Role play can be a way to access parts of the personality that might normally be hidden from others and in a way it becomes a portrait, but one that is more generally human rather than completely personal to the sitter
Nick I.D. Masters has been a photographer 13 years, freelancing for 7, and has made a living shooting portraits for a large proportion of that time. He has also shot commercially whilst also working as a retoucher for portrait and fashion work. He is currently a London-based character portrait photographer and retoucher offering a full photographic service from conception to post-production.
Throughout his career, Nick has slowly been developing his ideas. This led to his renting a small art studio in 2014 where he has been making his new work. He now feels he is very much on his own path, working mainly with actors and life models within self-built small sets.
Nick has been working with his subjects in a way where he has them play a role whilst conjuring real emotion. He feels that it is their lack of playing ‘themselves’ which has encouraged an opening up and vulnerability that can be shown through playing a different person. The following short interview, incorporating some more of Nick’s striking images, follows up on this theme.
In photography generally, the orthodoxy is that the photograph is never objective. In this portraiture work, what would you therefore say is the overriding agenda or ‘point of view’?
The process of making pictures has always been a way for me to explore and translate my abstract thoughts and feelings. Themes I’ve not quite been able to put into words and are usually left unsaid can be played out in a kind of exploratory, visual psychodrama.
All images © Nick I.D. Masters
To what degree do the subjects have a say in the role they play? In that the subjects are playing a role, is this a way for them to release themselves in some way from ‘normality’? Is it also a way for you, the photographer, to escape a more conventional, idealised, representation of people?
I like working with people that aren’t classic models and I prefer to shoot people that have clearly lived. When I’m casting people I’ll describe early on what I’m looking for and try to describe the mood of the shoot. This way they can choose if it’s a role they want to play. I’ve found that in most cases, the people that are interested and want to take it further are people who relate and have something to give emotionally. I try to work in an actor-director way in that I have people lose themselves in ideas or mental states they think fit. I feed into that, focusing on what I see that feels right.
The people I shoot bring empathy for the character and draw on their experiences and relative thoughts and feelings. It obviously differs from person to person as to how much of themselves they reveal. Role play can be a way to access parts of the personality that might normally be hidden from others and in a way it becomes a portrait, but one that is more generally human rather than completely personal to the sitter. I’m pretty sure we all have hidden internal worlds that we keep secret and it’s this private, unvarnished realm I hope people shift into. I’m always looking for a sense of relatable honesty in the final pictures, whether it’s actually real or not.
One could say that your portraits blend fantasy and reality, in some ways akin to say the work of Billy & Hells. Similarly, your portraits may also be deceptively ‘simple’ yet portray an underlying complexity or mystery, imbued with the duality of the sitter. If so, are they something purposefully left open to interpretation?
I like work that isn’t fully explained. As a viewer I want to react emotionally and project my own thoughts and feelings into the world I’m seeing, to become a part of the work. I want to access the illogical part of my brain, to fill in the gaps, to get lost in a place where the answer is just out of reach.
I think that to some degree, most of us mix fantasy and reality in our daily lives without necessarily acknowledging it. There are really interesting evolutionary ideas as to why we come to believe in strange things like finding patterns where none exist. It is very possible to inhabit fantastical, strange and very real worlds, it’s just that they usually have a total population of one.
To find out more about Nick I.D. Masters and his work visit his personal website »
Interview conducted in October 2015 by Stewart Duffy – Chief Editor at PhotographyWorldNews.com
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