sources of inspiration?
(NW): My main source of inspiration has always been – and will continue to be – the act of walking and the landscape itself, rather than others people responses to it. I love photobooks, but don’t have a huge collection and I’m pretty restrained when it comes to buying new ones!
(MC): What’s in the future?
(NW): I’ve been developing a body of work called ‘The Dust and The Vein’ which I’ve shot over the last few winters. It’s based in the fells of the English Lake District at the last working slate mine in the UK. Because of the continued disturbance of the landscape, it completely changes its appearance every time I visit. It’s a portrait of a moving mountain, and I’ll probably keep visiting for another few years.
When travel restrictions are a little easier to navigate, I’ll be back out in Romania to pick up my work with the NGO, FCC. I’ve been documenting the creation of a National Park over there for the last three years.
Finally, I’ve spent the last 12 months working on a collaborative book project with photographic artist Garry Fabian Miller here on Dartmoor. The work looks at a 10-mile circle of Dartmoor that surrounds Garry’s home, and provided the inspiration behind his work for the past 3 decades. We’re one year into this, with another year to go.
(MC): Thanks Nicholas for your time and words. It was a pleasure. Greetings from Pellicola!
(NW): Thank you!