We’ve been talking to our Nikon European Ambassadors about how they’re using this enforced downtime to stretch their creativity. Lifestyle photographer Nadia Meli has developed a project called ‘CONNECTED’ that is a true testament to the times we are in – documenting the lives of people around the globe through a webcam. Read on to discover how her project unfolded.
What was the inspiration for your project?
A client based in Italy sparked the idea when she couldn’t travel to shoot with me anymore. She asked if we could do it online, and then I thought I’d make it into a bigger project, because I couldn’t bear the idea of not shooting for months on end.
The topic of loneliness and belonging has always been a red thread running through my life. Being an immigrant, I never felt really at home anywhere. I’ve always felt ‘alone together’ in rooms with other people, places I’ve lived, and communities I’ve been a part of. With others, but on the fringes. Now, along with the whole world, I find myself again alone, but together. Disconnected but connected. The distance we’re experiencing now is mostly physical, yet there are many for whom that distance now adds more weight to their inner, very real loneliness.
What are you learning about your portrait subjects and how is the project evolving?
For some, life hasn’t changed a lot, but for others everything is different. This pandemic is a great equaliser: life has slowed down for us all. It fascinates me that we are all sharing the same experience globally, and I’m curious about how people live right now and how they feel. There’s also the fact that I love photography and I refuse to live without it. I love meeting people and hearing the story of what moves them, frightens them and excites them. Photography for me is a door into the lives of others, and this project is a door too.
Right now, we’re feeling both light and dark very strongly. As uncertain, surreal and scary this may be, we cannot deny the positives, so I asked everyone I photographed two questions: if they are scared of anything right now and where they find joy in this time. The project is exceeding my expectations. I never thought I would get so many volunteers. And I never thought I would meet so many lovely people all over the world and get to hear a little part of their story. It’s been a joy and an honour.
How are you finding people and why do you think they want to be involved?
I started off asking friends of mine, then I went on Instagram to look for volunteers and received over 700 direct messages from people who wanted to participate. I think there are many reasons why they want to be a part of it. Some people are curious about how it will work, while others have been following my work for a while and said they’d love the chance to have their portrait taken by me. Ultimately, I think it’s the desire to connect and be seen – like for all of us. That’s the power of photography.
What’s the biggest challenge of shooting through a computer screen?
The top ones are sunlight, glare, and the Moiré issue of stripes on the screen. I had to find the darkest corner in my house to be able to shoot this. Another big challenge is definitely people’s internet connection and their device. Some people have better connectivity or a better phone or laptop camera than others, so the results vary a great deal.
Which kit are you using and why did you choose it for this project?
I’ve been using the Nikon Z 7 for every single portrait shoot for over a year now and I wouldn’t want to use anything else. It’s lightweight, simple, fast and reliable. I used the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S lens, which is unusual for me, because of the practicality. To find the right angle and distance from the screen to avoid getting Moiré stripes in the images, I had to move in closer or further away – depending on the light and my subject’s surroundings. There was a lot of wiggling around to get the right angle. The 24-70mm was really flexible, so it was the best choice for this project.
How do you see your project evolving over the next few months?
Since we have no idea how long we are going to be on lockdown, I’m just going to keep doing this until it reaches a natural conclusion. I love how this project is connecting me with people I would otherwise never have known. I’ve also seen other photographers take a similar approach. I guess as a photographer that’s one of the few choices we are left with now: to shoot virtually. I assume there will be even more of that popping up everywhere, with different concepts and ideas.
What do you hope our readers will feel when they see these images?
I hope people see the humanity in the images. I hope they can feel the global connection a bit more strongly, and feel less alone. I was really just curious to see how everyone out there is doing, and hopefully the images feel like a little peek into a window, a cup of coffee with a friend, a conversation with a neighbour.
Do you have any advice for photographers wanting to develop a project like this?
Just do it. Before the idea shaped in my head, I had been in a creative slump for weeks. My anxiety was high because of coronavirus, and I was feeling uninspired and empty. I think it’s important to know that, as a creative, that emptiness can be a good thing. Ideas come when we are resting, when nothing’s going on, and things are quiet. So, I rode it out, even though I didn’t like feeling like that. And one day it just changed. When I started, I told a friend about it, who said, “But someone’s already done this.” I was tempted to stop before I’d even begun. I thought, ‘If I can’t be the first, then I don’t want to do it.’ But that was really silly. Do it. If you feel something in your bones that’s giving you life, then follow that feeling. Make it your own, and know your ‘why’. If you know your intention behind an idea, then it will be your own.
What reflections do you have as a pro, in these times when it’s so difficult to work?
Do whatever you need to do right now. Be however you need to be. If you’re feeling productive and creative – great. If you’re not – great too! You don’t have to jump in and use this quarantine time to immediately start the next big thing. Listen to yourself. When I was feeling anxious and uninspired, my friends told me, “It will come back to you. Just wait.” And they were right. Trust the flow – now more than ever.
Follow Nadia’s ‘CONNECTED’ project at www.nadiameli.com.