Nina Drew: “For me the streets are full of visual poetry and visual music; it can be one word or a novel – a low humming or a great symphony”

Nina Drew: “For me the streets are full of visual poetry and visual music; it can be one word or a novel – a low humming or a great symphony”

Hello Nina, you state that you are a drifter looking for a place in this world. What is your origin and how did you start photography?

Hello Dimitris and! My origin is somewhat complicated and certainly multi-national. I was born in the UK, raised in Norway. My mother is Norwegian, my father is of Irish and Greek origin (Greek mother). In my upbringing there was a mix of cultures and languages: English, Norwegian and Greek (although I never learned to speak the latter it’s been part of family conversations). We are a family of travelers with open minds… I was always creative in some sense (drawing, painting, theater, writing, singing), but never felt confident enough to take it further. Photography has turned out to be my main form of expression. This is very new to me; it started only two years ago while leading a very secluded life in Norway. Now I do photography full time and don’t want to settle down anywhere (yet). There’s too much to see and experience. I never finished my higher education – my skills as a photographer are self taught (with guidance from friends who happen to be photographers). Finding my place in this world is about achieving inner peace. It doesn’t matter where this happens because I’m not so bound by national or cultural identity. Time will show…

You seem to be traveling quite a lot but your shots do not have a postcard quality, they show a more intimate connection as if you were local. How do you achieve that?

This is perhaps where my multi-national background is an advantage: It’s not so hard for me to adapt to new environments when I travel. In many respects I’m just as much a tourist as any other traveler going from one country to the next… However, it’s important for me to blend in – almost become invisible – in order to capture the local spirit. There is a balance to be kept between social interaction and quiet observation. How this plays out depends on where I am…

You record the ebb and flow of the humanity in the streets catching fleeting moments that often go unnoticed. What motivates you in street photography?

In your question you hit a key word: Unnoticed. Everyday life is stressful and narrows our view. There’s just no time to notice the details. For me she streets are full of visual poetry and visual music; it can be one word or a novel – a low humming or a great symphony. Everything is of importance. What interests me is how people respond (or don’t respond) to their surroundings. How do people interact with each other? How is the relation between modern architecture and people working/living in it? These are just a few of the many questions I have while exploring the streets…

Alienation, the state of being surrounded yet being alone. I think that’s your main theme right? How do you put ideas and emotions through this medium?

You’re absolutely right, Dimitris! In our day and age alienation is a huge factor in life. Modern life is good progress in many ways (e.g in a technological and materialistic sense), but there’s more loneliness and identity problems. People interact in a different way; there’s no time to really care for each other. It’s harder to make out who you are and who you want to be; society has expectations of success which are hard to live up to. For me identity is about being true to yourself and making the most out of life regardless of background and what society expects from you. There is a lot of loneliness in my photographs because that’s what I often encounter, unfortunately. Also I see resignation in many people. They struggle with just getting through each day – just to exist… Cities grow with more and more people, architecture becomes more and more spectacular. But does this really help us feel human and connected with each other? Does a tall, spacious building with lots of windows and see-through walls make us feel part of it or more detached? Do our surroundings help us see the reality within ourselves and other parts of the world? In my opinion the gaps are growing too wide on many levels… This is part of what I see out there and hope to share through my photography.

There is a part of your collection dedicated to riddles. A reflection, like in the photo I chose, selective framing and geometric patterns. Is this a way to catch a different reality?

A definitive yes to your question! These are some of the details that mostly go unnoticed, but they are there. We are surrounded by different realities. How we perceive these are of course highly individual; sometimes an abstracted reality can evoke discomfort because it forces us to deal with preconceptions and misconceptions. A stream-lined world doesn’t exist! Some might say that one reality is enough to handle. I think embracing different realities will make us progress as human beings.

Your portfolio is mainly high contrast black and white. Yet there is a dazzling colour side of yours, even some lovely splashes. What are the decisions you make during editing?

This is actually a tough one to answer because I work mostly by instinct. For some reason I end up editing in black and white most of the time. This is not a conscious choice though – it’s all based on emotion. There are instances when I feel colour is right. Sometimes the colour is actually the whole point of a photograph (for example a lady with pink hair surrounded by pink flowers and pink cushions in a cafe). Colour splashes are done with careful deliberation to create a feeling of detachment or attachment (depending on theme)…

A few months ago you visited my country, Greece. I am very interested to know how did you find it picture-wise compared to the other places that you have been.

Every country is different – every city within a country is different. But Greece was special to visit on a personal level because of my origin; I felt the need to connect with my roots. To really feel this connection it was important to travel alone and to go in winter. Thira was spectacular to photograph in December with shifting weather and very few people. When there are few tourists you feel closer to the history – not in a factual sense, but as a human. Athens is a great city! The history, the people, the streets… As a European, there is a lot to be appreciated in this city when you think of what it’s brought us through history in terms of culture, science and philosophy. It was a humbling experience to photograph Athens.

Finally there are a scant few self-portraits. In those you are modest but unapologetic. Do you use photography as a tool of self acceptance?

Photography is a way to express my inner journey. The first self-portrait I published required all my strength because fear of looking at myself still had the upper hand… In many ways photography has helped me in dealing with this; not just self-portraits, but also traveling and capturing other souls. Self acceptance is a road to be taken alone, but it requires that you understand the roads others must take… It gets easier when you realize it’s ok to show vulnerability and imperfection. Perfection doesn’t exist. Our imperfections make us all unique and beautiful – not just physically…

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Interview was given on 31.01.2017