“About two years ago, I found myself unhappy and uninspired,” says Amsterdam-based photographer Nick Van Tiem. Although raised in a cheerful family – located in a small village in the south of Holland – Nick found himself working for national newspapers after he finished high school and graduated from a documentary photography course at the Royal Academy of Art. “I needed something new, subjects that I could relate to and feel inspired by.” Having seemingly chosen the wrong path at first, a ponderous decision led him to buy his first camera: “I decided to buy a Mamiya RZ and take a trip to Cape Town without a fixed plan,” Nick tells It’s Nice That. “I figured that the high costs of the camera would limit me to only photographing subject matters that were close to my heart.”
Since then, Nick has turned his lens to his peers, taking portraits of “boys that could have been [his] friends, and girls [he] could have fallen in love with.” After this change, a new process with a new visual language emerged – “buying that camera and taking that trip was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.” His portfolio now boasts splendid portraiture, graphic narratives and commercial projects for clients such as Gucci, Burberry, Highsnobiety, Ace & Tate, Nike, and publications such as Metal magazine, Nataal magazine, British Journal of Photography and Glamcult.
With an aim to find beauty in the unexpected, Nick combines his documentary background with a tinge of fashion and youth culture. He states how he isn’t interested in shooting a fashion series in Amsterdam’s canals – rather, he will ask the local Turkish supermarket if he can use their vegetable section as a backdrop. “To create stories about different subcultures, I tend to use these unique locations mixed with street casting and styling. I work with what’s available – natural light, props or people that are passing by,” he adds. “Once everything is set, it’s a waiting game. The model won’t move and I’ll hold my breath and look. Almost like a street photographer, I’ll observe the background until everything comes together; nothing beats a picture that has a certain calm to it, especially in a location that is by definition chaotic.”
Before entering into a scene of chaos, Nick will spend his time researching, reading different newspapers and letting his mind wander. This could be anything from a “boring article about fishing hooks laws” to “wondering about the lives of fishermen at sea.” This investigative approach transpires entirely throughout his work – as seen in his most recent series Doggy Style, a project for Moam & Mendo Books in collaboration with stylist Suze Kuit. The series saw the duo pull their inspirations from the “biggest dog show of the world” that was appearing in Amsterdam. “Thirty thousand dogs and their owners would come together to compete about the perfection of a tail, the extent of a snout and the most vibrant hairs,” says Nick. “This absurdity became a metaphor for humankind’s urge for control and perfection – but we let our protagonist steal the show.”
Elsewhere, another recent series titled Flight Mode for Glamcult draws from an interest in radio-controlled aeroplane competitions – a subculture found in The Netherlands. The event sees “a bunch of passionate old men create models that eventually let them be aeroplane pilots themselves, allowing them to be something they have dreamed of as a kid,” says Nick. “Styled by Benjamin Aerts, these men allowed us to photograph their most precious possessions.”
Overall, Nick believes that the role of photography is multifaceted – to “inform, surprise, entertain, reflect, and teach.” For him personally, he sees the process as a way to explore the world and the people that live in it. “Coming from a safe environment, photography allows me to question my interpretations and misinterpretations,” he concludes. “Creating this sense of awe and wonder by letting different worlds overlap still gives me goosebumps every time.”
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.