In a brand new Q&A, we meet 27-year-old photographer and make-up artist Nicole Cudzilo, who reveals all about her retro-style self-portraiture
Hi Nicole! Where are you based and what do you do outside photography?
I was born and raised in a small Connecticut town, but have been state-hopping for the past few years. I’ve done some short stints in California and Nebraska, and I’m currently spending my spring season living and working in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Aside from photography I am a professional make-up artist. I studied math and environmental science in college, and being outdoors provides my greatest fulfillment outside of photography.
How did you come to take self-portraits?
I discovered self-portraiture almost as soon as I discovered photography. I suppose it was first borne out of necessity, as I didn’t have any models to experiment with, but it eventually grew into a recurring theme. There is something intriguing about having your hands in all aspects of an image. Being the subject, as well as coming up with the framing, styling and content makes the work feel so much more personal to me. It still scares me a bit to put my self-portraits out into the world, but I think making them is such an important part of self discovery and vulnerability for any artist.
Where did you train and who with?
I was very fortunate to have met my photo mentor, Laurie Klein, while I was still in high school. I’ve been connected with Laurie for over ten years now and she still serves as a constant sounding board, inspiration, cheerleader and friend. She’s helped me develop my voice by asking difficult questions and pushing me to dig into what my images have to say. Laurie studied with Ansel Adams and her work reflects the same gorgeous sense of composition, place and emotion with an added focus on the female form in the
What are some of the biggest things you learned while training in photography?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned recently is to trust myself and my process. It has taken me a long time to mentally get to a place to be able to even make that statement, but with the help of friends’ encouragement and a lot of trial and error, I finally feel like it’s alright to be figuring out my work and my path as I go.
And what are your major influences and themes in your work?
I’m mostly influenced memory and nostalgia, the female experience, colour palette, and solitude.
Where does your retro style come from?
I’ve been a lover of history ever since I can remember. For the first 14 years of my life I dressed in authentic costumes almost exclusively, and my favourite periods were the Revolutionary and Civil War, as well as Little House on the Prairie-inspired garments and my bridal sari from India. It didn’t matter the occasion or event, it was just part of my day-to-day life and it has kind of stuck with me. I now regularly dress in styles from the 1920s-1970s and it has worked its way into my images.
Name some artists whose work inspires you, and tell us why.
I’ll give you the short list (in no particular order) because there are so many artists that I admire. Most of these artists inspire me with their use of dramatic colour palette and stylisation, but I am also drawn to the emotion and timelessness of the few black & white photo artists in this lineup: Alex Prager, Marianna Rothen, Shelbie Dimond, Shae DeTar, Mercedes Helnwein, Kourtney Roy, Jimmy Marble, Tania Franco Klein, Miles Aldridge, Francesca Woodman, Gregory Crewdson, Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Vivian Maier, Fred Herzog, Joel Meyerowitz and Saul Leiter.
What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
I am primarily a film photographer and my most-used camera is my Hasselblad 500cm. The first time I held its black, square body I fell in love with its weight, format and mechanics. I was extremely fortunate to receive mine as a gift from a stranger named Ruth, a retired photographer who has changed my photographic life with her kind gesture. I use a small, wind-up self-timer that screws into the cable release port and my camera is always on a tripod. My second most-used camera is my Nikonos V. It’s an analog, underwater rangefinder, and working with it transports me into another level of feeling alive. It does not have a timer for self-portraiture, but I love it just the same.
What are some of the greatest challenges for you as a self-portrait photographer?
My greatest challenges include getting the perfect framing without being able to see the back of a digital camera; racing the clock to set up and perfect a shot before the good light runs out; not having enough hands for all of the things you’re trying to control at once; and trying to not come off as narcissistic to the people who ask what kind of photography that you like to do (haha).
Tell us something that few people know about you.
I sang in a jazz band for a few years with my younger brother who played bass, but I usually keep that a secret… so shh!