Sepia-infused and cinematic, Sam Nixon turns his lens on the stories of the world
This photographer's outlook is a harmonious blend between documentary, portraiture and fashion, with a tonal glow running throughout – as seen in his most recent project, Yafo to Jericho, published in Document Journal.
- Ayla Angelos
- 9 December 2019
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Born and raised in a hippy community of a small town in New Zealand, photographer Sam Nixon revels in his “beautiful and unique” upbringing – or, as he puts it, “one big crazy family”. His father was a photographer, so it was inevitable that Sam would steer this way, too. First made evident with his mischievous visits to his father’s darkroom where he’d run up and down the cyc – a backdrop used in shoots to remove a perceptible beginning and end, his surroundings were fuelled by visual arts, meaning his exposure to photography came early. “I began shooting in high school,” Sam tells It’s Nice That. “I would photograph my BMX friends and print in my dad’s darkroom for school assignments. I loved seeing the grainy images come to life in the chemicals.”
After a stint in London for a couple of years, assisting professional photographers and gaining experience in his chosen craft, Sam then relocated back to New Zealand. “Working with these photographers made me realise that I could do what I loved for a living,” he explains. This realisation meant that he could plan his career path through the medium, later inspiring his move to New York in 2008 – a period which involved plenty of hustling for the opportunity to work with photographers he admired. This came to fruition and Sam was able to work closely with Collier Schorr, Alasdair McLellan, David Sims, Ryan McGinley and others. “While assisting in New York, I would always make a point to shoot my own personal and editorial work, eventually I found my own voice and perspective.”
This outlook is formed via a harmonious blend between documentary, portraiture and fashion, with a sepia-infused glow running throughout. Upon directing yourself through his portfolio, the hazy blossom, vintage tones and intimacy of his subjects are revealed together in perfect unity. Telling the story of those in which he photographs is imperative – “being able to tell a story or at least a feeling or emotion through camera work,” he says. “I work hard to try to earn the trust of subjects and develop a connection, even if it’s just for a few seconds.” The soft and comfortable gaze of his subjects discloses this relationship, which is one that can only be achieved through means of respect and a mutual understanding. Upon deciphering whom he’d like to direct his lens, Sam explains how it’s the interesting groups of people that influence him the most. “It could be anywhere, as long as they’re striking or mysterious to me,” he adds. “I’m drawn to individuals and places that are out of my comfort zone.”
Yafo to Jericho is Sam’s most recent project, published in Document Journal. Marked as one of his favourites to date, it all began when the photographer met Sara Benjamin, a creative casting director from Tel Aviv. Having mentioned that not many people travel to Israel in order to shoot with her, this ignited a flame and thus dawned a collaboration between the two. “So I said, ‘Let’s do it!’” Two weeks later, Sam was on a plane and met with her and stylise Sophie Gaten. “We were based in Jaffa and we would take daily road trips in a tiny car that belonged to our assistant,” says Sam. “She would organise her acquaintances to meet us in certain locations and we would just explore and have fun. About half of the story was purely street cast on site.”
“I would take audio interviews after shooting with the subjects to get a real perspective on their life and upbringing,” Sam continues, adding how these recordings were then used for the voice over in the accompanying short film. “It was completely improvised which is the way I love to work when surrounded by such fascinating material.”
This road trip led him to various corners of the country, meeting new and inspiring people of the borderlands and those far beyond. One of Sam’s favourite images and narratives is that of a young boy who’s “receiving a kiss from his camel,” he says. “The camel is literally his livelihood. He charges tourists for quick rides at a gas station on the way to the dead sea. I love the intimate connection with his beautiful beast.”
Next up, Sam plans to launch is high solo photography book published in 2020, alongside releasing a new short film titled Akhada – which translates to ‘arena’ – premiering in New York. “It’s a stylistic short documentary film about the young warriors who dedicate their lives to the traditional Indian mud wrestling culture.” Captivating and cinematic, Sam’s work, as a whole, is a beguiling documentation of the world’s people.