Nikola Tamindzic is a fantastic photographic artist who lives in New York City. His work is very dramatic and gives me a sense of brooding aloneness www.nikolatamindzic.com. So, what makes him tick? www.homeofthevain.com Read our cool chat and find out …
“… Problem with cameras is that while you're taking pictures you're not really there. So later you have some excellent photos of places you've never really been to …”
MICHAEL: Hey Nikola, Your portraits are spectacular. It's so easy to be distracted by the beautiful women and great subjects, but I'm onto your trick. Light is absolutely the star feature of your work. LOL. Would you like to explain this?
NIKOLA: Maybe tell me which ones in particular struck you that way. I'm curious. But there's a lot of inspiration coming from the place I live in. It’s the strange, natural light you get in Manhattan. The way the sunlight bounces off glass skyscrapers - sometimes multiple times - you get this ghostly, cinematic, but strictly speaking, available light look.
If you stop and pay attention (and who does in New York?), you see people moving in and out of strange spotlights while walking down the street. It's uncanny. It’s like walking through glass or like being on a theatre stage without realizing so.
It's this uncanny nature that particularly interests me. Evoking a sense of place, parallel to the one we're in — close enough to be familiar, different enough to be unsettling. Like a trip to a foreign country. At first, it all feels familiar, but then you realize that different rules apply in most situations.
So, it was specifically when I started work on my “Fucking New York” art project — which is the most New York-centric project I ever worked on — that I had to figure out exactly how to use lighting to evoke that feeling. And now that look carried over into my fashion and portrait photography as well.
MICHAEL: Yes, it's very dramatic. Your lighting is actually Hopper-esqe. When you said "cinematic," I thought, "He seems influenced, maybe subconsciously, by Edward Hopper." No? I say that because I also get a sense of aloneness in your work in addition to the lighting treatments throughout your work.
NIKOLA: Not directly, no, but Hopper is so much part of my DNA, it would be hard to give an unequivocal, “No.” But yes, there's a shared sense of solitude, definitely. And I'm glad you phrased it as "aloneness" rather than "loneliness." You got it exactly right.
Sometimes it feels that their desire for a moment of their own is what cleared out the physical space around them. You're never on your own on the street in New York, yet my characters seem to always find themselves a quiet places in all of the noise and commotion. I always admired people who knew how to be alone, who enjoyed their alone time. But then, when you look at the photos where there are two protagonists, you'll see that they're engaged in some way, that there's good reason for both of them to be there. That very fashionable look of alienation, of ignoring one another and looking disaffected, that's not them. When they're around people, it's for a good reason, and when they're alone, they enjoy that time fully.
MICHAEL: Exactly. You know another thing that I find interesting, especially in fashion photography, is the expressionless face. Are obvious emotions and facial expressions considered distractions? What's the deal?
NIKOLA: That's the norm. But fashion (and by extension, fashion photography) is all about delicate balance of offering a chance to buy in to the fantasy, and keeping you at arm's length. Depending on who you are, expressionless faces may keep you at a distance or allow you to buy into the fantasy of being as unapproachable and distant as the person in the photograph. But fashion blank, disaffected blank, and documentary blank are all very different, don't you think?
MICHAEL: Yes. Everybody and their grandmother has a cellphone with a camera now. So many people seem to be consumed by documenting everything. What do you think about this? Are they making art?
NIKOLA: Problem with cameras is that while you're taking pictures you're not really there. So later you have some excellent photos of places you've never really been to. But overall, it's a good thing. It got so many people into casually making art. And it burned the old business model to the ground. That's more than enough.
MICHAEL: Yes, but surely there's a difference between art photography - your work - and the actions of millions of people snapping photos. What's the difference between art and snapshots?
NIKOLA: What's the difference between a sketch and a finished piece? I started taking cellphone snapshots when I got my first iPhone in 2008 and over time, that deeply changed the way I shoot. I was taking pictures of things I'd never shoot with my 35mm camera. Snapshots became both a playground and a Research & Development department. Fucking New York wouldn't have happened if it weren't for iPhone snapshots, nor would any of my recent fashion work. So the difference between sketch and a finished piece would be time, care, and thought invested in a single frame. But sketches still have their value. Can you apply this to a broader social context? I think so.
MICHAEL: "Fucking New York"? I'm all ears.
NIKOLA: I’ve been in the business of photographing desire since I started shooting. And desire takes many, many forms. Fucking New York is an absurdist exploration of what would happen if the secret object of desire were New York City itself.
This is less of a leap than it sounds; you can find it in the way people talk about New York. I’ve heard so many times, even in various TV shows, that when you’ve been living in New York, you’re in a relationship with New York. So what about sex, as part of any relationship? What would fucking New York be like? (Other than feeling you’re getting royally fucked by New York on the first of the month, when the rent is due.) What would trying to have New York feel like? How would you wrap your legs, so to speak, around New York? How would you suck it, or indeed, fuck it?
So the idea is to push this notion to absurdity and have fun with it. At the same time, there’s an interesting deeper thread running through it - a thread that’s about exploration of desire and its universality, regardless of which rapidly-shifting object it attaches itself to. Surrealism.
All that aside, I’m very interested in art that has a lot to say for itself, but doesn’t need to hide behind “International Art English,” hence the title. Fucking New York. It’s dumb. Dumb in a way that a Ramones song is dumb.
MICHAEL: International Art English. I love that. Are you referring to "art speak" and how many people in the art world talk about art? What don't you like about it?
NIKOLA: Regardless of its roots in theory, in its present state, it’s somewhere between a marketing tool and a street con, like “legalese.” It’s that other language used by middlemen for the benefit of middlemen. It’s not really a subject I care enough about to get polemical about; fashions come and go and preferences and aims vary from artist to artist. Speaking strictly for myself and my work, I prefer direct, minimal information - a light touch.
MICHAEL: I like the fact that you have two websites that show your art projects and commercial and fashion work. Do you approach commercial jobs differently from your personal art projects? Or is it all basically the same approach?
NIKOLA: I personally approach them similarly, so one site would make sense, but division into two is an admission of facts on the ground. The art world in particular views commercial work with some suspicion. Being an art photographer can be an asset in eyes of commercial clients, yet rarely the other way around.
This is not unexpected or unreasonable. In a majority of cases, a commercial photographer is there to execute client’s or art director’s ideas, in a more or less personal style. As far as art world is concerned, this makes you a craftsman at best.
At this point, I’m asked by clients to go ahead and “just do that thing you do.” This has been the case with both recent projects — Fucking New York and Avant-Hard — and this allows me to do projects that have personal resonance and do them in the context of commercial or editorial work. Which means, sure, getting paid, but it’s also an interesting challenge, a way to work outside of your own cozy context.
This also means that being able to say “No” to projects with limited creative freedom, no matter how potentially lucrative or high-visibility they may be. It’s a temptation worth resisting in the long run. Love and money are an explosive combination and they can be mixed, but with care and patience. If you’re an up-and-coming artist, i.e. broke, I feel it’s better to have an unrelated side job that supports your art, rather than using your art to get paid to make things you hate. It’s not worth ruining it for yourself. More bluntly, don’t shit where you eat.
MICHAEL: Well said. Finally Nikola, What's the point of all of this? Many if not most people think art, especially contemporary art, is bullcrap. Most people won't ever buy art, so what's the point?
NIKOLA: My attitude toward art has been formed in the '80s and '90s by musicians, not fine artists. Thank God, as getting life lessons from Steve Albini will keep you level-headed, focused, and bullshit-free.
Most of those people did what they did because they loved it, because they wanted to, because they needed to, because it meant something - something fundamental, past acclaim they received, past money they made, past ass they got. I can only aspire to a rich, winding, unpredictable career, full of missteps and hard work and wonder - a career like those of Scott Walker or Michael Gira, or Kate Bush. Those are the people I look up to, ethically and creatively and whether the art world is thoroughly full of shit, or whether the general population thinks the whole thing is bullcrap -seriously, that doesn't even come into the calculation.
MICHAEL: Thanks Nikola. This has been a refreshingly candid chat. LOL.
NIKOLA: Sure thing! It has been fun. Keep in touch.