“What do you do?” is arguably the most annoying question to ever ask a passionate, multi-talented creative. I certainly have been bombarded with similar inquiries, and simply answer: “I’m just myself, 24/7.” Lizzy Nicholson is in the same predicament as she maneuvers between the photography, writing and music world.
Born in a British coastal town called Weymouth, Nicholson has always been the type to go against the grain. “The seaside is beautiful, great place to raise kids, but the people down there aren’t so inspiring. Folk in small towns talk about doing shit but they don’t actually do shit,” she admits. Underwhelmed by the lack of esprit in her hometown, Lizzy still managed to have fun with a select group of friends. Nicholson was exposed to illustrations and paintings by reading a lowbrow art publication called Juxtapoz Magazine, which propelled her to fly all the way to San Francisco at 17 years old to visit all the galleries it featured.
Two years after her U.S expedition, Lizzy decided to permanently move to London. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the U.K,” says Nicholson. “Although it’s getting more and more expensive to live in, London is still such a grassroots city - it’s so ahead of the curve when it comes to developing new music, birthing subculture divisions and spreading trends across Europe.”
The home of Big Ben truly satisfied every bit of Lizzy’s artistic hunger. Her first foray into the creative realm was as a writer, working for publications like Wonderland, and several independent blogs (i.e Eve Without Adam and XXYO). Writing then motivated Lizzy to refocus on photography and even sharpen her musical ear.
I recently sat down with the multi-hyphenate millennial to further discuss her love for London, creative process, numerous job titles and the current state of the culture as a whole. Check out our conversation below:
FRENDY: Prior to being immersed in the art world, which activities kept you sane in your hometown?
LIZZY: I’d spend all my free time searching for obscure records online; namely Jazz-Funk and early Hip-Hop uploaded by some vinyl nut who had recorded his entire collection. We didn’t have NTS back then either, and local radio was shit, so I’d find 1990’s pirate radio rips on some archaic website and listen to the old shout outs over the jungle, wishing I was in London.
FRENDY: For those who don’t know, what is NTS?
LIZZY: So, NTS is an online radio station which started in London that allows DJs from all over to curate some pretty interesting shows. It’s our generation’s pirate radio, made in DIY spirit and as a protest to the conventional media channels. There are tons of online stations popping up all over the world now, it’s really great to see people taking matters into their own hands and making their own thing happen.
FRENDY: Very interesting. Did your parents play a huge role in determining your choice of music?
LIZZY: *Laughs* Nope. Actually, I would steal my mum’s old punk cassette tapes. But really, no.
FRENDY: Who were your favorite musicians growing up?
LIZZY: Oh man, that’s so hard to answer concisely. My favourite tracks were always by some unknown artist, like weird little garage vocal tracks by somebody who put out one record once and it got lost in the abyss. I’m into slower stuff these days; 80s slow jams, really early R&B, and always Lonnie Liston Smith. I had a Sade day today. She was so sensual, don’t you think?
FRENDY: Don’t get me started with Sade - most of her songs were the soundtrack to some pretty “interesting” moments of my life *Laughs*. But that’s another story. At 17 you were heavily into painting and illustrations by discovering Juxtapoz. Did one of your friends introduce you to the mag or you simply stumbled upon it?
LIZZY: Yeah, I found it by accident in a Japanese bookshop, and it introduced me to artists like Barry McGee, Ryan McGinley’s photography and weird lowbrow art which inspired me back then, and I guess it was a catalyst in that sense, ‘cause connected to art is music, and so on. I haven’t picked it up in years though.
FRENDY: Were your parents terrified when they found out you were heading to San Fran?
LIZZY: Nah, they were chill I guess. They were the kind of parents who would take the piss out of unrealistic Hollywood movie scenes and taught me to think outside of the box for sure. But I haven’t told them some of the places I’ve visited since...I’ve been persuading my mum that Iran is a cool holiday destination.
FRENDY: Did you know anyone living in London prior to moving there permanently?
LIZZY: I don’t think I did you know. People who move here say it’s hard to meet people who are actually from London, but most of my friendship group are Londoners and I now consider it my hometown for sure. It’s a super diverse city though and I’ve got people around me from Rwanda to Siberia.
FRENDY: It’s a blessing to have an eclectic group of friends. How did you start writing for mags and blogs out there? Did you have an Editor plug?
LIZZY: I had an in via a mate and like all freelance work it escalates once you start developing a portfolio. But really, I got into it ‘cause I despised most of the ‘throw away’ content that I was reading and wanted to change it. Publications that were supposed to be collecting the alt-cultures would dumb everything down and repeatedly feature artists being quizzed about the same generic topics over and over again. The coverage was usually just skimming the surface anyway, you never really got to see inside the artist’s head. Wouldn’t you agree?
FRENDY: Truss mi mummi *said in my sincerest British accent* I know exactly what you mean. Are you currently writing?
LIZZY: At the moment I’m really focusing on my visual work ‘cause that’s where I started - photography - and mainly working within the music industry. I feel like visual is default for me. Right now I’m working with an R&B singer and a British hip-hop group. This really interests me because I can find an image that works with their sound, and all the genres and subgenres that are referenced in their work have their own visual cues. I never fancied going down the fashion route, although I dabbled in it and found everybody I met was just interested in pushing products and had little to say about the world.
FRENDY: Amen! What caused you to focus more on photography? What was your first big break in that industry?
LIZZY: I’ve gone hard on photography because I feel like I’m more satisfied when I make visual work; I can easily articulate how I see the world this way. There’ll be a style that I want to explore based on something I’ve seen, heard or researched and I’ll need to get it solidified. At the moment I’m obsessed with the colour brown and woodgrain. People don’t wear enough brown - It’s flattering and sexy.
I don’t think I’ve had a big break though. My ‘big break’ was 10 years of me busting my ass! Success certainly doesn’t come from one set event. Learning how to deal with people is the most important thing I had to learn to make my work, work. As a photographer your interactions with the subject are going to determine the fate of the image - I’ve worked with 14 year old agency models who were so shy and nervous (and I mean, no wonder, they’re children, so having your picture taken by a ‘fashion photographer’ would be dead scary). You have to be good at reading people and working with their emotions.
Sometimes egos are a bitch though and the person being photographed likes to try and be an art director.
FRENDY: Who’s your favorite photographer?
LIZZY: I’m way inspired more by cinematography than other photographers’ work. I’m really into films by Wong Kar Wei - Fallen Angels I’ve watched about 245 times, no word of a lie and it never fails to make me want to produce work. The framing, music and atmosphere are so spot on, I feel like he saw into the future and made it for me.
FRENDY: It’s safe to say you’re shooting way more than actually writing?
LIZZY: Definitely shooting is where I’m at, though last year I was interviewing artists a lot. There are a few topics that are sitting in the back of my mind, like how music has become less and less political over the decades, which I think needs to turn into something. It’s funny trying to define what I do, I think as long as I’m working within my interests, the method of work can be anything. At the moment I’m working on a magazine with a few friends here, which combines everything.
FRENDY: How do you gain your muses? Word of mouth or through an agency?
LIZZY: Most people have found me via somebody that I’ve shot already; there’s this girl who made a documentary about women with shaved heads (S/O Charnah Ellesse) and I took her picture a while back, so since then all these bald women have been coming to me on Instagram for collaborations - which is great, they’re all super interesting and have great characters for the camera.
Cynical people who bash the Internet and say they want to retreat to a cabin in the woods are shit heads, the Internet is a wonderful thing. It’s free education and connects artists who would never have found each other otherwise. I also street cast, I rarely use agency models as I find they make images look vanilla or something. If you follow photographers, you end up seeing the same expressionless face on your social media feeds over and over and over again.
FRENDY: *Laughs* Vanilla faced. Who’s on your bucket list to shoot?
LIZZY: OMG, what a great question! People who have lived long lives and actually contributed to culture; wisdom translates through the lens, you can see it in people’s eyes. Maybe I’d pick Sonny Rollins, Lonnie Smith... and like I mentioned earlier, Sade, her vibes transmitted so well. I’d dress her in her signature red lips with big gold YSL earrings and a sheepskin bomber jacket.
FRENDY: Gotdamn! sounds like a classic pic already. Are there any other publications out there you would want to write for in the near future?
LIZZY: Nah, they’re all pretty dead but there has been a rise in people making their own zines as an alternative, which is really cool to see.
FRENDY: As far as music, not only do you shoot musicians, you DJ as well, right?
LIZZY: I’m learning. I’ve learned to beatmatch by ear but I’ve yet to put it out into the world, I have so much music and like to enforce my music taste upon other people *Laughs*. I like the idea of curating music to a concept. It’s just another avenue for creativity.
FRENDY: What do you do for fun during your downtime?
LIZZY: I like to go to the cinema alone. I’ll go to the tiny theatre at the ICA in Piccadilly and watch a depressing Syrian film or whatever they have going that night, then I’ll go and eat Japanese from my favourite place in Soho that looks like it’s been there since the 1980s. Time alone is important to me, I don’t get people who are afraid to eat out alone.
FRENDY: What’s the best advice you ever received about how to be more creative?
LIZZY: Well, you have to know the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. An artist sees wrong with the world and wants to change it - if you don’t you’re just pushing buttons for a job.