Award-winning photographer Nicholas White embraced Dartmoor during his studies at Plymouth College of Art, exploring the wilds and taking opportunities to capture the incredible local landscapes.
We believe that high-quality education for life in contemporary arts practice is the creative catalyst for personal, professional and cultural transformation, and our manifesto includes ten propositions, written by our Principal, Professor Andrew Brewerton, that added to the themes of CREATIVE LEARNING and SOCIAL JUSTICE, define our strategic plans for the future. For our new campaign, we invited thirteen current students, recent graduates and alumni to contribute their own propositions.
Nicholas has now started work on a new photographic series in the Carpathian Mountains, Romania, documenting the formation of a new European Wilderness Reserve. We caught up with him to find out more about his time at the college studying on our Extended Diploma Art & Design and BA (Hons) Photography programmes, and his proposition.
Tell us about yourself...
I was born in Dorset, and all of my holidays were spent visiting my grandparents in Chagford, Dartmoor. My family made the decision to move to Devon when I was about 10 years-old, so the outdoors has always been a huge part of my life.
We did a lot of hiking on the weekends and photography was always part of that experience. It wasn’t till the end of my A-levels that I realised I can pursue photography more seriously. So I then went back to do an Extended Diploma at Plymouth College of Art, the only local place that offered the course I needed. It was a late decision as term had already started, but I went through a rapid interview process and I ended up studying there for five years. Throughout those studies I was focusing on capturing nature and the wild.
Sounds like you have always been active and creative, are you a visual learner rather than traditionally academic?
Yes, I’m 100% a visual learner. I had to learn how to write academically, because studying for a creative degree is not just about taking nice photos and putting them on a wall. You have to be able to talk about them, communicate your work to an audience and market yourself.
The college were very supportive of this side of our studies. A big part of the programme was encouraging you to think more, read more, and write more about what you are doing. There were modules about work based learning and creating development plans. So at the end of it you aren’t just left with a camera and a portfolio, you actually know what to do with it.
How would you explain your practice, you seem quite fluid between both digital and medium format?
When I started studying I hated shooting on film, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to shoot on film. I would just shoot pretty landscapes on a digital camera, I didn’t photograph people, or anything else. I was encouraged to research photographers that I really liked, and I discovered that all of these people were shooting on film. So slowly I started experimenting more with larger formats, like the big wooden Bolex camera, with a blanket over your head. The book I released, Black Dots, was shot entirely on that camera and all on film.
I then started marketing myself as a fine art photographer, and rarely stepped into a studio with a digital camera. I also started shooting portraits, as I realised how important it was to engage with people when capturing their environments.
Since becoming a freelance artist I split my time between commercial digital photography and fine art portraits and landscapes. This month I have been in Portugal shooting with Sports Direct for Adidas, running around a football pitch with two SLR cameras and next week I am off to Romania on a large format camera to work on my next book. That variety keeps it interesting for me.
What does Rewild Yourself means to you?
It is a relatively new word which I came across a couple of years ago, after reading a book by an author called George Monbiot, Feral. Rewilding is restoring natural balances, allowing nature to take its own course. Also rewilding ourselves, putting ourselves back in contact with nature and respecting the wilderness, that is something which is embedded in my work.
I now live on Dartmoor and have the best of both worlds, easy access to London so you’re connected with industry, but I can go hiking in the National Park. It’s my mentality about being out in the wilderness, and how important it is to me.
How do you think other artists or emerging creatives can apply this to their practice?
I see a lot of landscape photographers, but their images sometimes feels as though they are a little bit too frightened to go too far, and a lot of photos are taking from the roadside or the car park. Maybe they are intimidated going out on their own on to dartmoor.
If you are going to work with the land then you have to be prepared to embrace all of it. Go out in the rain, go out in the snow, go out when the weather is horrible, walk far. It is about embracing that connection with the outdoors, and not being afraid to explore it.
Why did you choose to study in plymouth?
When I was first researching where to study, I found Plymouth College of Art was one of few remaining specialist art colleges and that was a huge thing for me, to know all that it was dedicated to the arts and not split by other subjects.
When my family moved to Devon, I found myself living where I had spent all my holidays, and it was a dream, I knew I wanted to spend a lot of time making work on Dartmoor.
After I graduated, I was spending a lot more time in London, and a lot of photographers feel to be successful they need to be in London. I knew from day one that this had to be a myth. I now live on Dartmoor and have the best of both worlds, easy access to London so I don’t feel isolated but at the same time I can go hiking in the National Park and not see another person for three days, making some of the best work I have ever made.
What’s next for you?
I won The Royal Photographic Society’s Environmental Bursary, so I’m using it to travel to Romania and photograph the Guardians of the Forest as they return mountains and forests to a state of pure wilderness.
They are creating a new national park, one to rival Yellowstone. I have been lucky to travel a lot, and Romania is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. It has some of the largest untouched fragmented wilderness in the whole of Europe, with a large population of bears and wolves.
Following the communist era, people were given land which was previously owned by the state, and they didn’t know what to do with it. They cut down the trees, killing all the wildlife and profiting by selling the space to corporations. So the European Nature Trust stepped in, and started to buy large areas of land, mountains and forests. They have revoked all of the hunting and logging rights, which means these areas are now completely untouchable. By slowly buying up smaller parts of land they will eventually all connect, and be released back to the public domain as a natural park.
I am following the Rangers, who they call the Guardians of the Forest. I will jump in the back of their 4x4 and follow them on their patrols. I am looking at how humans are creating wilderness. I’ll be using their scientific data to map my shoots, following migration corridors of bears and footprints of wolves. The images I capture will be used in my next book, a follow-up to my previous publication.
See Nicholas' work on his website here.