In recent years, the art that breathes individuality into our streets and galleries has migrated onto our bodies. To get a closer look at our most inked inhabitants, head to the NGV and marvel at the limitless possibilities of the most permanent form of self-expression. The photographs themselves are artworks too: Melbourne-based photographer Nicole Reed’s work has appeared in tattoo magazines and some of the country’s biggest newspapers.
Nicole, Tattooed City sounds like this would be a project close to your heart since you’re tattooed yourself. How did it come to be?
The project is indeed very close to my heart. I’ve been getting tattooed for 20 years and working with the industry for over 12 years now. I have some very dear friends who are tattoo artists and I feel a deep sense of responsibility to represent the industry in a positive light. I received a phone call asking me to meet with White Night’s artistic director Andrew Walsh, and I had no idea why! It was a fantastic surprise when Andrew told me his idea to do a project on tattooed people for the NGV International. We brainstormed a few ideas and basically he left the art direction and shooting to me. It wasn’t an easy feat to find people to be involved as a lot of tattooed people are quite modest. In the end I think I got a good cross section of models to represent the kind of people who get tattooed in Melbourne.
I’ve read you like your subjects to be themselves. How do they react to no instruction?
Most people I photograph aren’t that comfortable with getting photographed (I take a lot of editorial portraits) so I think they react well when I don’t try to push them into doing something that might feel unnatural in front of the camera. I’m a very calm person which in turn settles my subjects into just being themselves. I hope that by not pushing the subject to pose a little bit of their personality comes out in the photo.
You prefer to focus on people in your photography. Why is that?
People are the most interesting things to photograph because everyone of them is unique and ever changing and there is an endless supply!. To be able to capture a person in camera is challenging to me and it keeps me on my toes.
What can we expect at White Night?
I’m not sure how much I can give away about the project but I’ve supplied Electric Canvas with nearly 700 still photos and video footage of each subject as well. So expect a fair bit of movement! Electric Canvas really opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities and uses for my images, which I didn’t even think of before. I’ll be storyboarding some ideas with them and art directing the final piece. I’ve had my still images printed to some large scales, but nothing like this before!
You made the move into professional photography age 31. What prompted this?
I was actually working on a tattoo magazine, Tattoos Downunder doing layout and design, when the publisher asked me to go to tattoo conventions and take photos. From that moment on I was sold on the idea that photography was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I tried to assist other photographers when I could and started taking portraits for the magazine as well. I then made the move to freelance. I had been working in publishing for nearly 12 years so it was natural for me to move into editorial photography which is my main passion.
You’re heavily tattooed yourself. Can you run us through some of your designs?
I started out being more decorative, getting traditional roses, swallows, panthers, spider webs, etc. But now, as I’m running out of room I’m filling the gaps with tattoos that are more meaningful to me or by artists who I love and want to collect tattoos from. Some of my favourites include a lamington with ROMA written underneath as a dedication to my nan who bakes me amazing gluten-free lamingtons. I have the Fitzroy and Collingwood postcodes in a heart done by Danny Young, I have a cup of coffee, and a glass of whisky (single malt), I have a quote from my favourite movie – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, I have several photography related tattoos (camera, shutter release and a flash bulb)… the list goes on and on.