Interview // Douglas Nicolson

We interviewed artist Douglas Nicolson, asking about his work with pinhole photography and other alternative photography processes.
Douglas is Artist In Residence at The Double Negative Darkroom in Hackney.

Why/when did you begin to get involved in pinhole photography?

At art school I had played around with pinhole but it was a couple of years ago when I was staying in Mocambique that I picked it up again. I found a supplier of black and white chemicals in Maputo so thought it was a good opportunity to experiment with pinhole as I didn’t have an enlarger.

Douglas Nicolson - Pinhole - Igreja De Santo Antonio Da Polana, Maputo, Mocambique

Douglas Nicolson – Pinhole – Igreja De Santo Antonio Da Polana, Maputo, Mocambique

I showed some work at a photography night that the Franco Mocambique Centre was running in maputo. this led to a gallery exhibition and running pinhole photography classes at the Mocambique Art School and partnering with Escola Melhor, a local NGO and the primary school they support.

Douglas Nicolson- Setting up a darkroom and wet area in the staff room of primary school, Maputo, Mocambique

Douglas Nicolson- Setting up a darkroom and wet area in the staff room of primary school, Maputo, Mocambique

Douglas Nicolson - Contact printing frame with defused and red light. Art School, Maputo, Mocambique.

Douglas Nicolson – Contact printing frame with defused and red light. Art School, Maputo, Mocambique.

Douglas Nicolson - Making shoe box pinholes with shutters, Art School, Maputo, Mocambique.

Douglas Nicolson – Making shoe box pinholes with shutters, Art School, Maputo, Mocambique.

Douglas Nicolson - Wet area and shoe box pinholes with shutters in background, Art School, Maputo, Mocambique

Douglas Nicolson – Wet area and shoe box pinholes with shutters in background, Art School, Maputo, Mocambique

Douglas Nicolson - Getting ready to make photograms with beach finds. primary school, Maputo, Mocambique

Douglas Nicolson – Getting ready to make photograms with beach finds. primary school, Maputo, Mocambique

I like the DIY aspect of pinhole. To make a positive print, I used a piece of white shampoo bottle to diffuse a 15w bulb in a gaffer-taped cardboard box with another bulb painted red to use as a safe light. It was difficult to find darkroom equipment locally, so I had to make my own!

Douglas Nicolson - Pinhole - Participants photogram image of beach finds

Douglas Nicolson – Pinhole – Participants photogram image of beach finds

Douglas Nicolson - Participant Pinhole Image

Douglas Nicolson – Participant Pinhole Image


What kind of pinhole camera do you use?

I wanted to make something a little more portable with the ability to take multiple images to enlarge from, so I made a pinhole camera that can take and wind 35mm film. I have often used colour film with this camera.

Douglas Nicolson - 35mm RollFilm Pinhole Camera

Douglas Nicolson – 35mm RollFilm Pinhole Camera

Douglas Nicolson - Pinhole Portrait on 35mm, Interior, 2 Hours

Douglas Nicolson – Pinhole Portrait on 35mm, Interior, 2 Hours


Do you practice any other alternative photography processes?

I got into alt printing process through experiments with the cyanotype process and have attempted platinum and carbon.

Douglas Nicolson - Cyanotype printing booth in a market stall

Douglas Nicolson – Cyanotype printing booth in a market stall

At present I mainly shoot Wet Plate Collodion and either show the plates or take contact prints from them. I thought wet plate would be a good way to get back in to taking portraits again. I enjoy the slowness of the process and the randomness of the people I meet when I take out my bicycle trailer wet-plate darkroom.

Douglas Nicolson - Bicycle trailer wet plate darkroom

Douglas Nicolson – Bicycle trailer wet plate darkroom

Douglas Nicolson, Wet plate collodion –  Amy the Sheep and handler Roger. Dalston Eastern  Curve Garden, London

Douglas Nicolson, Wet plate collodion – Amy the Sheep and handler Roger. Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, London

If I’m making enlargements I like the quality that lith developing brings to the final print.

Could you say more about the piece; Indian Ocean, Mocambique?

I work with a lot of different community groups and often I give the camera to workshop participants to represent themselves. At the time, I was reading a lot about the ethics of representation so I was having a bit of an ethical dilemma towards taking photographs of people.
Because of this, I chose to point my camera outwards, towards the wonderful coastline. I became fascinated by the motion of the water over time and the amazing light in Mocambique.

Douglas Nicolson, Pinhole - Indian Ocean, Mozambique

Douglas Nicolson, Pinhole – Indian Ocean, Mozambique

Douglas Nicolson - Pinhole - Fishing boats, Maputo, Mocambique

Douglas Nicolson – Pinhole – Fishing boats, Maputo, Mocambique

Douglas Nicolson - Pinhole - Cape Of Good Hope, South Africa

Douglas Nicolson – Pinhole – Cape Of Good Hope, South Africa


Is the material nature of the analogue process something that is significant within your work?

I enjoy tinkering and the craftsmanship involved when you begin to make your own cameras and experiment with chemicals. The act of making an image becomes a significant and enjoyable part of the process for me. The materiality of the substance is not a main concern in the final work, although it is often present.

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