Nick Mayo is an analogue photographer based in Grand Rapids, MI, USA. His mainly shoots portraiture and street photography, where he enjoys the art of waiting for a story to unfold before him. Drawn to light, shape and form, his photographs tend to take on a strikingly simple composition.
RP: Hi Nick, thanks for agreeing to talk to us to start please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am honored to have the privilege of sharing, thank you. I am a primarily bnw fine art photographer from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I also host a analog and fine art photography related YouTube channel and instagram called Nick Exposed. I am a husband to Emily Mayo, who in many ways is a better artist than I, and together we push each other into new levels with our artworks.
RP: what inspired you to become a photographer?
I’ve been creative throughout my entire life. I’ve done everything from drawing, painting and writing, to web and graphic design. Photography for me is the best of all these worlds. It’s simplified the process of creating new compositions, where as before it was re-coding a website, or re-organizing elements in a graphic design. Now I can make a handful of different compositions within a matter of seconds. It’s the ultimate compositional tool, in my opinion, and it continues to inspire me each time I go out and shoot.
RP: I believe you’ve just released a zine, what can you tell us about that?
I did. I recently released the second printing of “Sketches of Light”, a pocket sized zine designed and printed to resemble that of a field notes or moleskin pocket memo book. This project was a bit different then zine and print projects I have done in the past. Whereas most of my projects revolve around my analog black and white work, this book is compiled of black and white images taken solely with my iPhone. I like to challenge my own concepts of what can be done with equipment, and admittedly in the past I discounted the camera’s on phones as subpar and irrelevant to actual photography. Recently however I realized that my phone has become in many ways a pocket notebook and sketchpad for me. It’s the way in which I record my daily thoughts and ideas, and is also the tool I rely on to capture the beautiful light and compositions of a scene when I do not have my “proper” camera on hand. So the project uses these images and shows a very telling truth of the light, shadow and compositions I respond to emotionally throughout my everyday life.
If anyone is interested in picking up a copy of the project, it can be found here
RP: I love your YouTube channel and your Two Minute Tuesdays, how did these start?
Thank you so much! The YouTube channel started, just over a year ago, from a desire to serve the creative analog and fine art community I had been a part of for the past few years. I realized there were a lot of successes and failures that I was experiencing within my own fine art career and creative process, that weren’t being discussed as a large by the community. I wanted to be vulnerable in sharing these experiences with others, in hope of opening the conversation for the community to dive in deeper on the thought processes behind our work and our creative processes, rather than the standard gear and technical related conversations we so easily default to.
The Two Minute Tuesday series is really an evolution of this desire and idea. It has become a way to introduce a bite sized idea, question or challenge to the community each Tuesday morning. We then respond as a whole in a YouTube Livestream each Tuesday afternoon, diving deeper into the topics while enjoying a healthy and growing community environment. I am constantly blown away by the minds of those in the community, the thought processes and rebuttals that are thrown out in the chats, are so engaging, challenging and encouraging. I receive multiple testimonies each month sharing how these conversations have helped photographers take their work to the next level. It’s something I am quite proud to have initiated, but more so am humbled to be a part of.
RP: What/who inspires your photography?
I am a very curious individual, so really I find that I am pulling in inspiration from all over to feed my photographic vision. Lately, I have been delving deep into the workings of classical music composition and theory. I am no musician myself, but I love discovering and challenging the parallels between photography and other art forms. In the same vane, I have been seriously inspired by the paintings of the Renaissance and Golden Era, specifically their use of light, and composition to give life and emotion to a piece. It’s really incredible to break out of the bounds of photographic history for artistic inspiration. Photography is still quite young at just around 200 years old, so looking at art forms that are built on rich histories dating back many millennium is rich and full of so much mystery and wonder to me.
Photographically speaking I have far to many influences to go into. However, Ralph Gibson has been instrumental in releasing me to create much of the works I’ve had a hunger to create. More so than inspiration in his work, although I truly find his works inspiring, I found the permission I needed to walk a path I had originally set out on when I made the shift from Graphic Design to Photography. I’ve always been drawn to tight, simple, graphic detail compositions, but until I was introduced to Gibson’s work I had not seen that this type of photography was accepted as a means of ‘proper’ expression by the rest of the photo world. So I have a deep gratitude for Ralph and the doors he has pushed open throughout his career as an artist.
Others works who constantly inspire me include Elliot Erwitt, Jay Maisel, Garry Winogrand, Arnold Nueman, and of course the master Henri Cartier-Bresson. Contemporary photographers would include Kit Young, Mikael Siirila , Jahan Saber , Brendan Toews and Alex Mijatovic, just to name a few.
RP: What does photography mean to you?
For me photography is a beautiful way of offering bits and pieces of myself to the rest of the world. It gives me the freedom of capturing my perception of the world, and the joy of sharing that with others to spark conversation and relationship.
“Photography is a beautiful way of offering bits and pieces of myself to the rest of the world”
RP: What cameras/films do you shoot with and why?
I like to keep it simple. I shoot 99% of my personal work with my Leica M2. Most of the time I have the 50mm Summicron Dual Range mounted up, but also shoot with the 35mm Summicron, and 90mm Elmar. For the past two years I have shot Ilford’s HP5 pushed to 1600 for everyday shooting, and on occasion work in my favorite film, Kodak’s Tmax 3200.
RP: what’s your main reason for shooting film?
I know it gets said over and over again, but I love the process of it all. I enjoy the tangible aspect from start to finish. I love the magic of pulling the film out of the tank after its freshly developed. Then the experience of seeing the image come to life in the darkroom. It’s an experience that I have yet to encounter with digital.
Also, the community around analog photography is such an amazing encouragement. The competition and rat race of gear is nowhere to be found in this community, and it inspires me so much.
RP: Any anecdotes you can share from your time as a photographer?
My expression of photography is more fine art than it is photojournalistic or documentary. Art in my experience, is more an expression of emotion and intriguing questions than anything else. The more we can learn to ask deeper questions, and express ourselves with more vulnerability and intimacy, the greater the weight our artwork can carry. I am not so much intrigued by works that are executed flawlessly, as I am works that bring me to a state of questioning my perceptual understanding of reality. Properly executed craft can add to, but never replace meaningful content.
“I am not so much intrigued by works that are executed flawlessly, as I am works that bring me to a state of questioning my perceptual understanding of reality.”
RP: What are you looking for in a photo?
Soul! I want an image to sing to me. I want there to be an intimacy in my conversation with it, and hopefully an intimacy in others conversation with it.
I will also add that, for me, a single image is rarely the end goal. I love seeing the relationships between compositions, and watching as the sequencing and layout of a project can elevate works to a entirely different level. I’ve said it this way in the past “Images in tandem, to me, offer a greater conceptual substance than a single photo has to offer”. I love when work embodies a beautiful conversation, and invites the viewers to be a part of something meaningful, playful, or intimate. Thats what I look for time and time again in my work.
RP: Biggest regret relating to photography?
I try my best to not get caught up on things of the past, which is only to say I am too busy stressing on things of the present and future. haha. I would say if I had to mention a regret it would be, that I spent far to long focusing on the mechanics and tools of photography. If I could do 2010-2015 over again, photographically speaking, I would have studied more photos, literature, paintings, philosophy etc, and focused on becoming a more intriguing person. When I made the shift in 2016, my work exploded with life and direction, that I couldn’t have dreamed of in those first 5 years.
RP: Any closing comments?
Once again, I am so humbled to have had the privilege of sharing my thoughts in this interview! I appreciate the time and effort you take to make these happen, Robert. I say it often, and truly mean it, I am here to serve this wonderful community. If there is anything I can be doing to either help your communities projects I really do hope you or your audience will reach out. I never claim to be an expert, but will share whatever resources I have available at any given moment, to help others hit their milestones and artistic goals. I hope everyone will find the YouTube channel to be an ever growing resource and community that will help in doing the same. Cheers.
If you want to see more of Nick’s work check him out on any of the following places: