“Darkroom printing still excites me,” says London-based photographer Nikki McClarron. It was this traditional format of bringing her work to life which solidified Nikki’s interest in the photographic medium, having been taught it while studying photography at sixth form. While she had always had a fascination with photography – both her dad and grandad had always played around with cameras, and her mum always had The Face, Arena and Vogue lying around the house – darkroom printing “blew [Nikki’s] mind,” and “from then I was hooked,” she tells us.
Although describing herself as in the early stages of her career, Nikki’s portfolio is already distinctive. Her imagery is soft yet rich, depicting her subjects in an almost ethereal sense, bathed in a summer glow or a mythic-style moodiness. One element that remains constant across her work, she explains, is the depiction of nature. Having grown up in Torquay, Devon, she “spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid, so I feel at home being out with my camera in the elements.” In turn, much of Nikki’s images are set outside, on hillsides or in fields, so that nature becomes not just an aesthetic choice but a thematic area of exploration.
A big part of this is her use of natural light, which requires an understanding of timing and a level of flexibility. You have to be open to what happens on the day, she tells us, “whether it’s with a subject or more of a still life project.” She will then augment the lavish colours this process produces in the darkroom. “I feel like I can take my images to a deeper place by experimenting and pushing the colours to richer tones,” she says. “It’s a special process as quite often the accidents and mistakes made through hand printing add to the magic and overall image.”
On every project, Nikki tries to blur the lines between fashion and documentary imagery, both in her output and approach. “With my personal work, the process usually starts with an emotion, something that has moved me in a way that pulls me in, wanting me to explore it further,” she explains. “I’ll go into deep research mode on the subject and pull together visual references, which focus my mind on where I want the project to go.”
A recent project of Nikki’s saw her spend eight weeks in Tibet, taking pictures for the textile brand Norlha. “The brand works with indigenous nomads to create beautiful handcrafted fabrics from Yak Wool at their workshop high up on the Tibetan plateau,” she outlines. As is typical in her practice, Nikki used the time to get the know local community, not only photographing them wearing various seasonal collections, but documenting their daily lives. This results in a campaign which feels as much about the clothes as about the people who make the clothes. And there’s a warmth to the series because of this; a fondness that can only be achieved through authentic connection. “They are some of the most welcoming, smiliest people I’ve ever encountered,” Nikki adds.
Currently, travelling across the world for a project is clearly off the table, but Nikki doesn’t see this as a negative. Instead, she has been using her time during the lockdown to “re-organise my work and research for potential projects once the world aligns again.” She concludes by saying: “It’s good to have a little perspective and for me to think about what direction I want to take my work in the coming year.”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.