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.


Guest Q&A with InFlux: Audry Deal-McEver

©Audry Deal-McEver

©Audry Deal-McEver

If you wouldn't mind, tell us a little bit about yourself. Your background, etc.

I am a Nashville native from a very creative family.  My father is a professional guitarist and his parents were photographers.  My mom has a degree in painting and her father was a master clockmaker.  I decided I also wanted to go into the arts when I was 18 and ended up earning a BFA in Ceramics at Ohio University.  There I had the privilege of studying under Brad Schwieger, Joe Bova, Alex Hibbitt, and Tim Berg.  After college, I came back to Nashville and began teaching through the many wonderful community art education programs like the Sarratt Art Studios at Vanderbilt University and Watkins College of Art and Design.  Four years ago I accepted a full time position teaching ceramics and photography at Ensworth High School and began setting up my own private studio. 

When did you start making art and why clay?

My mother says that I have always been a “compulsive maker.”  Whether it was knitting, sewing, painting, or “inventing,” I probably made something everyday of my childhood.  My family encouraged me when I decided to go to art school, but I didn’t find my interest in clay until a little later.  I entered collage as a photography major and signed up for “Pottery on the Wheel” my sophomore year as an art elective.  I hated it at first!  I had never felt so challenged.  The class moved quickly and it seemed like nothing came easily to me.  I had to spend 8 to 10 hours a week in the studio outside of class just to keep up!  Before long I became obsessive over the need to improve and ended up getting sucked in.  I started to crave my intense practice time and the constant challenge.  It is this challenge that has allowed the medium to hold my interest to this day.  I doubt this will ever change.  Between the wide range of materials and the chemical reactions that occur during kiln firings, there is still an element of spontaneity that makes you feel like you are never 100% in control.  I also love how clay requires a great deal of planning and technical mastery, while simultaneously being quite forgiving.

What inspires your work?

I have always been interested in the ways that humans interact with the natural world, especially when it comes to plants.  My early sculpture work looked at the problems facing our botanical ecosystems.  This developed into an interest in evolution and what makes one species thrive while another goes extinct.

I am also deeply interested in the history of floral patterns.  In the wild, plants change their smell and color to help attract creatures to pollinate them, with the end goal of propagation.  In the same way, floral patterns and symbols have been slowly changed over time to hold the interest of customers.  What starts out as a life-like botanical illustration can evolve drastically over hundreds of years, much like the cherry blossom and the rose share common ancestry, but are now completely different flowers.

Over the past several years, I have been doing studies of the different flower symbols seen throughout the history of different cultures and carving them onto white clay vessels as a neutral canvas.  I enjoy the way the patterns and forms engage each other.  Though I spend many hours looking at historical designs, I carve them from memory, adding my own interpretation while responding to the curves of my forms.  This adds yet another layer to the evolution of these symbols.

What led you to help start InFlux and why do you think it is important to the culture of ceramic art in middle TN?

My interest in forming InFlux began from feeling out of place and isolated as an artist.  Having studied in the southern region of Ohio (which has a long, deeply rich history of ceramics), moving back to Nashville was tough.  There didn’t seem to be as many clay artists here.  Most of the clay artists I did meet had already established their careers and their body of work long ago.  I was also bothered by how many fine art galleries in the region still hold onto the divide between “fine art” and “fine craft.”

I wanted to build a community of artists who were interested in research and experimentation, rather than creating a wholesale inventory and line of products.  I also wanted to surround myself with a support group that would keep me questioning my ideas and solutions to creative problems.  This is especially important since I work in a private studio.   Lastly, I felt that by exhibiting as a group we could help spark a new dialogue in Nashville about what contemporary ceramics can be.  Together, we can represent a broader range of ideas and start establishing connections to other parts of the world that have more developed ceramic art cultures.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

My mom describes the Deal family motto as, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!”  I have interpreted this to mean that you can’t just devote yourself to something halfway and succeed.  You have to be all in and really push yourself. 

Audry's work along with other pieces created by members of InFlux will be on exhibit at The Arts Company until December 23, 2015. 

TAC Talk

Q&A with Mandy Rogers Horton and Jodi Hays

When or where do you tend to find the most inspiration to create?

Mandy Rogers Horton: Thankfully, inspiration comes in many forms and from many sources including other artists & artworks, my family and daily life, teaching, the news, and more.  Though my time is stretched between several different endeavors, if I can remain open and receptive, inspiration can come at any time or place.  Some ideas arise in an overpowering instant and others seep in and attach themselves over time.  Recently, I have been very interested in the notable amount and various states of deconstruction, demolition, reconstruction, and new construction going on throughout Nashville.  Visually and socially, these developments are fascinating.  In extreme contrast, the dire and complex plight of refugees worldwide draws my attention and sympathy.  Contemplating extremes like these motivates much of my work which is often an attempt to understand the human experience, the ways we construct our internal and external worlds.      

Jodi Hays: I tend to believe Chuck Close, when he said “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just get to work”.

That having been said,  I will stop for construction sites, thrift stores, a Sunday NY Times, a good podcast, Bruce Springstein Nebraska (lately)...list could go on.  Then you add in reading current and historical discourse on painting.


Seeing as how both of you are mothers with young children at home, how have you found balance between work life and family life?

M: I have always balanced teaching with art making and perhaps that was good practice for the addition of motherhood into the mix.  While I can gather inspiration & ideas anytime and place, the physical process of art making requires a more specific situation.  Parenthood has required me to use my time more efficiently and to break the process into various components--some of which can be done with my kids and other more engrossing tasks that require my undivided attention and quasi-quarantine.  I gratefully rely on my husband and parents who live nearby for help with the children during those consuming periods of making.  Although there are times that the tension of balancing teaching, art making, and parenthood are frustrating, in truth I know that each of these have enriched my life and benefitted each other in innumerable ways.  Parenthood has made me a better artist, art has made me a better person and mother.

J: Since having a family I have learned to focus my time in ways I never had to without children (though I have always had a pretty healthy relationship to discipline and “showing up” in the studio).  These kind of priority shifts happen with age, whether kids are in the picture or not. My working hours differ than some of my non-parent artist friends’ schedules. I quit my job as a full time Curator and Faculty at a University here in town so I could focus the time I did have to studio work.

Then there are tools and friends who lend support; this year I read the book Essentialism, which gets at living with focus and intentionality, a Creative Capital workshop that encouraged a time audit (terribly useful) and working artist trades for childcare.  Children have also opened up a new ambition in me to leave them a legacy, let alone opening up a whole new color palette (neon, clashing, pattern).


What is it like being a professional artist living and working in Nashville, TN right now? (considering how much the city is growing and becoming more of a hotspot for creatives)   

M: It is hard to believe that I have lived in Nashville for twelve years now, long enough to take in some of the changes that are shaping the city.  Though there may be a degree of nostalgia for some aspects of the old, the new developments in the city are exciting.  The range of galleries, art venues, and events are adding to the dynamic conversation and an art scene of engaged artists & viewers alike.  

J: I am a painter, not necessarily a “creative”.  So, in terms of being a painter, there have always been a small but ambitious (and refreshingly ego-less) group of artists/painters here in Nashville.  In the past few years, there seems to be a tipping point with artists choosing Nashville through the lens of “it city”, which can change in ways the nature of community (in some ways for the better, some worse). Though Nashville is a great place to make work (comparatively affordable cost of living and studio rents), it remains to be “it” for painters until there are a few things in place (MFA programs to grow a critical community, and a collecting arm/institution, to name only two).  


What is the best advice you’ve ever been given? 

M: That is difficult because I feel indebted to so many teachers, artists, authors, and friends for their advice or examples ranging from the practical ( “Grow up and clean your palette!”) to the mindful (“Wait three days before acting on any advice or criticism”).  I very often remember the phrase This too shall pass” which applies to all of life including motherhood and art making.  In the bad times, just hold on because this too shall pass; in the beautiful times, be grateful because this too shall pass.  

J: Don’t complain (someone is always busier, poorer and more tired than you are).  Do not envy another’s station. 

If you could describe your current work being shown at The Arts Company in one word, what would it be?  

M: Coalesce

J: Painting


Learn More About Mandy & Jodi's Upcoming Exhibition Here