Photography alumni Nicholas White on conservation, collaboration and creativity
Nicholas White, graduate of both our Pre-Degree and Undergraduate courses, has been working in partnership with Romanian NGO Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), on a photographic series ‘Carpathia’, documenting the formation of a new European Wilderness Reserve in the Southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania.
Born in Dorset, but now based on Dartmoor, Nicholas studied an Extended Diploma in Art & Design, before moving onto BA (Hons) Photography, graduating in 2013 with First Class Honours, where he embraced the local environment of the moors in his work. His landscape photography continued with work on ‘Carpathia’ beginning in 2018, as a result of being awarded the Royal Photographic Society ‘Environmental Bursary’ in association with The Photographic Angle and Metro Imaging.
Following the Rangers of the Romanian National Park, Nicholas joined the patrols of the ‘Guardians of the Forest’, mapping shoots using scientific data and following migration corridors of bears and footprints of wolves, with the project later featured in the New York Times. We caught up with Nicholas to find out more about the project.
Hi Nicholas! So how long is the ‘Carpathia’ project going to last? Are you heading back out there to shoot more?
N: Initially it was going to be shot more as a short editorial piece to raise awareness of the rewilding projects happening in the region, but after the first trip I realised the potential of a longer-form documentary piece. I imagine I’ll continue to shoot the story for a few more years at least, and I hope to be back out there towards the end of the year, Brexit and Covid travel obstacles permitting!
Did you come across any problems shooting on film in the wilderness?
N: I’ve been shooting large format and making life harder for myself for a few years now, so I’ve become accustomed to the various intricacies of using this camera system in difficult environments. The hardest part is getting your film through the airport without security opening the boxes and destroying hundreds of pounds worth of stock!
Did you shoot on digital whilst you were there too?
N: Not really! I took a DSLR on my first trip for general behind-the-scenes photos but left it at home after that. I think if you take a digital camera, you start to rely on it too much as a backup option and begin doubting yourself when using the large format. I’d rather focus my attention on making sure the film shots are done properly - also not taking a DSLR means you’ve got more room for film in your carry on bag!
Is there an image you are really proud of, or a particular moment from your trips that stands out in your mind?
N: The image of the storm-damaged forest in the snow field is a particular favourite. The chief ranger Bogdan and I spent the best part of a day taking the snowmobile high up above the Dambovita Valley. The snow became softer and we had to keep digging the snowmobile out of snow drifts. Eventually we arrived at an area called Tamas, and I managed to get two sheets of film exposed before having to come back again. We spotted wolf tracks on the way back down, disappearing into the dark forest - a pretty exhilarating day!
How did the New York Times article come about?
N: A good friend of mine mentioned to me that the New York Times were looking at running a series of photo stories during Covid. I pitched my ‘Carpathia’ story to the picture editor and they agreed to run it! I’m a keen writer too so it was nice to have the opportunity to write the article as well as run a large selection of pictures.
What else have you been working on in between shoots in Romania?
N: Aside from various assignment work, I’ve spent the last four winters making work at the last working slate mine in the UK. “The Dust and The Vein'' documents the shape-shifting nature of the spoil heaps high in the fells of the English Lake District. The entire landscape there is comprised of millions of pellets of black slate dust. After snow, it feels like you’re walking through an etching. For the last year, I’ve also been collaborating with photographic artist Garry Fabian Miller on a book project, ‘CRUCIBLE’, here on Dartmoor.
Tell us a bit about your commercial work - on your website you’ve shown the work you’ve done on projects with Panasonic, Do London, The Financial Times - how have you secured these jobs, and how have they fit in with your other projects?
N: A lot of assignments tend to be a by-product of my personal projects. My location also helps. For editorial assignments, the editors know I’m not London-based. I ended up living in Princetown, so I get a lot of assignments that are based in the South West, particularly in and around the moors. The Panasonic gig, for example, was about documenting where you live using the latest mirrorless cameras.
Most of my commercial work is in sports advertising though, and sees me travel all over the UK for brands and retailers. One of my first jobs after graduating from the college was working full time in a studio for a sports retailer, which kickstarted this whole other side to my career. Nowadays, all these experiences help to inform me - knowing how to shoot a whole set of assets with a footballer in less than five minutes is a useful skill to have when working on personal projects, especially if the individual you’re photographing is in a hurry!
You seem incredibly busy, so what’s next for you – which projects should we keep an eye out for?
N: Covid was quiet! But things are picking up again now. I’m working a lot on my book with Garry Fabien Miller for the rest of this year, and I also have plans to head back out to the Carpathian Mountains.