Turner Nelson is a multi-facetted photographer based in Los Angeles.
Recalling his first contact with the world of photography, Turner told us how in 2015 he started taking urban shots of Los Angeles. He immediately saw he was in love with the photographic process. It was not long before he was visiting the streets of downtown Los Angeles with a friend or by himself to document everything he saw. After a few years of shooting LA and its surrounding areas, Turner was itching for something new. In the middle of 2017, a very emotional year for him as he says: “I decided to pack my bags and hop in my truck for what was about to be the road trip that changed everything for me”.
“The following years after that trip have been a never-ending process of learning how nature expresses itself, and how I can document it to tell its story through my own personal vision”. Turner travelled up the West Coast alone in his truck, camping out from Los Angeles, CA to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Through this journey, mystical as much as geographical, he met some of his best friends to date. He also found inspiration within, something that until then he had never suspected he possessed. Regarding his first steps grappling with his as yet undefined passion for photography, a tragicomic image springs to Turner’s mind – a skeleton with a camera around its neck swinging on a park swing. In fact, it was during this time that a friend of his, Ivan Cisneros, drew the fun logo that is visible on Turner’s official website.
“I feel like it is easiest to be the most expressive when I am by myself”. Turner travels mostly alone trying to come to terms with the details of nature he comes across in his adventures. He doesn’t usually schedule his projects because he likes to be on the move, stopping to take stock of where he is heading in life. He wants to give space to his feelings, and use them as a driving force to inspire him for where he wants to go, what he wants to photograph and how he wants to do it. For this same reason his work can be seen as journaling, a personal notebook where he can reflect on and remember exactly how he felt while he was looking through the viewfinder.
Setting up a dialogue with his viewers, Turner tries to put themselves in his shoes looking through his photographic lens. Not just using their eyes, but opening their minds and hearts … in order to make them share the photographic experience he progressively documents. “I want to show my viewer my relationship with nature and share the connection I had with the area while I was documenting it”. Turner’s personal guidelines also concern the subjects that inspire him … “Overseen things that nature has to offer, such as blooming flowers as foreground elements, using lines to help me keep interest throughout my photos, and shadow or highlight contrast”. Turner is an artist whose eye is caught by the astonishing depth and power of minutiae. “Detail”, he says, “the difference between generic and original, is everything”.
Turner traces the blossoming of his natural aptitude to the quality of his photographic vision and his skill in creating a perfect balance with all the elements in a shot. For a long time, he would head to a location, see an incredible sunset, and begin shooting as many photos as he possibly could to make sure he wasn’t missing anything … But what he didn’t understand at the time was that in this way, he was missing everything. Photographs of beautiful skies and incredible scenery lacked the “defining touches” – the thought, the feeling, the emotion, portrayed through a photograph that makes a photograph truly special.
Right now Turner takes his time to compose photos. He focuses on what he is seeing and takes a step back. Now he really looks at what surrounds him and lets it speak to him with patience because he has understood that waiting for the right lighting conditions and searching for the right foreground to compliment the rest of a photograph is always worthwhile. “The difference 10 or 15 minutes of sun movement makes around sunrise or sunset is everything!” he remarks. “Especially when you have been travelling long distances!”
Riding on the crest of this discovery, he visited Yosemite National Park 8 times in 2019, in Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. This place really speaks to him, leaving him with a renewed and fresh look at the world every time he goes. “I would say that Yosemite National Park has taught me more about photography than anything or anybody has”, says Turner about one of the most famous photo locations today. That he still finds peace there and feels an intimate connection says much about Turner’s openness to the natural world.
The point is “to not give into social media pressure”, because its artificial rhythm really corrupts the heart of work and can alter the intentions while taking photos. And this is perhaps the answer to the decreasing update of material on the blog where Turner writes about things his followers and fans ask him about. Reflecting on this channel of communication, we learn of his will of bringing it back to life in the near future with photo collection updates and new releases regarding his limited time print shops. But the real advice this enterprising artist has to give is “get away from the phone for a while, go experience something you have never seen before without the intention of making Instagram stories or sending Snapchats to people…”.
“What matters is that you are there, doing what you love, and documenting the moments that come from it for yourself”. In the world of photography, you are not fighting the losing battle of competing with others. You are taking the pleasure of a privileged perspective to see and experience the world. So what better approach for an aspiring photographer if not to “embrace the frustration, anxiety, long nights… the amazing moments, the beauty, the success…? Your journey as an artist is unique to you and is what is going to mould you into what you are to be”.
Text by Costanza Francesconi
Images © Turner Nelson