This morning we’re across the pond visiting Nicole Nodland, editor and publisher of new bi-annual Us of America. The ambitious title is a mixture of powerful documentary photography and fashion and culture stories (making it a kind of US equivalent to Accent perhaps) and it sets out to “the hidden riches of a young, vast country that inspires, exasperates, challenges and provokes.”
As well as publishing Us of America, Nicole is a photographer for Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Elle and Nylon. She began her career touring through America as the personal photographer to Prince, and her interest in travel, fashion and culture gracefully infuses the pages of this new publication. Today Nicole talks us through her inspirations and daily work routine.
How was your weekend?
Was it the weekend?! Ha! It all seems to meld into one these days – new magazine plus the day job leaves little time for the weekends for anything other than work, but I am so very grateful to love the work I do. Us of America has given me a new life and purpose – my Us of America team and I are on a mission, and it’s energising!
Tell us about your journey to work.
I’m working from home today so I’ve set up shop at my desk. I have D.R.A.M. on repeat quietly in the background – he’s my new music obsession. Erykah Badu has said he’s like a mash up of George Clinton, D’Angelo and Sly Stone.
Describe the state of your desk.
It’s a sort of organised chaos… I have an upcoming trip to LA so there is a production schedule for that with mood boards for four different shoots. There’s also a video treatment, notebooks, green tea, coffee, water, vitamins, a Japanese doll, a globe and some hand cream.
Which magazine do you first remember?
Life, an American icon in and of itself. The legendary covers, celebrating people’s lives and stories, dealing with real American issues. Remarkable photography by the likes of Gordon Parks and Alfred Einsenstaedt. It is definitely one of the inspirations for Us of America. Also, there was Vogue – my mom had a subscription and I devoured it, ripped out tear sheets (some of which I still have). When a shoot is timeless, well, it’s timeless.
What magazine matters to you most this morning?
Us of America – ha, and the magazines that have inspired me…the original Nova, Twen, and Italian Vogue.
Which American icon matters most to you this morning?
Prince – he gave me my first break as a photographer and has inspired me in so many ways. He was an authentic soul and a true curator of life – living by his own rules and refusing to be oppressed or put in a box. He truly was so advanced in his thinking and spirituality, more so than a lot of people know or understand.
What inspired you to create a magazine only focusing on American imagery?
I wanted to capture the spirit of America as I see it. Having spent time away from America, living in London, I now have a more objective perspective on my country, the distance was a gift for me. So, with the magazine I really wanted to show all the facets – good and bad – of America; to celebrate its beauty and achievements, but also to acknowledge its’ battered spirit and issues. We are supposed to be the Land of the Free; a country where everyone has an opportunity to achieve their dreams, and that’s something to strive for always. Focusing solely on American imagery is a powerful way to do so, after all a picture is worth a thousand words!
There’s obviously a lot of controversy in the US right now. What did you discover about the current political landscape in the States through your exploration of its photography, art, design and fashion?
It feels like not much has changed in the last forty years – we are still dealing with the same issues as we did in the 60’s and 70’s. The current climate does, however, make Us of America (which deals solely with America’s issues) an even more timely and important publication.
It’s a platform and voice for people who want to express their concerns or feelings towards the country. The photographers, artists, and writers we have worked with are all unanimously wanting to make a statement on these issues. There is an undercurrent to everything we publish – it’s never just a simple fashion photo shoot.
If you look at the wide range of subject matters covered in issue one and online, from Platon’s series on war veterans to Bruce Gilden’s coverage of prostitutes in Miami, it is clear that there is a lot of anguish and political injustices in America. At the same time, however, there are steps being made to reconcile and rectify some of our issues. Paul Rogers’ report on inmates being rehabilitated through helping the community, for instance, is a more positive view into America’s problematic prison system.
When I started this magazine I kept reminding myself that we live in a land full of contradictions, but that’s what makes it so unique and interesting. This is was what I wanted Us of America to reflect and represent; diversity and the freedom to express it. So I don’t think I would have done anything differently post-election. The message still rings true, perhaps even more so now. (Although, maybe I would’ve tried to secure an exclusive interview with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders if I had know the outcome – can you imagine?!).
Pick a spread from the new issue and tell us what it says about your magazine.
I had to select two to show the hard and the soft.
Bruce Gilden’s story (opener, above) was a very difficult shoot to be on and to look at. It’s extreme, but it is a real part of life for many people. There is a huge homeless population in America for many differing reasons but drugs, prostitution and mental health play a role for many. That is a reality and we wanted to open up a conversation about it.
Philip Gay’s story feels like the absolute juxtaposition of that. He shot best friends Natasa Vojnovic and Missy Rayder at Missy’s home in upstate New York (above). I love their friendship, you can feel the authenticity in the intimate photos.
What are you finding most frustrating about your work this week?
Trying to keep all the plates spinning and also keep my head from spinning off! It’s a challenge this week as planning this LA trip – six shoots, three films, and seven interviews… it sounds like the start of a bad song! I am so grateful to have a team of talented and amazing women who rock!
What’s going to be the highlight of this week for you?
Shooting up-and-coming rap and hip-hop musicians from Inglewood in Los Angeles as well as receiving the images from a new story that Richard Phibbs has photographer for issuetwo with one of our favourite contributors, the fashion stylist Soraya Dayani.
What will you be doing after this chat?
More coffee.. and more D.R.A.M.!