Interview – Steampunk Photographer Gary Nicholls

Georgia sits down with Steampunk Photographer Gary Nicholls to learn all about his artistic inspiration, The Imaginarium, and more.

“The first thing I always say is that creativity is not for the select few, it is for those brave enough to give it a go. The worst that can happen is you learn something.” One of the UK’s most respected Steampunk Photographers, Gary Nicholls is soon to release Book Two of his much anticipated Imaginarium Trilogy.

As much of his latest work features locations from Nottingham, ahead of Book Two’s publication we here at Impact sat down with the steampunk-enthusiast to find out all about the inspiration behind his pieces, his career so far, and more.

First things first, you’ve often mentioned your father as being the main reason you became involved in photography, was there anything in particular which you drew primarily under your father’s guidance? Or was it a great variety of things right from the get-go?

Gary: My father taught me how to understand what ‘natural style’ is. Basically tearing out pictures from magazines that you like. Write around each one what it is you like about it and then the elements that keep cropping up from your selections, e.g. composition, landscape, colour tone, black and white, portraits determine what your natural eye is tuned to. So if it is black and white portraits, that is your natural style, so concentrate on that. He also taught me to draw and paint, meaning that when I am now using a tablet with Photoshop, my eye hand coordination is not an issue. I have the ability to ‘see’ images completed before I begin.

“[T]he first and only rule of Steampunk is to be splendid…”

Do you have any favourite memories from your earlier years of drawing and attending galleries and exhibitions with your father?

G: Yes, wherever we visited for a holiday in the UK, we found a gallery. My love of ‘the old masters’ developed from this. This has enabled me to replicate the techniques used by such artists as Vermeer, and Caravaggio, but with studio lights and Photoshop. I print on metal plates, which gives a similar luminosity to their work.

You’ve mentioned how you were drawn to Steampunk when you attended The Asylum Steampunk festival in Lincoln, was there anything in particular at the festival which really drew you to the theme?

G: The costumes and gadgets! The main aspect is the creativity, plus the fact that the first and only rule of Steampunk is to be splendid, in other words be a gentleman at all times. Steampunks are fabulous people and I am now proud to be one of their number. The festival is the worlds largest and is run by The Ministry of Steampunk, for Steampunks.

The festival gets bigger and greater every year and they have been kind enough to have supported me in The Imaginarium project from day one. I needed a theme for a small collection of images, little did I know it would end up as a 450 image trilogy!

“[A]ll my time is spent using Photoshop (I eat, drink, and sleep it!)”

What do you most love about the Photoshop medium? Do you have a secondary favourite medium?

G: You can create the images from your imagination once you have mastered the techniques. The key is only to learn the technique you need to create the image you are working on and write the process down so you can refer to it at a later date. Because all my time is spent using Photoshop (I eat, drink, and sleep it!) I tend not to use any other medium. My prints are on metal, which again means although it is expensive, I no longer use Giclee paper prints. Metal gives a true black and a luminosity not met with any other medium.

Regarding The Imaginarium, what was your main inspiration behind the project, perhaps in particular ‘Eva’s story’?

G: During Victorian times, a visit to an Imaginarium would mean lots of stalls where each one had a wow factor. I wanted each image to have that, hence the overall title. Eva’s story is the first of three stories that are part of the overarching main story about a secret artefact in a wooden carved box. 40 plus characters’ stories evolve through the trilogy, culminating in one huge scene in the vein of a Lord of the Rings battle scene. The main inspiration is Dickens and, as with Dickens, the bad guys get their just rewards!

“Nottinghamshire has exactly what I am looking for in the gritty but also beautiful side.”

Do you have a favourite shooting location? What was it about Nottingham that made you decide to shoot there?

G: My workflow is such that I ‘see’ the image and then try and find the right location that matches that vision. If I can’t find it, then I take images in different locations and build the background to match that vision. I love architecture so any setting that has interesting architecture is a must.

A huge number of the cast members in my story are from Nottinghamshire, so it makes sense that a lot of the backgrounds I use depict the area. I need to portray Victorian life style, which was often not pretty, but Nottinghamshire has exactly what I am looking for in the gritty but also beautiful side.

Do you have any particular favourite photos which you’re most proud of, or had the most fun shooting, and editing?

The Town image was the most difficult and accomplished image to produce. 37 buildings and 150 people all shot individually to create one huge scene where every time you look at it, you see something you did not see before. It was 600 hours work just putting it together, without the time spent photographing the elements. The other image would be the screaming tree because that was challenging to perfect and I had to learn a whole range of techniques to pull that off.

“[C]reativity is not for the select few, it is for those brave enough to give it a go.”

Lastly, for anyone interested in further pursuing photography, or Steampunk themed art in general, is there any advice you’d like share?

G: The first thing I always say is that creativity is not for the select few, it is for those brave enough to give it a go. The worst that can happen is you learn something. Be brave, but also be a little selfish to pursue your dream. Learn your craft and your style will develop.

An interesting thing happened to me at Birmingham Comic Con last November: I exhibit with the Ministry of Steampunk at the big MCM Comic Cons. A student approached me and told me that after seeing my work online she had to come and see me as I had inspired her to take the photography course at the University of Nottingham, even though she had never seen my work in real life or spoken to me. That meant more to me that selling my art or books. Be inspired, and go and do!

Georgia Butcher

Featured Image and article images courtesy of Gary Nicholls via Quite Great Communications.

Find more examples of Gary’s work on his websiteFacebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and find out more about the Imaginarium here.

Image use licence here.

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