Meet the photographer: Annabelle Nicoll
There might not be a more poignant representation of Annabelle Nicoll’s photographic style than the piece titled ‘Me & I’ (pictured below).
To describe this example of fine art photography involves an exercise in brevity. It is, for all intents and purposes, an image that vies to be seen as no more than what it is. There are no discernible treatments, no edits that one could point to and emphasize for the sake of intellectualizing.
‘Me & I’ is no less a potent sample of enchanting imagery for its minimalism. It is, however, indicative of Annabelle’s very particular take on photography.
“Being in nature realigns us to our natural state,” she says.
That is what drives Annabelle’s work. Her photography is a study in exposure, an inquisitive and authentic representation of nature that borders on realism. And yet, there’s something just beneath the surface of every piece she produces that delves further.
Annabelle’s fine art photography resonates with the low hum of winter winds, passing through the shapes and corners of different landscapes. That sensation of seeing - and feeling - something intrinsic and deep is what one might sense when experiencing Annabelle’s work. There is a trick, however; you’ll need to go beyond your initial impression.
“I am looking for the essence,” she says of her process.
Annabelle’s connection with nature is almost platonic, needing less of any overt romantic displays than a love that is deep, unspoken, and considerate. This sort of relationship takes a level of contemplation and patience that is uncommon in an age of smartphones and photo-streams. It takes stillness.
Stillness is central to concepts such as meditation and mindfulness, but it’s also what helps us absorb and learn. That’s what helped Annabelle develop her craft in the first place. Having enrolled in university as an Art and Design student, photography would be something that came along during her Foundation year.
“I thought I was going to be a painter or work in sculpture, but after discovering the darkroom up in the attic of this small college...I was hooked.”
From that point on, stillness became central to everything Annabelle did. Her mind benefited from a lifelong habit of taking the world in for all that it is, serving her newfound artform quite well.
Annabelle’s university didn’t have any photography courses at the time. So, she taught herself everything she needed to know to get started, including processing film and developing photographs. Not long after that, she’d befriended some lab technicians who were happy to show her how to process colour.
What developed from all of this tireless work was an appreciation for the authenticity of imagery. Interestingly, the more Annabelle learned about colour grading and editing, the more fixated she became on stripping her images down to their bare essentials.
The results are zen-like, often presenting unspoiled landscapes. Perhaps the most intriguing element of her work is how it all constantly thins the line between desolation and depth. You could walk by pieces such as ‘Witness’, ‘Solo’, and ‘Quandrinity’ and risk not completely seeing them. A skim would produce imagery in one’s mind of lonely landscapes.
Yet, a few more moments and your eyes are allowed to take it all in. You’re likely to pick up much more than just the emptiness. There’s a depth that suggests what you’re looking at isn’t merely shrubbery or snow, but a vast and unforgiving landscape that changes for no cause other than the passage of time.
The zen comes from a sense of surrender to nature’s whims, however unpredictably they may shift. Annabelle is acutely aware of that particular trait.
Shooting a series in the harsh Finnish winters comes with a number of complications. Beyond the bitter chills, even the light exposes colours to a film camera that the naked eye doesn’t pick up. Yet and still, Annabelle takes it all in stride.
“The locations I have visited are always exciting as I love nature and how it continues to surprise me,” she says.
As difficult as the process can be, the preparation done beforehand is arguably even more important. “My mind needs to switch into a receptive mode to capture,” she says. This has been a difficult skill for her to master over the years, a result of university years spent in one cognitive direction.
“I would say I have spent most of my career recovering from the over-intellectualizing and conceptualizing of processes.”
Along the way, what Annabelle has learned - and continues to learn - is that there is an inherent value in allowing yourself to experience the world fully. Contrary to traditional notions, this is less about seeking the world actively and more about letting yourself absorb every bit of what is already around you.
If you look close enough, you can see it in Annabelle’s work: a sense of surrender, buoyed and guided by the depth of stillness.
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