When we launched our Black Leather Collection, we asked five of the most talented people we know to put the collection to use in their daily creative lives. We first "met" Nicole Mason this spring via—since it's 2016—Instagram. We were struck by how pitch-perfect and poignant Nicole's work was, and her grasp of light, texture, and tone. Below, we ask Nicole to share her story and process, and share some highlights from her work (as well as some shots of our new leather Brixton messenger bag).
ONA: How did you first get into photography, and what inspired you to make photography your career?
NM: I had my first camera when I was about 7 years old- a 35mm film camera made by Fisher Price! Throughout my childhood I was always taking photos and interested in cameras, but it was never something I imagined doing for a living.
When I started college, I knew one thing: I wanted to do something I loved because I'd seen too many people hate their jobs or still not know what they wanted to do after finishing school.
So I decided to go with my gut and study studio art because I knew I loved being creative and I couldn't imagine doing life without making art in some way. I had no thought about how much money I would make or how I would even make it.
About a year into school I was taking film photography courses and began interning with a local wedding photographer. Then, I started working with a photo studio second shooting weddings- pretty much my first job in the creative field, rather than jobs in retail and restaurants. At the same time, I was starting my own business with it and finding inspiration online in photographers' work from around the country, who were shooting in stunning landscapes and photographing really unique, intimate weddings. Seeing these types of weddings and collections of photographs inspired me to think of this as something I could do for a living.
ONA: How does your artistic background make its way into your work, whether intentionally or subconsciously?
NM: I think my artistic background comes through in my work by my use of light, color, and composition. Those are by far the most key and important things I look for when I'm taking photos. You can be really technically skilled with a camera, but not really have a specific style or consistency in your work, and I think that's where my inner-artist comes through; I care about what the subjects are wearing, the color palette, what angle I'm photographing them at, which direction they're looking, and how they interact with the setting. I'm always trying to create a scene and a set of photos with variety, whether I'm documenting an event that's unfolding before me, or styling a shoot that I'm more in control of.
ONA: How do you describe your personal style and design aesthetic? Are there 2-3 principles you always keep in mind?
NM: I'd describe my style as earthy and minimal. I love dark, natural tones, and I love the overall concept of minimalism - less truly is more in pretty much everything. There's such beauty in simplicity, and it can be balanced out by small details, which I also like to incorporate in my work- for example, I may just have a couple standing next to each other, but the subtle turn of their body or a motion of them fixing something on their outfit is what I love to capture.
I often look for clean backgrounds and good, natural light, as well as variety, as I mentioned before. I usually like to photograph the same thing from about three different distances and angles. It's important to take a step back, a step forward, and capture the overall setting but also recognize the smaller details. For me, this usually looks like a couple, far away, really tiny in the frame, among a forest or field or ocean, contrasted by a close-up of the way they're holding each other.
ONA: Where do you draw inspiration from and who do you look up to creatively?
NM: I draw inspiration from a ton of areas - from old photographs, to films, to fashion and design - but most of all it comes down to the day-to-day. Where I choose to spend my time- coffee shops with great interior design, the coast on foggy, cloudy days; driving around town and spotting certain colored walls I really like, or going on a hike and seeing landscapes that stretch for miles. I am always looking for little things that I'm drawn to, whether I'm traveling out of the country or walking around my own neighborhood. I believe that there's always something you haven't seen before.
ONA: What was one of your favorite days of the year so far creatively—and why?
NM: That's a tough question. I get a lot creative freedom with what I do, so there's definitely many days that I could think of. One that stands out, though, was a shoot that I set up for an Amsterdam-based watch company, Cluse. They allowed me to have total control of how to photograph their product, so I gathered models, styled, and directed the entire shoot from start to finish. It was a really cool process to start from drawing inspiration from the watch designs and translating that into photographs.
ONA: Do you have a dream project that you'd like to tackle in the next five years?
NM: In the next five years, I would love to transform what I'm doing into something bigger: create among a team, rather than just by myself. It excites me to think of what I could do with a few more artistic and motivated minds by my side. There's also a few more business ideas I have in mind to improve the lifestyle of photographers, which would be amazing to start.
Pictured above: the Brixton messenger in black leather
ONA: What advice do you have for aspiring professional storytellers, regardless of medium?
NM: Never stop learning, and have patience and grace for yourself. Art, in any form, is a process. It doesn't come overnight, and wouldn't be rewarding if it did. The process of figuring out what stories you want to tell and how you want to do that, comes with time and most likely a lot of hard work, failures and mistakes along the way. It's messy and uncertain and requires you to get out of your comfort zone. You'll get as far as you're willing to take yourself.
ONA: What are the three items you carry in your bag at all times?
NM: I always have a canon DSLR, a couple of prime lenses, and a notebook and pen.
Pictured above: the Brixton messenger in black leather