Portrait and Interview by Jim Darling
This month APA|DC is pleased to introduce you to one of our favorite Assistant-level members, Erika Nizborski. Erika earned a BFA in photojournalism from the Corcoran College of Art + Design in 2010 and has been cutting her chops assisting area commercial shooters and shooting weddings and events since leaving the photo retail space a little over a year ago. (You might recognize her from the rental department at Penn Camera.) Find out what makes Erika tick, below:
Photo and Interview by Jim Darling
What are your earliest memories of photography? Do you remember a specific photograph or the work of someone in particular? Or did you grow up in a family that took a lot of photos?
My earliest memories of photography are when I was about nine years old. I started constructing still life’s with dolls and action figures in my parents basement. When I was in high school I took my first photography class, my teacher introduced me to the work of Diane Arbus, Duane Michaels, and Ralph Meatyard- just to name a few. I was instantly hooked and began collecting antique cameras and searching out rare nearly obsolete films to shoot them with. I stated taking college darkroom classes my junior year of high school because my high school only taught digital photography. Growing up my family took lots of snap-shots and family movies. My father loves technology and I remember the day he came home with an early Kodak digital camera, it was 1.5 mega pixels. The photos it produced were terrible, that’s pretty much when the family photos stopped being taken.
We met when you worked at the rental counter at the former Penn Camera (RIP). I was new to the industry and you were extremely helpful and taught me something new every time I came in it seemed. How much did YOU learn from working there either from your colleagues or customers? And did many of the regulars share their experience or knowledge?
I worked at Penn in the rental department for almost 3 years. Jim, I think you were one of my favorite customers! I majored in photojournalism in college so, I had only taken a few lighting classes. While working at Penn I learned an exponential amount about studio lighting and grip. Mostly I learned techniques from my colleagues Anthony Herfort, Ken Hipkins, and the late Harrison Thomas. Those guys really took me under their wing and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today with out them. The customers also provided me with a wealth of knowledge. I got to see trends in rental reservations, I learned what the commercial photographers were using to produce their work, and I saw what the freelance wedding and event photographers where keeping in their bag.
You recently completed your first year as a full time freelance photographer. How did school (Corcoran School of Art) and then your experience at Penn prepare you to go out on your own? And how much have you learned on-the-job (if that’s even possible to quantify)?
The Corcoran College of Art + Design prepared me to think quickly in any situation; it was there that I learned how to be a photojournalist- a storyteller. However, it was my first college The Delaware College of Art + Design where I learned my craft, developed a strong work ethic, and where my passion for photography blossomed. Working at Penn gave me insight into the real world and business of photography. Now that I have been out on my own for a year I have found that I am still learning something new everyday. I believe that it is important that we continue to learn in this industry because it is ever changing. It is hard to quantify how much I have learned, but I still hear the lessons of my first photography professor playing over in my mind on a daily basis.
In your own personal experience how would describe the differences in your approach and/or thoughts and feelings toward photography as a profession and as an art form?
There are few people in this world that get to turn their passion into a career. I have seen photographers that have lost their passion for photography and just go through the motions, this for me is when it is no longer is an art form- it’s just a paycheck. I hope I never lose my passion for photography. I see no reason why professional photography shouldn’t be considered art. If the drive to create the work is there and the images convey something to the audience why wouldn’t that be art?
As a young person in an industry that’s highly influenced or motivated by technology and all things megapixels you are known to shoot and develop your own medium format film. Where does that desire/passion come from?
My first “real” camera was digital. I am fascinated with history and learning how we got to where we are today. When I was 16 I began getting into film photography because I saw it as a challenge. I wanted to learn why I was using certain tools in Photoshop. In elementary school I learned that I have dyslexia, I was constantly told I was doing things wrong. The one class I never got told I was doing anything wrong in was art class. When I got into the darkroom and began using a manual camera numbers made sense to me. It was like everything just clicked and numbers suddenly had a purpose. Working in the darkroom helped me overcome my learning difference and gave me confidence.
Is there a style of photography that you admire and would like to try but haven’t yet? (Sports, wildlife, high end fashion, commercial…)
I have assisted a lot of studio photographers. I feel confident in lighting and much of what goes into it yet, I have done very little of it myself. I would like to someday shoot more in the studio setting whether it is product, food, commercial, or portrait photography is fine with me. I find it all fascinating.
You can find Erika’s work on her website, erikanizborski.com