Artist Q&A with Street Photographer, Michael Ray Nott

Photo by Jeff Frazier

Photo by Jeff Frazier

What made you initially pick up a camera and start shooting?

I started shooting when I was a student in Austin, Texas, using an old Yashica twin lens reflex camera. While in school I was fortunate enough to take classes studying street photography under Dean the the genre, Garry Winogrand . Also, at that time, I took classes on the history of photography from the eminent photography collector and historian, Helmut Gernsheim.

What keeps you inspired?

I have always loved large crowds of people, and people-watching. I feel that if I was not there to take pictures, I would most likely be wandering around just taking in the scenery. The French have a word for that, Flâneur.

What are some of the obstacles you encounter while trying to capture moments on the street?

Going out on street with a camera is stepping into fluid, unpredictable situations that require being open to anything and everything. They say all obstacles can be turned into opportunities, and with that comes infinite possibilities. There is no limit – I feel that if a photographer was locked in a white room there would is still be the potential to take a great photo.

Is shooting in Nashville different from other places. If so, how? 

The suburban landscape has become banal and ritualized.

We live in a highly-compartmentalized society where there is less and less public life. Finding places in an urban environment where people randomly mingle is a rare thing.

In sharp contrast, Nashville has become a hyper-diverse place – both with people moving here and those coming to visit. I have attempted to use photography to capture that energy.

To capture what is currently happening in Nashville, I have developed ever-expanding themes and strategies for my photos. Musicians playing on the street, bands playing in the windows of honky tonks, mannequins in windows, and groups of tourists.

Do you have a favorite image or memory from your series being shown at The Arts Company?

The image of the Pride Parade Kids. That day I was down at the starting spot for the Pride Parade where people were gathering, people were arriving and I spotted a group of kids who were so excited to be there. The parade kicked off with a wedding ceremony and these kids got up of the ledge so they could see. I feel that image really captures the moment, although you can’t see any of the actual scene that was happening.

©Michael Ray Nott

©Michael Ray Nott

Your images are being shown alongside a few from the 1946 Opry collection by legendary LIFE photographer, Ed Clark.  What similarities or differences do you see in the street photography being done back then and now?

First of all, let me say that I am deeply humbled to have my work teamed up with the legendary photographer Ed Clark. He was a luminary from the golden age of photojournalism who told stories through pictures in appearing  in LIFE magazine. Clark had access to photographing Presidents in the oval office, covering the Nuremberg Trials, and many other events that went beyond the arena of “news reporting” – becoming documents of great historical significance.

Photo journalism began with Henri Cartier Bresson and the formation of the Magnum Group. These pioneering photographers brought to the world images of wars, human suffering and life as it is lived all over the world..

From an historical sense, photojournalism shifted in the 1950s with what is commonly called the New York School of Photography. A new attitude of photography came into play, more expressionistic, oblique images that were very much tied into what was going on at the time with abstract painting. Photographers such as Robert Frank, Gerry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and many others, while still telling journalistic stories – attempted to uncover deeper truths about humanity.

My work is greatly influenced by the work of the New York School in that I am not directly covering a story such as a photojournalist would. I prefer the anarchy of the unplanned approach.

The traditional storytelling approach of Ed Clark is a sharp contrast with expressionistic, open-ended photography. However, here are instances where those two merge.  Currently, photojournalists such as Mark Peterson who is shooting the news in an oblique manner while covering the current presidential campaign. Other photographers such as Gillian Laub who are taking documentary photography into the realms of fine art.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

Have patience.