Vessels: an interview with Dechlan Nicholson

I spoke with the Edinburgh based art photographer ahead of the launch of his newest exhibition. 

“Part of it is that I’m just a bit of a Luddite” chuckles Dechlan Nicholson. “I’ll confess to that much”.

The 26-year-old photographer is sat, leaning his elbows on a table, drinking what is to be the first of several strong coffees as he talks through what went into the creation of his latest exhibition, entitled Vessels.

Despite only having begun to consider himself a photographer three years ago, Nicholson has honed a small but distinct body of work. Stark, angular and at times jarring, his photos tend to present the man-made in states of abandonment and decay. Sticking exclusively to analogue mediums (35mm or medium-format film; usually black and white), Nicholson teases out emotion from spaces usually devoid of feeling.

In his latest series, Nicholson extends this approach to include portraits, and has set out to explore what in particular he can express through the various techniques of darkroom printing.

Ahead of his exhibition launch on Tuesday, Nicholson discusses analogue photography, his main inspirations and the perks of beginning a career in Edinburgh.

So, your exhibition is entitled “Vessels” - what does that word mean to you?

Initially it came from looking at a body of work I’d already compiled in advance, and noticing a lot of vacant space, angularity and leading lines. It all sort of distilled down to this idea of us being out in the world carrying something around and other things carrying us around. We’re all held in some way or another.

Are these every day observations or have you constructed these images very deliberately?

No. This theme was something that I wasn’t intending, at all, really. It was a by-product of taking pictures of the sorts of things that I find interesting or aesthetically pleasing. It wasn’t until I was in the dark room, gathering everything together that I saw this pattern in my work. It’s a sort of Chicken and The Egg thing.

A lot of this is medium format (120mm film)...

Most of it. A couple are 35mm but most are medium format.

What is it about analogue photography that draws you in? 

Part of it, for me, is that I’m a bit of a luddite- I’ll confess to that. It was how I started, initially. So it felt like it made sense for me to just go back to brass tacks- “okay, this is the first thing I’d done: black and white photography…”

So that’s how you made your start, doing analogue photography?

Yeah. The most recent camera that I bought, actually, was my digital.

You’ve lived in Edinburgh your whole life. How do think this city has shaped your output?

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Well, nearly equidistant from my flat, in either direction, we’ve got a number of photography galleries; we’ve got Stills Centre for Photography and there are some great places on Dundas street. I’ve got a camera repair shop five minutes up the road from me… It’s actually viable to do analogue photography here.

Having something like Stills in your home city is amazing. I could talk about that place until the cows come home. I think it’s a fantastic place and I’m glad that I’ve made use of it, even though I’m only a couple of years into “my journey”.

How would you describe your style?

I took influence from the Japanese “Provoke” movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s; all black and white, very high contrast, disturbingly grainy- that was a huge influence. Anton Corbijn, as you might see from the portraits in this exhibition, was of some influence, too. Most of my inspiration comes from starkness, disconcerting angular feelings and isolation- that type of thing.

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There are some photographs included in Vessels where you’ve clearly been experimenting with techniques such as manipulating light… Talk us through where those ideas came from.

There’s a photographer who I’m completely obsessed with whose work seems completely antithetical to mine- mainly in that he’s very good. He’s called Nick Fancher. He’s entirely a digital photographer, and a big part of his work is to do with playing with the geometry of bodies and faces and how light is captured by movement and twisting and things like that. He’s using a lot of digital manipulation, of course, where I’m just printing straight from the negative, but the influence that I took from him was in imposing the stark geometry that I see in buildings onto human faces.

What was the biggest challenge you came up against in the creation of this exhibition?

The biggest practical challenge for me to overcome was that I had no knowledge of how to print things. I was actually working on it today; a collage of all my failed attempts that I’m going to put up as part of the exhibition.

It’s really just to make some use of the mountain of paper that would otherwise just sit being a fire hazard in my flat…

Vessels opens on Tuesday the 29th of May in the Cameo cinema on Home Street.


All images published here with permission of copyright holder Dechlan Nicholson. More of Nicholson's photography can be found on his website.

Nicholson can also be found on Facebook and Instagram: @DWNicholsonPhoto