Artist Interviews: Nick Mayo

In this week's Artist Interview I got to talk to Nick Mayo, one of the most visible faces in the film photography community. You might know him as Nick Exposed, the title of his YouTube channel.

Nick is not only a brilliant photographer, but he also helps and inspires a whole community of people with his videos and messages.

All images in this post were made by Nick Mayo.


Hi, Nick! Please introduce yourself for those who don’t know you.

I am Nick Mayo, a primarily black and white fine art photographer, based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I also host a film photography community and YouTube channel called Nick Exposed. I have a wonderful wife of 4 years, who is an artist as well, and together we challenge each other to create and serve the artistic community as a whole.


Why “Nick Exposed”?

Well, the name came about back in 2012. I had been creating work for about a year at that point and wanted an avenue for sharing the creative process. The name itself was a bit of a shower thought that ended up sticking. It’s an obvious play on the idea of exposing an image, but it also refers to the vulnerability of exposing the highlights and failures of my creative process and journey. I don’t want to simply share for the success of my name or work, but want to share from a place that serves others, and ultimately helps the community grow and achieve new heights as a whole. If I can share not only my successes, but also my mistakes along the way, perhaps it can help others in figuring their journey out as well.

At the start, the community I served was primarily digital shooters who were doing 365 challenges (a photo a day). That changed as the years went on, and in 2015 following my jump to shooting primarily film, the community made a giant shift over to the analog film and fine art side of things.


Why photography?

It’s the simplest form of composition creation I have found. I drew when I was a child and teenager. If you didn’t like the result you would start over, and compositions and pieces took some time to create. Then in my early 20’s I worked as a web designer, and any changes that needed to be made would take hours, days or weeks to adjust in re-coding the site. From there I became a graphic designer, where compositions were easy to create and change, but you were still limited to how many you could create in any period of time.

That’s when I discovered photography.. the ability to make a nearly endless number of compositions in a matter of seconds. I can converse with a scene, and walk away with a great number of compositions and experiments, that I couldn’t have created otherwise.

Art for me is about exploration, experimentation and curiosity. The creative expression could very well change in years to come. But at this point photography makes the most sense for chasing down these curiosities.


How do you describe your work?

An exploration of curiosity and conversation.

I try to discover the world through an unconventional lens, either by looking for scenes of stark contrast and graphic design, or by distorting reality through surreal and abstract expression. I feel each print, project, exhibition etc. is a conversation I am having with myself, but also with the viewer. I hope in some way or another, that it offers something of myself to them, and in turn allows them to offer something back.


You seem to be able to create images anywhere, and of anything. From street photography to images of old lamps, all combined in a beautiful portfolio. What drives your creativity?

At the risk of sounding redundant, it’s all driven by curiosity and the creative nature. I believe we were all made as creatives, and in the image of a creator. It’s in our nature to move forward with awe and wonder, and I can’t help but find intrigue anywhere I go.


How do you work a scene?

For me, I have a theory that I have discussed in various different ways in the past, that revolves around the concept of having a conversation with the scene or thing I am photographing. I think with the idea of working a scene, the concept of work can sometimes imply that it is something you have to do as part of the “job of a photographer”. A conversation on the other hand is an invitation to learn more.

This also opens up different layers of exploration. In conversations there are 3 distinct levels of conversation (surface level, friendship/acquaintance, and intimacy). For me, working the scene is doing whatever I can to move beyond the “how about that weather” surface level conversation, and into the intimate layer where something vulnerable and often hidden is offered. This can look like a million different things, but it always begins with me removing my assumptions and allowing myself as the creative to get invited into a new way of seeing and understanding.


You live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a big part of your work is done on those streets. How does the city limit you and how does it inspire you?

Ah man, this is a great question. I will say it this way. The city definitely has its limitations, however I don’t find that it limits me as a creative. Sure there are certain scenes I won’t be able to shoot in the city, but that goes for any place you find yourself on the planet. I’m not going to be able to shoot gorgeous mountain scapes on the streets of Chicago, yet that’s no limitation on my creativity, it just informs me as to what I will be able to create. I digress.

Grand Rapids is a place that’s very near and dear to my heart. It’s a city that is constantly in a state of transition, and I think in many ways is starting to discover its own unique identity. Shooting the same streets time and time again gives me the ability to press into the things I’ve seen so many times in the past, and offers up new opportunities to discover that level of intimacy that it has to offer.


How does a new city or a new place change the way you photograph?

I don’t know that I can put it to words exactly. My photography is a response to the curiosity and adventures that I go on. Each city has a different character and soul, a different thing it offers. I try my best to remove any preconceived notions I may have about its streets and culture, and just allow myself to respond instinctively to its voice.


Describe your dream location and conditions to photograph in.

I’ve fallen in love with NYC, and try to make as many trips out there in a year as I can, simply to document its streets. Other than that, I would really love to get out to Paris and other parts of Europe to experience it through the lens.

Really though, I’m not picky. I have no dream conditions. I enjoy the challenge of approaching any place in any condition. It’s very similar to my relationship with community. I just love having meaningful conversations, whatever they may look like.


A big part of your work is vertical. Why?

There are a couple reasons for this.

First is it automatically brings it into a form of abstraction from how we naturally see. It plucks a detail versus trying to tell an entire story. In my mind vertical offers more intimacy in my work.

Second is it allows me to build narratives through the pairing and sequencing of work. Horizontal images traditionally carry a narrative of their own. We see a completed image with horizontal images, whereas vertical images are fragments of a story line, and can serve in building the story I want to tell, versus the story that was being told.


How much of your work is scanned from the negatives and how much printed in the darkroom?

Right now, nearly everything that goes up on the instagram feed and anywhere else is scans of the work. I try to print in the darkroom as often as I can. Unfortunately, with the hectic schedule of working full time, running a YT channel part time and working on personal projects any chance I can, it doesn’t leave a ton of time for making many traditional prints.


Does photography fill all your artistic needs or do you do something else on the side?

I do a fair amount of writing on the side as well. And of course video creation gets to activate the creative muscles. From time to time I continue to dabble in sleight of hand magic, which used to consume my time and creative expression before jumping full force into photography.


Who’s the one artist that has influenced you the most, and how. Do they still influence you today?

That’s another tough question. Most influential would probably be Jay Maisel. I’ve watch the “Day with Jay Maisel” series on Kelby One so much in my early years of street photography. I’m sure so much of his teachings and philosophies are continuing to influence and direct my work today.


One camera, one lens, for the rest of your life. Which do you choose?

My Leica M2 with the 50mm dual range Summicron. Fantastic combo that I use on nearly a daily basis.


Besides having an amazing body of work, you are also an important member of the film community, from organizing meet-ups to creating so much educational and inspirational content on YouTube. How important is that community in your personal work?

Community is crucial. As I stated above, I am really just chasing after new levels of conversation. And the discussions we have as a group are simply incredible. I’ve formed so many great friendships through this art form and the connection with others its opened up.

Serving is also a large part of my life, and having an incredible group of people to come alongside and encourage, uplift and teach is a wonderful privilege that I do not take for granted.


I wonder if the new Two Minutes Tuesdays will be rebranded Ten Minutes Tuesdays. Thoughts?

Haha. The videos have definitely grown in length. The series started off with little tips and tricks in mind (ie. shoot today because it may not be there tomorrow, or take a alternative route home from work to introduce yourself to new scenery). However, it quickly became something different. Something more meaningful I hope. The topics we discuss now are a challenge to try and introduce in under 5 min, let alone two.

I can confidently say they will not be rebranded as Ten Minute Tuesdays, but I am very excited to see what the new branding does to open up more opportunities with it. We will continue to delve into the deep topics of creating, and the artistic journey, just without the limitations of time expectations.


Can you give us a glimpse about the Nick Exposed of five years from now?

Honestly I don’t know. I’ve never been great at long term planning like that. I tend to get myself I trouble when I cast out vision that far. Life happens, things change.

What I can say is, moving forward I look forward to continuing to build a strong community that is focused on helping each other succeed, challenging each other forward, and sharing resources to bring the community as a whole to a new level (whatever that looks like).

I will continue to share from a place of vulnerability, and will do my best to find other artists who can do the same, and share their story as well.

That’s my goal. I think if we do that well, 5 years down the line whatever it ends up looking like will make us proud to have been a part of it.


Where do you see film photography in a few years from now?

Honestly, I believe we are entering into a new golden age for film and analog processes. It has become widely recognized as a medium for expression, and is no longer thought of as the hipster retro fad. Watching companies like Kodak, Ilford, JCH and many others continue to innovate as well as reintroduce old emulsions is quite encouraging.

I have a hunch that we will begin to see new scanners, film cameras and other technologies to aid in the analog process, introduced on a regular basis.


Thank you so much for this interview, it is a great honor and privilege to share this conversation with you. If anyone would like to keep up with the things I’m working on, both in community and personal project they can do so by following the YouTube Channel and connecting with me on Instagram. I work hard at being diligent in responding to all the message and comments on Instagram, so that’s always the best place to reach out.

-Nick Mayo