Nick Carver is a professional photography instructor who runs photography classes both online and in person from his base in Tustin, California. He also has a YouTube channel that he has been contributing to for the last six years and which has over 55,000 followers.
Whilst he doesn’t post videos quite as often as some others in this series, I find his style is unique and engaging and always make the time to watch what he puts up. Nick shoots with a variety of gear, most recently he has been using his Shen Hao 6×17 rather a lot, an unusual camera that I would really like to know more about. So without further preamble…
RD: Hi Nick, thank you so much for agreeing to be part of this interview series. Can we start with the Shen Hao? What made you want to try such an unusual format? Some examples of the results can be seen here, and here, and here.
NC: I think 6×17 has such a unique cinematic look to it that works really well with the type of subjects I like to shoot.I love to photograph the deserts of the American Southwest, so I’m often photographing wide open spaces with the horizon stretching as far as the eye can see. Panoramic 6×17 fits it well. But aside from that, I just love the uniqueness of this format.
With so many photos in 2×3, 4×5, or 1×1 aspect ratios, having that long skinny rectangle can make the composition stand out, like a still from some movie by Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson. Of course, as somewhat of a specialty format it certainly doesn’t suit all subjects, but when it does the results can be dramatic.
RD: What are the challenges of working with such a wide format? What do you feel it offers compared to 6×6 or 6×7?
NC: The biggest challenge is the obvious: you just don’t get much height in your compositions. So if I want to photograph something tall, it may not be a good fit. That’s when I turn to 4×5 large format, 6×7, or 6×6.
I love 6×6 almost as much as I love 6×17 but it has its limitations too. And this is really the best part about shooting film – there are just so many tools available to execute the photo I’m envisioning. Whatever format, camera, or lens will help me create the photo I have in mind, that’s what I’ll use.
I often find myself envisioning the final photo as a panoramic composition and so 6×17 is often my camera of choice, but when that’s not the case I just reach for a different format.
RD: I love your subjects like the laundromat, the liquor store, Route 66 and Ludlow. They, for me at least, have a real post-modern American Gothic sort of feel to them – that’s speaking as a Brit who has never even set foot in the US! Does that make sense? How would you describe them?
NC: I love the American mid-century aesthetic, especially when it comes to architecture in the California deserts. Something about that time period (1950’s-1960’s) really speaks to me.
The architecture, fashion, and just the overall ethos of that era is unmatched.
I assume my fascination was sparked by vacations to Palm Springs, California where mid-century modern architecture rules the landscape. Whenever I find a good representation of that time period, I pounce on it.
Especially as these older buildings deteriorate and fade from history, I feel an obligation to record them on film before they are updated, renovated, or bull-dozed. But I try to capture more than just the architecture. My hope is always that my images will spark some deeper vibes or emotions in the viewer.
RD: Several of your videos talk about festivals where you have shown your photographs, sometimes utilising HUGE prints, especially of photos taken with the 6×17. What has your experience of festivals been like and what advice would you give to someone wanting to get their work ‘out there’ in that way?
NC: My experience with festivals has been very fulfilling. But if I’m honest, I don’t think I would have found them as fulfilling 5-10 years ago.
Earlier in my photography career, I was interested in creating art pieces and getting them out there in galleries and festivals primarily because I wanted to sell my prints. My main motivation was to turn a profit. That sounds like the obvious statement of the century – of course I wanted to sell artwork. Why else would you do a festival?
After many years I’ve come to realize that was the wrong motivation for me. First off, festivals will never make you rich. They’re too much work with too few sales no matter how you slice it. So if I went in with the main motivation of turning a profit, there’s a very high probability I will leave disappointed.
Now I view festivals not so much as a money-maker but primarily as an important avenue for personal fulfilment. I take pictures because I want to make prints and I want to share what I’ve created with people. Festivals are a great way to do that.
Of course, I would like to make sales and network with potential buyers, but really that’s not the main motivation. I do them because making prints and seeing how my photos impact people makes me happy. So for anyone looking to get their work out there, my advice is to focus on the personal fulfilment aspect of it.
Let the sales be a bonus, not the core motivation.
RD: I have to talk about “Behind the Glass, With a Glass”, your series where you talk about camera gear whilst also sampling and reviewing a high-end whisky, rum or similar. Certainly a unique approach for a photography channel! Are you planning more? Where did the idea come from?
NC: Oh yeah, I’ll definitely be doing more of those videos. I came up with the idea because I was trying to find a way to combine two of my favorite things: photography and unwinding at the end of a long day with a little drinky-poo.
I’m fascinated by the history, variety, and artistry behind fine spirits and beers. Much like photography, it’s an art form blended with technical expertise. Someone who creates a top-shelf whiskey is an artist of sorts who has mastered the cold hard science of distilling spirits to create their own interpretation of it. And just like in photography, when good technical expertise meets good taste, the results are impactful.
RD: What is your favourite beer and whiskey/rum, give them a free shout out!
NC: My favorite beer is easily Weihenstephaner’s hefeweizen, especially on tap (difficult to find in the States). I generally love hefeweizens, and their’s is off the chart. My favorite whiskey is Blanton’s, but that’s only for special occasions. Day-to-day I enjoy Jameson Black Barrel.
RD: Your video style is kind of cheeky and light-hearted, different to a lot of others out there; is this a deliberate decision or is it just your personality coming through?
NC: That’s just my personality, but I certainly made a conscious decision to let that come through in my videos.
When I started off making videos I felt a need to be all-business. I guess I thought people wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t have that air of “I’m a badass ‘adventure’ photographer and this is no joke…it’s SERIOUS STUFF.” But then one day I was out making a video and I realized that was stupid.
Too many people in the photography community take themselves too seriously and I didn’t want to be one of them. We’re not curing cancer. We’re out taking pictures because it’s fun. It’s not all tripods slung over the shoulder trudging through 4-foot deep snow in search of that most epic of photos with a hardened scowl on your face. It’s not all epic badassery. So I decided to try being my normal unserious self in my videos – basically to just be as honest as I could. I liked the results a lot more and, thankfully, many people seem to agree.
RD: What are your plans for the channel going forward? Are we going to have more on-location pieces where we can see how you capture your shots? I imagine it’s difficult to set aside time for such things whilst also running your own business?
NC: Yeah it’s often difficult to find the time. Plus the ad revenue I generate doesn’t even cover the gas and film it takes to make an on-location video, let alone the time involved. But I enjoy making these videos too damn much to stop doing it so I’ll be putting out content whenever I can.
I’m continually blown away by all the positive feedback I get on the videos, which is my main motivation, but it helps to having such a big platform to connect with the photography community. It led directly to me creating my Master Manual Metering for Film Photography online course and without-a-doubt led to its surprising success. So definitely more on-location videos coming, more Behind the Glass With a Glass, more instructional videos, and plenty more nerding out on analog film photography and film cameras.
Thanks to Nick for giving us your time and chatting about some fun stuff. Do go and check out Nick’s channel, it’s a bit different to most film channels out there, mainly because of his light-hearted approach as we discussed a bit above.
There are currently several more kind YouTubers who have taken the time to exchange a few emails with me for this series and we will be getting to those over the coming months. If there is anyone that you would like to see interviewed, or if you are a YouTuber and would like to be interviewed yourself, please get in touch!
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