PARKING LOT OF LIFE - NICOLE MASON
Coffee every morning, living out of a 77 camper van, traveling the world, tacos, donuts, taking photos, making art, and spending time with friends!
Who were you before you picked up a camera? How’d that moment change the course of your life?
Before I picked up a camera, I was a 6-yr-old kid. I picked up my first film camera when I was 7. At the time, I had no idea how much photography would be part of my life, of course. It became something I kept with consistently, as digital technology was developing, despite all the other activities I enjoyed - sports, music, school, etc.
I was always interested in getting the next camera. It never occurred to me though, how much a part of me it was. It was just something I always did, as normal as getting dressed every morning. I got my first DSLR when I was 17 - a gift from my parents, and then, I took my first photography class in college - learning how to shoot and develop 35mm black and white film, the history of photography, the processes and the creativity and the science behind it all.
That’s when I really fell in love with it as an art and a view of the world, but I still didn’t know I’d be doing it as a profession.
How do you see your life today as opposed to what you envisioned for yourself as a kid?
I laugh thinking about this. When I was younger I thought I’d be a veterinarian. I thought I’d get married by 20 or something, and travel the world at some point.
At least the last bit has been true! I’m very glad the other routes didn’t take place, haha.
But really, I think that what I’m doing now, how I’m living, is some sort of dream I always had as a kid. I loved art and being creative. I wanted to be an artist in some form, but I wasn’t told that was a “successful" career. I always thought it would just have to be something I did on the side. It was valued by many people around me growing up, including my family and school and community, yet it was not necessarily encouraged as a true career choice by the majority. All in all, I never could have imagined doing this right now, and I’m thankful for it everyday.
We know you get around. What is the most sketch situation you've gotten yourself into?
One of the first things that comes to mind is when I was in Iceland with a few friends. We had booked Airbnb rooms for most of our trip, but there was one night that fell through the cracks in the planning stages. We were driving East across the country in March, and we figured we’d just find a place to sleep at the next town we got to. All the guest houses were full for the evening, but there was a hotel we could stay in. We opted out of that because we were cheap and didn’t want to spend any more money. So the plan turned into sleeping in the rental car - but instead of just sleeping in the town, we decided to keep driving further. We parked in the middle of nowhere, folded down the seats, and the four of us snuggled in for a cold evening. We didn’t have anything for sleeping, so I slept in my parka and used a bag as a pillow. I was in the middle, two of my friends on each side - a pretty good seat in the house for a winter night in a car. I was afraid to suggest cracking a window because I knew everyone was already freezing… So I woke up in the middle of the night, I’m pretty sure it was something close to a panic attack because I could barely breathe and all that was running through my mind was how far we were from the only hospital in the country - or any sign of civilization. I remember trying to open a door or window but without success because everything was locked and the keys were out of sight. Somehow I went back to sleep, remained breathing and survived the night.
Who is inspiring you right now?
Honestly, my close friends in all different areas have been inspiring me: Shea, a talented clothing designer. (https://openairmuseum.us/). James, who lives out of his van and surfs and shoots film religiously. (http://www.jamesbarkman.com/ @jamesbarkman) Thomas, who’s been working a full-time job and going to school all while pursuing his own creative dreams outside of that (@thomasraybell). Sam, who’s an incredibly talented illustrator I share my studio with (http://steelbison.com/ / @samlarson). Evan, who’s an amazing photographer in love with space and stars and fascinated by sci-fi novels (http://evandalenphoto.com/). I’ve got some of the most inspiring people in my life right now, that all push me in various ways creatively, in art and lifestyle. I’ve never felt so lucky to be surrounded by people chasing their dreams and pushing me further into mine.
What is inspiring you right now?
Travel and everyday-life is inspiring me a ton right now. And documentaries / movies. It’s funny because I don’t really watch that many, but I’m discovering that I really love cinematic imagery and scenes, as it relates very much to documentary-style - catching moments naturally as they happen. I’ve been living out of a van for the last few months and it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. I have the ability to work anywhere, so I decided to use that freedom and go find more to get inspired by and see a lot of the country that I’ve never seen before. It’s eye-opening and life-changing, and it’s been pretty uncomfortable in many ways, which excites me because I know it’s making me change and grow - allowing my work to do the same.
Where do you call home? Does your location play a role in your work?
I call Portland, OR home, but I have to say it’s not my only one. I could call so many places where there are people I love, home, all around the world, and especially where I grew up, in Buffalo, NY. That will always be home. But the Northwest just has me good. I can’t get away for long and I think I’ll always have roots there. It has influenced and inspired a ton of my work over the last couple of years with its beautiful landscapes, its culture, and community of artists. It definitely changed the course of my work and my path as an artist from the people I met to the things I’ve been able to photograph since living there.
Anyone you’ve crossed paths with that made a major impact on your career?
Absolutely. My friends Brian and Christina Shaw (http://www.shawphotoco.com/) made such an impact on me early on in my career. They are wedding photographers based in Buffalo, where I grew up, and I came across their work just as I was getting into shooting weddings. We met in Lancaster, PA one night, when we saw on Instagram that we were both there to shoot a wedding, and serendipitously, we were all done shooting at 8pm that night, so we went and grabbed dinner together afterward. They were so open and welcoming to me and next thing I knew, I found myself road tripping to the Mystic Seminars workshop in Connecticut with them to learn more about shooting weddings and starting a business- which is also where I met the Flanigans, one of my first wedding photography inspirations as well. Brian and Christina have been part of my life ever since and huge inspirations in the way they live and love and run their business.
Is it important to you to be a part of a photographic community or are you more of a lone wolf?
It is important to me to have a community; I most definitely feel the love and support of so many constantly, but I would consider myself a lone wolf in many ways too.
I’ve taken a step back this year in search of what truly inspires me, makes me excited, makes me feel alive; asked myself hard questions along the same lines, to make sure my heart is always in the right place, because I think that’s what has got me where I am with my work - the right motives and the passion for it is what makes it real. I’ve learned what I need to surround myself with, and that I need time alone to recharge and be creative and get inspired; the world’s a bit too noisy for me a lot of the time.
What drives you to keep pushing forward?
I think it’s a balance of an internal desire to express myself through art and the feeling of gratefulness I have to be able to do so. I constantly remind myself how lucky I am to do this- to photograph people, document traveling, and make images for a living. I get the chance, every day, to inspire people, to see something in a new way, to be creative. That’s such an amazing freedom and challenge that I can’t help but take advantage of and want to grow further in. I can’t think of a better way to live- it’s full of so much purpose.
What is one of the biggest challenges you face as a creative?
I want to do so much. I’ve always had this problem. I love everything: design, photography, drawing, writing, architecture, patterns, illustration. It’s a miracle I did just choose one to narrow in on for a couple of years. I think finding focus can be really difficult when you’re overwhelmed by ideas, dreams, and goals. That’s just one side of it though, I think. One of the larger struggles at times is being understood. A lot of people don’t understand what you do, as a photographer or maker- they only see the surface of it, which I’ve come to terms with after a while. Not everyone is going to believe it’s hard work or that it has value, but you find the people that do and they find you, and they are worth it all.
Are you happy with your work?
I actually really am. I feel like it’s an extension of myself; it’s not perfect and I’ve learned to accept that. I’ve come to realize that I love imperfect and messy, but I look for the best way to frame that, in the best light. That’s what my photography has become to me - an honest view of my perspective and my vision of life, and a reflection of the way I’m learning and growing constantly. I think process is one of the most beautiful things in the world.
Never had one, maybe never will.
Aside from photography, do you have any other creative outlets?
Definitely. As I mentioned before, I love so much beyond it. It’s by far my favorite art form, but writing has become a close second over the last few years. I never really thought much of it, but I’ve found that if you can slow down and give it the time, collections of words can be a work of art, and they pair with photographs so well. I want to make some books eventually, and I really want to get into practicing design and illustration more.
Favorite web resources?
Tumblr and Pinterest to collect thoughts and inspiration, Netflix.. think that’s about it haha.
That’s a good question! Exploring more of the world, trying to learn and stretch myself and grow in all sorts of new ways. I’m excited to see what opportunities arise outside of photography. I’ve felt like there’s something more for a little while now and I’m about to find out where that takes me - it will definitely still be a creative path, but bigger than what I can do alone.
Tsunami and Avalanche