Voyage Chicago meets Nicole Harrison of Studio West 51
Originally published on May 15, 2018
Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Harrison.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Nicole. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My earliest memory of creating images goes back to my childhood of playing with my fathers Canon AE-1 film camera. – However, it wasn’t until college that I began to take the art of photography more seriously. I didn’t major in photography; still, I was very engaged in the many conversations around the power of representation and images in shaping one’s identity. I was particularly interested in the representation of African Americans and how black photographers used their cameras as a weapon to challenge the stereotypical images that portrayed black life negatively.
Through the dialogue of imagery and representation is where I began to want to tell my own stories. So I picked up a camera to capture the life of the people around me. The moment I gave myself permission to do so, is when I created a research and photographic project that would be curated at Columbia College Chicago titled “Fear Into Fire: Reclaiming Black Male Identity through the Art of Tattooing.”
At the close of this exhibition is when I officially began pursuing a career in photography. I bought my first DSLR (a Canon Rebel T2i) and I started with Event Photography. The money I earned shooting events, I reinvested into building my photography kit and I would share my event photographs as tools for networking with others to build my clientele.
Years after diving into Event photography I wanted to explore Portrait photography. – For the longest, I would use my living room as a photography studio until about a year ago when I began renting an artist loft in the Pilsen/Chinatown community.
Having space has afforded me more opportunities and flexibility to work with clients, artist and photo enthusiast. And, in less than one year my clientele has grown and I have hosted many artists in the space through my Peerspace listing (bit.ly/sw51rental). I am still in the initial stages of launching my studio. As it grows I intend to use the space as my portrait studio but also as a space to support and host other artists through a wide array of events and workshops.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Being a photographer has been a major learning curve for me. Everything I’ve learned has been through trial and error and through Youtube videos. However, learning about compositions, lighting, retouching etc. has been the fun part. What has been challenging has been balancing the financing and administrative areas of photography. Many people have no idea the amount of work and money that photographers have to manage in order to maintain their careers.
Usually, it involves being the art director, the accountant, the marketing expert and the customer service representative to name a few. Having to efficiently manage these roles are a constant learning experience and balancing act.
Some days are more challenging than others. However, I try to over communicate to clients in an effort to avoid any miscommunications and misunderstandings. I find that clients appreciate it when they understand all the steps that go into the work of setting up a shoot to delivering the images. This also helps clients in understand your rates.
Financially, I have struggled to maintain the artist loft that I rent and purchasing all the equipment needed. So, I launched a GoFundme (www.gofundme.com/studiowest51) in an effort to crowdfund for the support from my family, friends and supporters.
More specifically, some of the financial struggles have been:
– purchasing equipment
– not having access to purchase a studio when I first started
– building clientele that would be willing to pay your rate.
Studio West 51 – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
As a freelance photographer, I specialize in Events and Portraiture.
Currently, I have been working more on my studio portrait work but still, love and welcome the opportunity to shoot events. In regards to event photography, I love working with institutions, colleges, and organizations shooting their events across the city. I also have a passion to document prom send-offs. As I find it exciting to witness teachers experience a tradition that often times represents a kind of “rite of passage” in this country.
Event Photography is how I jumped into photography professionally so, I would say that’s what people readily connect me to. Nevertheless, I am also connected to a community of teaching artist, educators, and activist whom I’ve also worked with. In all, I try to incorporate my diverse artist background into my work as my passion for photography is driven by my love for creating with, teaching, documenting and engaging with communities around me.
As a start-up company, I am most proud to be able to support other artists so soon in my journey.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
My proudest moment of my career is:
1. Curating “Fear Into Fire: Reclaiming Black Male Identity Through the Art of Tattooing”
2. Soon having one of my images published on the cover of an upcoming book titled “Black Lives Matter & Music”
3. Acquiring a space to launch my photography studio.
4. Being able to support and provide resources to other artists with having access to a space.
5. Additionally having support from my community.
Headshot/Portrait Session: 150 per/hr and $30 per image (full edits/retouching)
Event Photography: 200per/hr – images available to download online
Space Rental $50 per/hr – space and lighting equipment.
Address: 500 W. Cermak Rd, Chicago IL 60616
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