Submit Saturdays: Natalie Shields' photography finds inspiration from millennials and the internet
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Welcome to Submit Saturdays, a year-long series of articles in partnership with Squarespace. Be it a professional work website, a shop, a social enterprise or a site that hosts a personal project, Submit Saturdays will showcase the work of creatives around the world who use the online platform Squarespace. This is a great new opportunity to share your projects and ideas with our readers.
Natalie Shields is a Seattle born photographer with the ability to depict character in a singular shot. Whether she is photographing a college football team or visualising the voice of millennials, her work is consistently thoughtful. Her consideration to the subjects she shoots has resulted in a documentary photography portfolio combined with stylistic flair. We chat with Natalie about her introduction to this medium, her time at Rhode Island School of Design and the responsibility of representative photography.
How did you initially get into the photography field?
In high school, I was mostly a jock and kept the majority of my artistic inclinations under wraps. However, I was obsessed with Martha Stewart and loved baking. I got my first DSLR and started documenting what I made, gradually getting more into food styling. I was known to bring in treats the day of an exam that was destined to be particularly brutal as an attempt to console many of my classmates afterward. While I don’t really bake any more, I was clearly leaning toward, what I now recognize as, some the elements of graphic design: manipulation of color, texture, composition, and so on. Much of my portfolio when applying to art schools was pictures of cupcakes.
You studied at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, how did you find your time there?
I didn’t really find my groove until the last year. I think the best advice I got from a professor was that I wasn’t listening to myself enough. When I committed to an idea early and stuck to my guns, I produced better work. This is not to say that every idea I had was a good idea, but developing a habit of confidence in ideas I truly believed in gave me time to flesh out how it would look.
You’ve just released your first book, Love, Floppy Disks & Other Stuff the Internet Killedcomposing a portrait of millennials like who grew up in tandem with the internet. What was the inspiration for this?
Floppy Disks started as a collection of screen shots from Yik Yak. For those unfamiliar, Yik Yak is an iPhone app for university students, which was very popular a few years ago. The app allows students to write whatever they please anonymously; the post is then up or down voted by other users. At first, I found the posts pretty funny and would take screen shots of something relatable or humorous. But over several months, I collected thousands of confessions that were all saying the same thing, “We’re desperately unhappy and we don’t know how to express this.” I then saw this everywhere: in music, in books, television, movies, my peers, my friends, myself. Much of the process of this book was voracious content gathering. No matter what I was doing I was always listening and taking notes, it became clear quickly that whatever story I was telling, it wasn’t my story, it was a generation’s.
In no way do I think millennials are the ‘saddest generation’ or the only generation to ever feel uncertainty around expressions of grief or vulnerability, but we are the first generation to be exposed to non-stop information and non-stop horror via the Internet. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with instant access to pornography and it is undeniable that this has affected gender relations and sexual politics. We’re often accused of being numb or indifferent to suffering; I think we feel a lot, we’ve just seen too much too early.
The book isn’t so much an attempt to provide any answers to the question, “What’s wrong with millennials?” but is an exploration into contemporary definitions of emotional and physical love. Floppy Disks was my first formal attempt at something as much creative writing as it was visual.The book is a collage of my own story, signed entries from my high school yearbooks, remixed app confessions, television, movies, stand-up comedy, rap lyrics, and social research studies.
Your projects Hardy vs Vincent and New York Sharks depict amazing women in sports. How did you find the shoot in such an intense environment?
Women in sports are so often expected to look and act a specific way: Maria Sharapova makes more money in endorsements than Serena Williams because Sharapova checks every box on the list of stereotypes of western female beauty, while Serena is the superior athlete. Because sport is so often the way we talk about issues of race, class, and gender, it is critical that sports media display the diversity of ways in which female power is female beauty. What I loved about both Hardy vs Vincent and the New York Sharks was the huge range in how these women displayed their personal definitions of femininity. All women find their own balance of the masculine and the feminine; I’m just trying to find mine.
I’ve been shooting sports for about three years now and the main thing I’ve learned about shooting fast-paced action is this: walk onto fields you’re not supposed to walk on and act like you know what you’re doing.
What decisions went into designing your website?
As much as I can appreciate an out-there portfolio site, ultimately what I wanted was something that was simple, worked across devices, and allowed the work to shine more than the website. I know enough front-end code to get a website looking how I want it, but building the skeleton by hand is pretty rough for me.
Therefore Squarespace is ideal, I’ve had some bad experiences with deleting a semicolon and suddenly the whole site doesn’t work. I wanted to feel confident that my site would look good on mobile and also know that I couldn’t mess things up too much. Squarespace also allows me to do some smaller scale web design projects for friends and clients who have portfolios of their own, don’t want the template look, and need an easy-to-use interface for adding new work. Squarespace is what I use to showcase my own work, but it also allows me to help others do the same.
If you host your work on a Squarespace website and would like to be featured as part of this series of articles, please head here to learn more and get in touch.
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About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.