This past summer I started a series of collaborations with photographers to bring you exclusive stories behind the lens. Titled One Day That Summer, the project was designed to be a celebration of summer, an invitation to discovery, to open your mind and eyes, to live life like you stole it. Given the great response I had from the wonderful photographers I have approached, for which I am very grateful, and having let summer (unwillingly) go in the meanwhile, I am extending the series year-long and will call it Through the Lens of… .
My guest today is photographer Nicolee Drake, a California girl living in Rome, the city that I love the most. The glowing light and the entire feel of Nicolee’s photograph shown above stir up memories from the time I spent in Rome in a way that does not often happen when I view images of the Eternal City, not even my own. It encompasses Rome’s magnificence and history, its intangible and timeless atmosphere, but also its living-in-the-moment attitude and approachable charm – there is no other place where ancient and contemporary work together in such perfect harmony. Therein lies the beauty of Nicolee’s photography: her visual stories go beyond the big picture, and remind us that the soul of a photograph is in the details, in the subtle meanings it is infused with, and in the emotions that go into making it. I talked to Nicolee about the place she has come to call home, the magical light of Rome, and the city’s creative force.
“I think it’s important to remember
to be in-the-moment sometimes
as not to miss out on the human experience.”
Why Rome? What inspired you to move to Rome? Would you do it all over again?
It all happened very fast. I bumped into a guy on a street corner and next thing I knew, I was living in Rome. Yes, I would do it all over again, only next time I’d ask for directions.
You are a California girl who has been living in Rome since 2009. Where have you felt most at home? Do you think it’s important to feel that you belong to one particular place?
I’ve considered many places home at one time or another, but I feel most content wherever I’ve planted my roots. I grew up traveling, so I’m comfortable being on the road and finding a sense of home wherever I am at a particular moment. Constant travel and moving around is equal parts exhilarating and disorienting, so I think it’s important to give a place significance. I can’t say that Rome is the one place above all others, but by now, it’s part of my DNA and where I belong. It’s home.
How has Rome influenced you creatively?
Rome is a collage of ancient and contemporary against a cinematic backdrop. Its meandering streets and alleyways lead you from one dramatic scene to another; from ruined fragments in hidden piazzas to the maelstrom of scooter traffic, to scenes of everyday life amid imposing architecture. It has a rhythm in which every element works together in aesthetic harmony to form an exquisite, timeless beauty. It’s hard not to find inspiration here.
If you could capture the essence of Rome in one sentence, how would you describe it?
Rome is unpredictable; it’s where beauty and tradition meet chaos and contradiction.
What led you to photography?
I’ve had a lifelong interest in photography. My first camera was an old Nikkormat FT film camera that I used to carry around with me everywhere, documenting everything. I can vividly picture my first photographs with that camera. I eventually came back to photography when I moved to Rome, using it as a way of exploring and learning about my new city, and I’ve been photographing full-time ever since.
Do you always carry a camera with you?
I always have my iPhone handy, so when I don’t have my camera with me, I still seldom miss a moment.
Take or make a photograph? Do you wait for a good photo? Are there times when you simply witness the moment without taking/making any picture?
Make. As the saying goes, “good things come to those who wait.” Sometimes a photograph comes to you, and sometimes you just have to be patient and wait for it. And, yes, I think it’s important to remember to be in-the-moment sometimes as not to miss out on the human experience.
Does Italy have the best light? What is your favourite moment of the day for shooting? Do you swear by the golden hour?
Italy has beautiful light, but Rome’s light, in particular, is magical. I am especially fond of the light just before sunset, but I also enjoy the gaining light just after sunrise. Golden hour is, of course, ideal, but I don’t think one should be limited to photographing during a particular time of day. I believe that it’s important to be creative with any available light for any given scenario.
What do you never get tired of photographing in Rome?
By now, I’ve covered a lot of Rome, so I try to take new routes to see things from different perspectives. The frenetic pace of life keeps me on my toes anticipating new situations, but I also love visiting quiet familiar places like the bridge at Castel Sant’Angelo at sunset. Its splendor never gets old.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now (old or new location), preparing to shoot, where would you want to be?
Antarctica, Siberia, and Lapland. Can I pick all three? It might be worth mentioning that I dislike the cold.