This week our Five Questions are with the talented Jackie Nickerson. Her images featuring the Ebola frontline fighters are featured on the cover of this year’s TIME’s magazine Person of the Year. Her first body of work, Farm, was made over a three-year period in rural locations all over southern Africa and explores how individual identity is made through improvisation. Her most recent series, Terrain, Nickerson explores the roles in which workers play in the production and commodification of agricultural goods. Her work has been exhibited extensively and she is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.
Describe your photographic practice?
I work mainly in fine art photography. I think it’s reasonable to say that portraiture is central to my practice although I like to put people in context with their environment. I see the camera as a way for me to connect with the world. My work is a result of my own personal experiences.
What drew you to making work in Africa?
I lived in Zimbabwe for a number of years in the 1990s so it was a part of my life. I loved the country but felt constrained by the nature of the post-colonial social life there, which meant that I wasn’t meeting any indigenous Zimbabweans. I started to walk around the farm where I lived, using photography as a way to approach and talk to people. I’m from an urban background, where I’ve lived in confined spaces and environments made up of concrete. For me, space has always been a precious commodity. So living in rural Africa gave me a feeling of space and freedom and a different perspective on life.
We recently saw your images on the front cover of the TIME magazine for your portraits of the Ebola fighters, can you explain how you became involved in this project?
I’ve never worked for TIME magazine before so it was a surprise when they contacted me. When they called, it was Thursday night and I was in Paris working on another assignment. By Monday I was in Liberia. It all happened so fast. I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation about doing the job – I knew it was a really important story and I felt honoured to have been given the opportunity to make photographs of these very courageous people.
How did you find the change from working in analogue to working digitally?
I’ve always preferred working with film but digital has a lot going for it. I don’t know why but for me, some images work better with film and some work better with digital. I didn’t find the transition too difficult. I’m happy to use both. I find digital very helpful in the field – you can show people the kind of photograph you’re making and put them at ease and it’s also good to know that you’ve actually got the image you’re looking for. I think digital has been great for the scope it gives the photographer in post-production.
What’s next for Jackie Nickerson?
I’m working on two new books and I have a number of exhibitions coming up next year.
Elina #1, Terrain, Jackie Nickerson, 2013
Brother Michael, Faith, Jackie Nickerson, 2005
Brother Michael II, Faith, Jackie Nickerson, 2006
Interviewer: Kayung Lai
Find out more about Jackie Nickerson
Find out more about the TIME’s magazine Person of the Year article