This Photographer's Creative Vision Tackles Avoidable Blindness
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
London-based Photographer Duncan Nicholls speaks of his creative approach with a reverence that suggests a meditative curiosity but also a true gratefulness for his visual journey. It's these two qualities that lead him to his latest and most important project, titled "Our Vision Project." Here's Duncan in our interview below: "Because sight and the visual world is so important to me especially as a photographer, I feel committed to using my skills as a creative to support blindness organisations. In the course of learning more about blindness worldwide, the statistic that really rocked me was that 80% of the 35 million plus people who are blind could have their sight restored or vastly improved through relatively inexpensive procedures."
That statistic is unexpected and incredibly moving. As in, it should have the propelling force to push you into motion to take part. This was clearly the effect for Duncan, who created an inclusive and visual concept for "Our Vision Project" which strips away any distracting cleverness and directly displays the impact you can have. "To take part in the project, a Creative submits a favourite image that means a lot to them, which further enhances how important these special moments are and in doing so brings us closer to valuing our own sight. Each Creative who takes part in the project is asked to make a donation of their choice which helps directly restore the sight of another person. The videos are shared on the Our Vision Project Instagram page, and via your own social media thus raising awareness more widely and encouraging more people to take part." (Obviously, your contributed images are going up on WNW's Instagram too.)
The funds raised go directly to Seeing is Believing - an organisation that has a long track record for restoring sight, helping over 150 million people worldwide tackle avoidable blindness since 2003. Read our interview with Duncan below to learn how you can get involved and to see the impact the project has already had thus far. In the spirit of giving during this time of year, here's an intelligent and self-initiated creative project that visual creatives especially should rally behind. It's an opportunity to change the lives of a new audience.
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Duncan and how did he get here?
I’m in my 11th year now as a professional photographer, specialising in Sports, Lifestyle, and Landscapes - and it continues to be the most wonderful journey. The thrill of creating new art and delivering for my clients especially on the highest pressure shoots is the biggest rush for me. It’s an electric, addictive and powerful surge of satisfaction. Client-wise, I’ve shot for brands such as Nike, New Balance, The North Face and Adidas.
Creatively, I believe as an artist your body of work should represent what you love and are inspired by. Those with the dedication to reach the summit of their craft inspire me greatly. This fascination is a big part of my love for sports and photographing elite level sportsmen and women. My love of shooting landscapes, and spending time in nature is a more meditative experience for me.
How did I get here from starting out to now? I think it’s all about consistency, and a deep love for the work. Persistence, patience, gratitude, a relentless work ethic and the ability to get straight back up off the canvas after a setback. I’ll talk a little more about that later.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects, or do you try to approach each project as its own entity?
I love to use negative space and bold dynamic lines to craft a narrative through my work. Whether I’m shooting sports, portraits, or landscapes, my work is often imbued with a sense of possibility, strength, and stillness. The aesthetic and emotion of my work often contain passion and intensity.
Although I can see my own style in every commission, I think you have to approach each shoot as its own entity because of the completely different demands of each project.
Whatever I’m shooting, I hope my love of the creative process itself shines through in the work. I’ve seen a continuous evolution in my style, which is fascinating - and I think emanates from my curiosity to learn more from a technical perspective and always improve.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
Until you experience it I’m not sure you can fully prepare yourself for the ‘setbacks’ that are an essential part of the growth process as a creative. That took me some time to adjust to. When I first started out, I mistakenly thought that a clear demonstration of your talent would be enough to consistently land higher level work. Now I know it’s just the minimum requirement.
Irrespective of whatever ‘challenges’ we all face, I think the biggest thing we can all do is reframe and embrace them as the essential components of the growth process that they are. What I’ve come to know is that the greatest growth happens because of the harder experiences. Progression isn’t linear, and plateaus are essential.
When and how did you first learn about avoidable blindness? Can you offer a quick overview?
Because sight and the visual world is so important to me especially as a photographer, I feel committed to using my skills as a creative to support blindness organisations. In the course of learning more about blindness worldwide, the statistic that really rocked me was that 80% of the 35 million plus people who are blind could have their sight restored or vastly improved through relatively inexpensive procedures.
The average cost of a cataracts operation is $30 worldwide, so there’s a lot we can do through what seems like small actions to transform someone's life by restoring their sight. And that’s why the funds raised by this project go directly to Seeing is Believing - an organisation that has a long track record for restoring sight, helping over 150 million people worldwide tackle avoidable blindness since 2003.
How did you come up with Our Vision Project as a way to help raise awareness?
After finding Seeing is Believing - my next thought was to come up with an inclusive concept and simple way that Creatives could get involved in a project that brings to life and visually represents the restoration of sight (ie, the impact of this project).
So I came up with the idea of each participant selecting a photograph special to them; from that image, I create a looping 5-second video which starts blurred and progresses to a perfectly clear version of that image. Each video thus represents the restoration of sight.
To take part in the project, a Creative submits a favourite image that means a lot to them, which further enhances how important these special moments are and in doing so brings us closer to valuing our own sight. Each Creative who takes part in the project is asked to make a donation of their choice which helps directly restore the sight of another person.
The videos are shared on the Our Vision Project Instagram page, and via your own social media thus raising awareness more widely and encouraging more people to take part.
How’s the project going thus far? How do you see the project evolving?
It’s going great! At just the beginning we’ve raised enough money to restore the sight of 59 people whose blindness is curable - and many beautiful images have been submitted and shared. I’ve been blown away by people’s kindness and support. We’ve had creatives from across the world take part so far.
My long term goal is that Our Vision is an evolving project for the creative industry to champion sight restoration year on year. I also hope that this project will further inspire other creatives to instigate their own fundraising ideas too.
How should WNW members go about sending in their work?
The process itself takes just 10-15 minutes.
1) Select 1 to 3 photos of yours (minimum width 2000px, .jpeg or .tiff), and email them to me at email@example.com. So far, Creatives have been sharing photos of special moments. Examples include favourite travel shots, landscapes, favourite commissions and personal projects to shots with friends— a whole range. It's your call.
2) You make a donation of your choice, as little or as much as you like.
3) I'll create a 4-5 second looping video from the photo(s), like the ones you see on the Our Vision Instagram page, and email you back with the video(s).
4) I'll feature you and your work on our Instagram page - and by posting the video(s) on your social media channels too we can further raise awareness. Please include the tags @our_vision_project and #ourvisionproject.
*I’ll also add that I do not store anyone’s images, and I’ll only show these videos on the Our Vision Project Instagram Page.
What do you do when Not Working?
Well, my son Ziggy was born 14 weeks ago, so I’m spending as much of this special time as I can with him.
I’m a morning person, so on non-shoot days I’ll hit the gym or a yoga class for 7am. I’m also a few weeks into one of Wim ‘The Iceman’ Hof’s courses, which I’d highly recommend for anyone curious about that. Reading is a big passion too, especially autobiographies. I make time to meditate every day and treasure those periods of silence and creativity.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
Meditate every day, very first thing in the morning - and before switching your phone on. :)
Who are some other WNW members whose work you admire and why?
Arisu Kashiwagi’s Motion Design work is very inspiring too.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to thank my fellow WNW members for considering being part of this project. I’m laser-focused on the goal but flexible on the approach - so if they have amazing ideas on how to amplify the impact we can have then I’m all ears.