You can tell a lot about an artist just by looking at their work. Their subjects, composition, framing, film choice, and more can reveal everything you need to know about them. When we look at the images of photographer Turner Nelson, we can see that he had spent a lot of time figuring things out and discovering what he really wants to say. His calm approach to creating images appears to be a product of a journey thoughtfully embraced. In this interview, he gives us a more intimate look into his creative process as he opens up about his musings and the reasons why he keeps on creating art.
Hello, Turner and welcome to the magazine! What do you do and how did you get started in photography?
Hey, my name is Turner Nelson, and I am a hobbyist landscape photographer from Los Angeles, California. I started shooting photos seriously back in 2016 but have been taking photos of my adventures since cell-phones have had cameras. My best friend Ricardo and I would go from rooftop to rooftop in downtown Los Angeles religiously, searching for the secret spots no one else has been. These memories and photographs got me inspired to begin pursuing the challenge of creating images that no one else has ever seen before.
What made you choose it as your medium?
For me personally, the love for photography was instant. I have tried other forms of artistic expression but something about seeing the world through a rangefinder clicked with me. It has been a long few years with a ton of trial and error backed with some AWESOME memories and friends made, and this process has made me fall in love with it.
What is your favorite film to shoot with?
My favorite film to shoot with is any film loaded into a camera… But on a serious note, I have been enjoying Lomography 400 (which is the first roll of film I ever shot and scanned myself) for a few years and can rely on it to be trusty in most all lighting/color conditions. 35 mm film is my favorite type of film as it is convenient and contains more exposures per roll (which for me is huge with my style of fast-paced landscape/lifestyle photography).
What do you look for in a frame before you shoot?
The first thing I do when I am planning on taking a picture is to assess what I am seeing and how it correlates with what I am feeling. I think about the feeling the location brings me and how it is trying to speak to me and use that to position myself to take a photo that reflects those factors the best. I look through my rangefinder, look at all corners within it, make sure I am getting everything I want in the photo, and take it.
Your photographs of nature/your travels are just remarkable. What made you choose this subject?
I have always had a love for the outdoors, and I thought it would be best to take my camera along with me while I was doing what I loved most; exploring nature and experiencing it in foreign environments. After a few years of taking photos of nature, it started to come naturally, and I haven’t been able to let go of that feeling.
How much has your work changed since you started shooting? Are there any specific moments that changed your perspective when it comes to the art of photography?
If I were to describe my work in a sentence, that sentence would be “a collection of photographs that represent my personal life experience”. My work has consistently changed throughout my photo experience - at the same pace that my life has been changing. I like to express myself through my photos, and my expression changes with my personal life. One of the most ground-breaking events that changed my idea of creativity as a whole was when my best friend and photography mentor, Ricardo Olivarez, passed away. It made me realize that we often can take this creative journey for granted. Sometimes we forget that just being photographers and being alive is truly a gift. Every time I take photos, I think about how much Ricardo would love to be there doing the same thing and it pushes me to keep the blessings going in honor of him.
Please talk us through your creative process.
In all honesty, my motto is to keep it simple. Although it may sound cliché, I like to let my inspiration and creativity come naturally. It’s never forced, it’s stumbled upon and usually when I’m out and about. My creative process involves putting my camera with a few rolls of film in my backpack and going wherever I feel like going at the time.
How do you compose your photographs?
I take my time and make sure that I’m paying attention to everything that is inside my frame before taking the photo. I use prime lenses most of the time; I like how they help me focus more on where I’m positioning myself to take the photo.
What would you like to get across with your work?
This is something that is constantly changing, but right now my main goal is to help people embrace their natural vision. By natural vision I mean a vision unaltered by social media, negativity, or anything that would obstruct creative purity. If I could recommend viewers take anything from my work, it would be that you don’t need to be a genius to take a genius photograph; you just have to trust that the way you see things speaks in itself.
For a long time, I was trying extra hard to make my photos interesting through obsolete things like investing in extremely expensive gear and watching hours and hours of editing tutorial videos. While these things have proven valuable in the long run, it wasn’t until I simplified my whole process that I began seeing the best results. I also believe that the way somebody views my work is extremely unique to that particular person and I keep this in mind when creating my final product.
How would you best describe your photographic style?
I would describe my photographic style as simple. Simple in the sense that I do not over-complicate the scene I am photographing. A tip to my fellow landscape photographers; nature speaks much louder than we do! Let it do the talking itself, and simply be its’ documenter.
What inspires you to create?
I find most of my inspiration through music and from my creative friends. I also really enjoy using VSCO to skim through different styles and color schemes to help inspire me in my future travel projects.
Who are the artists/photographers you look up to?
I look up to many artists, most of whom are musicians. Joe Mulherin of the band nothing, nowhere is one of my favorites because he empowers those who are suffering from mental health issues and those who don’t relate to the common crowd. Some of my favorite photographers/visual artists include Alex Hinson, Alan Schaller, Mike Winkelmann (better known as Beeple Crap), Julia Nimke, and Thomas Jordan.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for creatives nowadays?
Social media pressure is by far one of the biggest challenges creatives can face. We tend to put a lot on our shoulders and think we need to compete with others to stay relevant. That feeling of being relevant is something that has been created by society and is hindering your creative process. Photography is so much more than social media and separating yourself from it in that respect will have countless benefits.
Where do you see the future of photography going in the next ten years?
I can’t say I have thought about this much, but judging from the extremely quickly advancing technological age, I see it becoming more digitalized and less print. I personally believe that print is the greatest way to view photos (rather than alike and a scroll) and think we as photographers must remember this moving forward.
How does a perfect day look for Turner Nelson?
A perfect day in my eyes is one where I am road tripping with my dog and my best friends on our way to somewhere amazing. My favorite days of my life have been spent traveling up and down the Oregon coastline with no worry other than whether the lighting for sunset was going to be good or not.
Any last words for your fans and our readers?
Hold on to your passion, whatever it may be, and don’t let any outside factors that aren’t constructive alter it. You possess a power that nobody else has, and that is the way YOU see the world. Understand it, develop it, embrace it, and take advantage of it… You are the best at doing you!