Who is Frederick V. Nielsen II?
I’m a visual artist. Born & raised in Harlem NY now living in Brooklyn USA. My current medium is digital photography.
What style(s) of photography do you specialize in?
My photography is focused in fine art portraiture. I’m influenced by the past and inspired by the present.
Do you shoot both digital and film?
I began my photography in film and still use film on occasion. I find film slows the process down which can be more exacting in the creative process. But digital you can be more daring since you’re not spending money on every frame.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I like to look back at album covers and movies of the seventies, and make contemporary images that make me feel like those made me feel as a youngster.
Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
Many photographers influenced me. I’m in love with Keith Major’s work. I love the masters like Gordon Parks of course and the fashion Photographer Thierry Le Goues.
I know that you worked for Spike Lee for over twenty years. How did that start?
When I left college in ’81 there were no black film makers so for 6 or 7 years I worked as a freelance video cameraman for nonprofit arts institutions. Then in 1986 I got a job as a Production Assistant for Melvin Van Peebles. I met a few film professionals that introduced me to Spike Lee and I worked as a PA on “Do the Right Thing”. But the more significant thing about my Spike Lee experience is that I met my wife on the next film “Mo’ Better Blues”. We’ve been married now since ’92. I later moved on to be a camera technician on countless music videos during the golden era of hip hop. Artists like EPMD , Queen Latifah and Run DMC to name a few. I feel some pride when I see young black filmmakers creating art. We opened a door for them and now I think cinema studies are the top major for black students in college today.
Exactly what is it you want to say with your photographs, and how do you get your photographs to do that?
I most enjoy the collaborative nature of the portrait process. Examining the model subject and finding an emotional artistic connection and hopefully capturing that. I especially love taking normal (non professional model) and finding beauty and bringing it to the surface. I think or I hope I achieve this by the subject trusting me to be sensitive to their individual needs. I know I’ve achieved my goal when I see their reaction to the finished product.
Can you describe that “moment” (experience, emotion,) when you knew that photography was something you just had to do?
I’m sure movies like ‘Shaft’ and ‘Super Fly’ where huge influences as a child. Seeing Black people’s style and beauty. I remember laying on the floor looking at the Jackson 5 album cover while listening to them and mesmerized by the pictures. I still feel that when I look through my lens today. My mother was a fashion designer when I was young. She returned to college when I began college so we went to college at the same time. She told me that being an artist was a viable vocation. But back in the days people laughed when I told them I was a cinema Major in college. It took passion to ignore the haters.
What was your career path? How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to doing it full time, for a living?
I was a freelancer most of my adult life. So, when I left the film business in 98 or so, I wanted to be closer to home and be a more attentive father to my son. Digital photography just began to become close to what 35mm film could do. I saw that this was going to be the future of photography. I bought a small Sony camera and began teaching myself Adobe Photoshop. I owned a nonlinear editing system so the digital process wasn’t foreign to me. But in 2004 I took some continuing education classes in Adobe Photoshop at the School of Visual Arts in Chelsea. And I was off. Opened my studio in 2010 in Brooklyn until 2015 when I had to move.
What technology/software/camera gear do you use to keep focused on what you do best, as you photograph?
I’m currently using the Sony Alpha camera system with Zeiss optics. I really love the system. I’m still using Adobe products for post work. I also shoot with my IPhone with Zeiss optics attached. And edit on an IPad for my personal pleasure. I’m fascinated at how far digital has come since the late 90’s.
What motivates you to continue taking pictures?
I love people. I find myself people watching all the time. I just think faces are full of emotions and mask that sometimes I think I can see through. Finding beauty in people motivates me.
Among your works, which one is your absolute favorite? Why?
People ask me about favorite photographs. But I think my next photograph will be my best work and favorite. I hope that continues being the case.
What are some of your favorite things about being a photographer?
I like being in control over my life and schedule. I love being around wonderful people. I’m inspired by young people and their perspective on art and culture.
What are some challenges you’ve encountered?
Financial insecurity has been a constant challenge. Now that the cell phone has taken such a dominant place in our creative community. I’m not sure people respect the path of the professional photographer. Now people don’t train to be photographers they buy a Camera start a blog and they are on their way. Don’t get me wrong I like the democratization of the medium. But it’s harder to break through the noise of the digital age we live in.
What is the one thing you knew when you started taking photos?
I knew that this path of living as a photographer would be challenging. But I’m happy about all my experiences, failures and triumphs. They made me who I am today.
What would be your advice to an aspiring photographer?
I think people who want to be photographers should study a subject that they are also passionate about and take pictures of that. I.e. If you like diving, do underwater photography or sports photography and the like. Be intellectually curious about life and never stop learning. The technology will just keep getting better and better. Ride the wave and keep your heart and your eyes open.