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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer

Work / Photography

Mark Lim on his creative direction of Nicotine magazine and a series on wrestlers

“As so many images inundate us day after day on Instagram”, explains photographer Mark Lim, “We find that if you are obsessed with making something that you think other people will like, you get stuck and end up regurgitating something that already exists.” As the joint creative director and editor-in-chief of Nicotine magazine alongside Lizzy Oppenheimer, the duo approach their role in the publication more like curators of a group exhibition rather than magazine editors.

“There is no formula, no strict agenda”, adds Mark on their creative process. “Instead, there is a shared vision between himself and Lizzy that amalgamates in a natural, organic creation that feels just right for the both of them. He sees no use, and has no patience for mood boards and reference images, saying on the matter, “I am truly baffled by the need for these”. He questions the act of pulling images from other creative’s work to use as a guide for one’s own idea, going on to say: “Whatever happened to original thought? I understand that with the vast saturation of images, it is highly unlikely for someone to come up with something truly new, but how about we start trying?”

When Lizzy and Mark first started Nicotine, they asked themselves “what is our purpose in doing this?” Not wanting to add credence to the number of established artists out there, and rather than perpetuating the excessive art direction of a shoot until the final outcome no longer resembles a photographer’s work, Mark and Lizzy set out to make Nicotine a place where artists get the chance to make work full of uninhibited creativity. With the aim of returning back to what an editorial magazine should really be, the magazine fundamentally focuses on the quality of the work, eschewing how some publications have become a vehicle for advertisers “or a dog and pony show of the who’s who of photography.”

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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer

After the course of one evening’s conversations, Mark and Lizzy, along with Nicotine’s beauty director Allie Smith landed on the idea for shooting the most recent cover campaign in Budapest. Throwing around ideas surrounding the iconic Hungarian baths, as well as a more whimsical vision of male wrestlers, Mark and Lizzy devised a shoot revolving around the model and actress Klara Kristin.

Shot over two days, the series takes place in Gellert bathhouse and envisions Klara as a wrestling coach surrounded by her proteges. Though the location was hot and humid, Mark remarks on how it was “every bit as spectacular as you can imagine any art nouveau building that has survived The Second World War.” The crew, the models and their families were all dripping with sweat as they worked in the bathhouse, “but the air buzzed with this creative energy that felt really special.”

Encircled by a tumult of languages, people and labyrinthine passages, the creative director-cum photographer comments on the many “amazing” moments that occurred during the shoot. In one instance, the boys filed into a space and naturally arranged themselves into a configuration that was so “incredibly organic”, Mark had to stop what he was doing right then and there in order to capture it.

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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer

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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer

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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer

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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer

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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer

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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer

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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer

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Nicotine Magazine: photography by Mark Lim, styled by Lilia Toncheva O’Rourke, art directed by Lizzy Oppenheimer