NPR logo Portfolios And Pets

Daily Picture Show

Portfolios And Pets

Every other year, photographers and industry experts gather in Portland for a week of portfolio reviews, organized by Photolucida. The Picture Show asked three reviewers to discuss a particularly promising photographer. The first of these three is Melanie McWhorter, division manager of photo-eye books, a leading resource for photography publications. Rather than featuring one of the photographers she reviewed at Photolucida, McWhorter has chosen one she wishes she had reviewed: Nicole Jean Hill.

For full screen, click on the four-cornered arrow icon in the viewer's bottom right.

Originally from Ohio, Nicole Jean Hill is now a faculty member in the art department at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif.. Her series, "Home Turf," was one of two for review at Photolucida.

Picture Show:
Why have you chosen to feature Nicole Jean Hill?
Melanie McWhorter: As a reviewer this year at Photolucida, I had the opportunity to sit one-on-one with 48 photographers at the official reviews and make appointments outside of this time to meet with numerous others. Of these photographers from the official reviews, my favorite body of work was Alejandro Cartagena's project on the overdevelopment in Monterey, Mexico. That said, portfolio reviews are often a whirlwind of visual information and stimulation designed for networking between all present.

When checking in, every reviewer receives a catalog with the contact information of each photographer illustrated with a signature image of his or her work. Upon exploring this catalog, I realized that I had the opportunity to see some wonderful work, but had regrets, of sorts, about portfolios I missed. I started to explore all the Web sites and soon found the work of Nicole Jean Hill.

What is it about her work — or this particular series — that seems to be singularly promising or notable?
I like the variety in her portfolios. ... In the "Home Turf" Series, Hill explores the concept of pet ownership in the domestic environment. Each animal "habitat" is surrounded with objects of everyday life — manga poster, calendar, house plant, car deodorizer — painting a portrait of the [absent] owner. There is a complexity in the composure which plays off the viewer's notion of a random snapshot.

From the series "Artifacts and Incidents," Nicole Jean Hill hide caption

toggle caption
Nicole Jean Hill

In her artist's statement, Hill says she has an "anthropological approach to art making. Hill photographs familiar spaces and activities within the American cultural landscape." The concept of documenting the remains of man's interaction with the landscape is not a new idea; however, Hill's photos of this subject are a lovely exploration where muted colors and overcast light continue the ideas explored in the "Home Turf" series. Like the animal, the landscape is alone with only the evidence of man.

PS: How would you assess the climate of the photography publishing industry right now? Is it suffering along with the publishing industry at large?
MM: Art books are more of a commodity, and art in general seems to be rebounding well in the secondary and auction market, although on a more conservative level. Books are still like comfort food, it is hard to give them up even in a bad economy. Going to the library is not the same as owning a well-designed, well-printed art book.

Artists, now more than ever, are taking on a multitude of roles — writers, curators, editors and publishers. This world of independent publishing often allows access to books that mainstream publishers would not take a risk on without personal investment from the photographer. So photographers are doing it themselves, often just to get the work out in the hands of the public. ...The industry is becoming more democratic.

From the series "Artifacts and Incidents," Nicole Jean Hill hide caption

toggle caption
Nicole Jean Hill

PS: Do you have a favorite photographer — or favorite photographers?
MM: I have lots of favorite photographers and really no favorite photographers. I am more into photographers from regions — Dutch and Swedish photographers, for instance; and from books — Carla van de Puttelaar, Ron Jude, Marten Lange. Also, I am working on an online group show for Fraction about food, and I have been enjoying Erika Larsen, Brian Ulrich, Susana Raab, Adrian Chesser and Paho Mann from that.

PS: Do you have, or did you ever have, any pets?
MM: Now I have a beta fish and a 114-pound dog. The most exotic animal I have had is an iguana.