Photographer Q&A: Nicholas Calcott
Do you remember the first shoot you did for Dwell?
Of course! I had been living in France for a few years and had been trying to get my career going there without too too much success when I finally decided that I might have better luck elsewhere. So I booked my ticket, packed up my stuff, and hopped on a plane back to New York. I think the captain had just turned off the seat belt sign when I got a message from the photo editor at Dwell for a story on the Ligne Roset furniture factory. The kicker, of course, was that the job was back in France! So I spent a few days in the States before loading everything back into my bags and jetting back off to Europe to spend a day down in Bordeaux wandering around a factory that ultimately turned out to be one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever shot, and the beginning of a period of many other shoots based here in the States.
How do you usually prepare going into a Dwell shoot?
I usually just try and show up way, way early. I’m big on leeway. I figure the worst that can happen is that I take a nap in the car or grab a coffee somewhere while waiting, but I’m sure I’ve had neighbors get pretty close to calling the cops on the strange man with all the black luggage sitting in the idling car in front of their house…
Favorite moment from a shoot?
A personal favorite has to have been at the end of a shoot I did on a passive house just outside of Paris designed by the architecture firm Karawitz Architecture. It was my birthday, and at the end of April, and I was standing outside at sunset waiting for the light to become ‘just right’ for a photograph I had to have when, out of nowhere, giant hailstones started pinging off the roof and my camera and everything. I just remember looking up at the sky and just thinking, “Really? Really?” Luckily, it eased up and I was able to get the photograph, but not before my assistant and I had to rake hundreds of hailstones out of the foreground of the picture…
Ooh, that’s tough but I think my favorite image was from that first story I shot of the Ligne Roset factory. It’s simply a ray of sunlight falling on the shelves where they store the different colors of thread. It didn’t run in the magazine, probably because it doesn’t tell much of a story, but there’s a combination of simplicity and visual complexity that keeps bringing me back to it. It’s still in my portfolio!
What is your favorite house or location that you have shot for us?
I had tons of fun shooting Jorge and Maurice’s house in the East Village here in New York. That was right after I had moved back here, and was busy trying to find my own place to live, and it was such a pleasure to see a couple who had built a beautiful home for themselves in a city where space is really at a premium…
What is it like seeing your images in print when the issue comes out?
Oh, it’s a huge thrill. I haven’t been doing this for so long that I’ve become blasé about it and I’m always impatient during the time between when I finish the shoot and when it comes out in print.
If you could choose one modern element to add to your home, what would you choose?
Massive windows are always high on my list, but I also have an eye on a Sol Lewitt mural I was reminded of on a recent visit to Dia:Beacon…
Tell us a bit more about you…
I’ve moved around a lot—2 years in Midland; MI, 8 years St Louis MO; 4 years Berkeley CA; 1 year Philadelphia PA; 4 years Seattle WA; 7 years NY NY; 4 years Paris, France; and now 2 years back in New York. And I’ve been shooting professionally for about 5 years, though, like a lot of photographers, I picked up a camera early (at 15, in my case – I liked the chemistry of the darkroom) and sort of slowly transitioned into it as opposed to one day dropping everything else and beginning at 0.
What type of assignments are you shooting these days?
A bit of everything, though I’ve been doing lots of interiors recently. I enjoy shooting things that are broad in focus or incredibly specific—a story on a tiny apartment or a portrait, for example, or a reportage on an entire city with portraits and landscape and architecture and etc. The important thing, for me, is the variety, and I’ve been very lucky, so far, to keep getting challenged with new and exciting assignments.
Type of camera?
Film or Digital?
Usually digital. Sort of surprisingly, there are a lot of great photographers working with film these days. But I like the feel of a digital image, and I enjoy being able to see what I’m doing and adjust the next shot accordingly. A friend of mine, the photographer Andrew Rowat, describes the difference in feel between film and digital as the difference in feel between cotton and nylon. One’s not necessarily better than the other, but each one might be more or less appropriate for a given situation. But I also like the challenge of taking something so synthetic and trying to bring warmth and style to the image.