Passion. Purpose. Love. It’s not every day that you meet someone whose life and work embody these qualities. But when we met photographer Nicole Wolf and learned about her inspiring journey, it was clear that she is just such a person.
Following Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake in 2010, Nicole traveled to Haiti as a photographer for a medical relief team and discovered that her camera could be a tool of engagement and a catalyst for change. Today – in addition to telling the stories of entrepreneurs and celebrities, couples and musicians through her powerful images – Nicole uses her passion and her talent to make real, sustainable differences in the lives of the people of Haiti. ONA is proud to support Nicole’s non-profit, Up From Under, an organization that builds houses, provides refuge and empowers those in need to rise stronger.
Nicole wears the Camps Bay Backpack in Smoke.
ONA: How did you get into photography?
NW: I went to art school and took a photo class, simple as that. I wanted to be an animator at first and then as soon as I smelled the fixer I was intoxicated! Seriously, I never left the dark room the first 10 years of my life–well, long enough to shoot, of course. I am a people person and the possibility I saw to be able to translate the human connection through imagery was beyond exciting for me. Sharing my personal experiences and allowing others to see, feel, understand what I had was exhilarating.
I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Photography and then jumped headfirst into starting a company with my business partners. Major learning curve, seriously challenging in every sense of the word. Fell on my face so many times, we all did, but we loved the challenge of keeping our passion alive. We were driven and focused on growth and fed off each other and our creative energy. The rest is yet to be determined!
NW: Well, I have always been a Nikon girl for digital and back in the 35mm days too. I shoot the D3X and the D3 for stills. D3 kicks butt in low light scenarios. However, I have been shooting the Canon Mark II and III for my film work in Haiti and I love it too!
But the Contax 645 AF was my favorite camera for about 10 years. She is pretty! I had three of them: sold two and kept one. I dig her out every now and again and some of the most beautiful images I have ever taken were taken with her. I am sharing one in the article. My go-to lens, that’s tough, they are all so special. I won the Zeiss 85mm 1.4 in an ASMP contest a couple of years back and I am obsessed with that lens, purely manual and crazy beautiful!
ONA: What sort of project drives your creativity? Follow Up: What is your dream project?
NW: I have been blessed in the past four years of my now 15-year career, to begin to discover what drives me, who I am and what I want to say through my work. I want to serve others through my work, create change, and stimulate possibility. I am living my dream project, through my work in Haiti and Up From Under: rediscovering myself as a person and as an artist. I am driven to wander the next stage of this, excited to be open and vulnerable in my work and to pour into others as I do so. People’s stories drive me, life drives me, discovering a sense of connectivity no matter where or who drives me.
NW: Not the hardest but the most challenging thing about being a photographer, for me, is staying ahead of the curve. It is SO EASY to do what everyone else is doing in this day and age, nothing is new, nothing is sacred and people “take” from other photographers constantly. I have tried to always push myself beyond my own expectations. My all-time favorite Cecil Beaton quote sums it up: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
I never want to be a slave of the ordinary, who would? The one thing I always encourage young artists to do is to never look over their shoulder, always look ahead. When you look over your shoulder you see what has been done, looking ahead is your vision and push yourself toward it!
NW: For me, that’s like describing my insides, who I was created to be. As I said above, I am always trying to change, to discover “seeing” in a new way. That happens through projects, new assignments, new clients and new places I am blessed to experience. I try to truly see people, get inside them and understand who they are, even if it is a brief encounter or a four-year project. That is the challenge for me and the beauty of what I love to do. I have said before, it is easy to “take” a photo, “receiving” one is an entirely different focus. I would say I am an environmental portrait artist and and essayist at heart. I love journalism, the difficulty of capturing the decisive moment, but I want more after it is over! I find myself longing for a more involved experience. Intense, raw, vulnerable, broken, connected, intimate: I guess that is my style of shooting or what I am striving for.
NW: Photograph for yourself, not others: because you love doing it, not for reward, recognition or praise. It’s then that you will embark on a beautiful journey through your work.
NW: My dear friend Doug Sonders told me about the beautiful Tracy and her kick-ass camera bags. Although he raved about her bags, he talked so highly of her, so we had to meet. As a product, they are really amazing for my camera gear: durable, inconspicuous and stylish. But Tracy as a person has a huge amount of integrity, she is an amazing business woman and has a heart for others. She is my favorite thing about ONA.