In focus: Nik Antonio
In this series we will be reaching out to professional photographers to get insight into their practice. This week we reached out to Nik Antonio, a photographer, artist and filmmaker on his experience as a freelance photographer in Scotland and around the world.
What’s the first picture you remember taking?
I’m not really sure what the first picture I took is. I didn’t start getting serious about photography until high school and even then, I didn’t take any photos that meant anything until university. I used to take a lot of portraits so my first photo was probably a really bad portrait of one of my friends or cousins.
Do you only shoot analog? Is it more difficult to get commissions from clients when you’re working with film?
I shoot mostly film. Maybe like 99% of my photos are film but there are those few situations when the client needs the photos the same day which you can’t do with film. I think I’ve taken maybe 4 digital photos this entire year though. I get commissioned by a lot of my clients because I shoot film so I don’t think it’s too difficult being an analog creator. There’s a huge push for antique, and vintage feeling work right now in fashion and art and culture in general so a lot more people love it when you pull out a huge film camera. There are a few jobs I’ve turned down because they didn’t like that I wanted to shoot film but that doesn’t happen a lot.
When did you decide photography is what you want to pursue full-time?
I still haven’t really decided photography is what I want to pursue full-time. At least not only photography. I’ll never stop taking photos. Many times when I’m asked what I do, I simply say I’m a “photo enthusiast” or an artist because I don’t know what it means to just be a photographer. Right now, it is my main medium of art but I also design, curate, draw. Many photographers are more than just photographers now. I think I didn’t get serious about photography as a career until my last year of university. I was doing jobs much before then but simply because I was good at what I was doing. While living in Berlin, I began only shooting film and making work that actually mattered to me. After moving back to New York from Berlin, the imagery I was making began being received by both commercial and art groups and I knew I could do something I love and still make somewhat of a living.
What’s the most difficult part of this job?
I’m a freelancer so I never know when I’m going to get work or how long waves can last. There isn’t consistent pay and when you do work, you don’t always get paid right away. The most difficult thing about being a freelance artist is dealing with inconsistency in life. Sometimes you’re loaded for while and sometimes you have a few maxed out credit cards and an overdrawn bank account but I still choose the stress of working for myself over working for someone else everyday for not that much money.
You studied in New York but then lived in Scotland for a while - as a photographer, was it difficult to find yourself in this new environment?
I travel more than the average person so I didn’t think it would be as difficult as it turned out to be. Scotland isn’t for everyone and I learned that the hard way. I absolutely loved living in Glasgow at first but the change of pace and gloomy skies everyday really got to me. I’ve worked in London, Berlin, New York, and other cities and had no problem at all but something about Scotland just didn’t work for me. I created some of my favorite personal work while living in Scotland but for commercial work, I couldn’t find much to do. There were less available facilities and equipment was harder to come by for me but I made it work. Photographers just need to find the right fit for their communities and figure out where works for shorter and longer lengths of time.
What’s the most recent project you’ve been working on?
I’m currently working on a short film on depression and anxiety. I see it as a “part two” to my Tale of “i” project, using the idea of staged (fictional) photography showing non-fiction emotions and situations. I’m using more than just my own story this time, creating a character using a number of different viewpoints to tell a story. I am also continuing my nüd series both in photo and video.
You are also a curator - would you say curating other people’s art influences your own practice?
I think as an artist, everything you see influences you inevitably. I wouldn’t say the art I see helps me create my work but simply seeing art makes you a better artist. The more you know, the better you can create. I have a style that I tend to be more drawn to that many times doesn’t fit my own works aesthetic but shares underlying ideas such as sexuality, race, and emotions.
According to you, what makes a ‘good’ photograph?
Any photography that makes you feel something or evokes a response is a good photograph. Sometimes, a technically bad photograph is better than a super well composed photograph because at least you remember how bad it looked.
Would you say self-portraits are an important part of your practice?
Self portraiture is important to me but I wouldn’t say it’s important to my practice. I started taking self portraits as a way to confront my self-esteem issues but would never show anyone those photos. I started using self-portraiture in my own work when working on the Tale of “i” series with my partner at the time. For that project, I felt that I was the only one who could be the character I was trying to portray. When photographing yourself, you learn how to better direct others but also, you learn a lot more about yourself and your abilities as a photographer. You learn a lot more about posing, lighting on the body, and what looks good in general. It also gives you the ability to work at anytime and not rely on others schedules. Taking photos of yourself tends to be harder because you’re your biggest critic. Self-portraiture helped me but many photographers don’t take photos of themselves and still know how to create a beautiful image.
I have picked a few of my favorite photos from your portfolio. Would you mind describing these?
This photo was from a collaborative project highlighting my friends in Philadelphia. Many of my friends who live in Philly are musicians who needed visual content and commissioned me to do whatever I wanted. In this photo, I wanted to use color and placement to tell a story (kind of like a painting). I figured making the house a reddish-peachy color contrasting with the blue, cloudy skies with yellow pops of color throughout the photo would be an interesting composition.
In my nude work, I tend to create de-sexualised nude imagery defining the body through either movement or angles. I was drawn to how the light in my room every morning fell softly with hard lines and wanted to place the body in a similar way. Many times, I work with people who have never modeled before or never done nude before to get a slight tension in the photo while still being comfortable and calm.
I created this photo as a part of my Tale of “i” series. I shot this self-portrait (with assistance) while in Prague at an airbnb my friends were occupying. I wanted to visually describe the separation between me and my boyfriend doing a long distance relationship at the time.
Interview by Ania Juszczyk
All pictures by Nik Antonio https://www.nikantonio.com/