In conversation with Nora Nord
Reading Time: 6 min
Social Impact: Challenging misconceptions of fashion photography through the female gaze.
It’s very often in this modern social climate that East London’s most exciting creatives aren’t actually native to our small island. Take Nora Nord, a Norwegian photographer who has ambitions to turn the fashion industry upside down.
We’re fortunate enough to be working with Nora for the #ParadiseRowCurates platform, and our aim to capture the most exciting creatives of the area is no stretch for the photographer; she has a flair for capturing personalities and ‘documenting humans’.
From the Kenyan Maasai to the queer nightlife in central London, it’s safe to say that the scope of her previous work has been without boundaries, but a broad spectrum of subjects no doubt proves challenging when channelling an individual aesthetic style.
In fact, having a unique sense of style is absolutely critical in our present creative climate; the invention of unreal iPhone camera capacity has made everyone point-and-shoot photographers; standing out from the crowd is paramount. Luckily enough, standing out from the crowd and fighting against the norm is something that Nora seems to think is her duty as an artist:
“In my work, I unlearn [how I was brought up to see the world] all the time, it’s what I aim to do: to unlearn and to explore and to question assumptions.”
She starts the interview half awake from an early train from Paris and orders the first thing she sees on the lunch menu through being too tired to read the whole document, but ten minutes into our conversation and it’s clear that the love for her craft is what (literally) gets her out of bed in the morning, and her eyes light up with the same questioning curiosity that focuses daily into her camera.
“I came to Britain because I wanted to be closer to home [Norway], I studied on an exchange programme in 2016 and fell in love with London. There’s something about the energy: so many opportunities and green spaces.”
She seems seeringly aware of her own cliches, but cliches are only cliches because they’re far too commonly thought. I ask her why she didn’t decide to live in New York or L.A., in the country she spent most of her formative years in.
“In the US, life feels very success oriented, people forget about simple things in life, which can often be the most beautiful; they’re on such strict schedules.”
Surely coming to the UK seemed like a completely obscene move from her American peers, then?
“Yeah, people thought I was crazy, moving here without a job and deciding to go freelance. It was something that was completely alien to their lives but felt so natural to me.”
True, whilst photography is a skill that’s almost second nature to her, it’s something she picked up relatively later in life, having studied a completely unrelated degree for four years, not picking up her first camera until the age of fifteen, it’s remarkable how quickly her skill and humbleness regarding her craft has matured in a comparatively short time. I asked her what made her start her journey:
“I just wanted to photograph everything: I wanted to document my life. I have a bad memory, and once I realised I wouldn’t be fifteen/sixteen again, I had this compulsion to document it. Photography gives me a reason to be anywhere at anytime; it’s the way I explore the world.”
Still freelancing to support her Masters study at Central St Martins, she’s part of the new generation of self-starter creatives; who don’t wait for a career to be handed to them. Student life affirms this:
“It gives me the time and the mental space to develop as an artist. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the relationship between images - my photography - and words; so I’ve been writing poetry more and more, and studying has given me the opportunity to explore that side of my creative life.”
When asked what her favourite photograph or project thus far, she seemed to completely forget about the meal that had arrived in front of her moments ago: it was a mentor project that she did in Puerto Rico as part of the VII Photo Mentorship programme alongside a famous photojournalist:
“We went there [Puerto Rico] for a week, with the aim to research the area and tell a story. I’d taken a documentary photography course, so I knew I wanted to create meaningful work for the people I met.
I wanted to document the youth of Puerto Rico: what was happening in their lives after the hurricane and what the resulting political situation was.”
I asked what her main take-away was from the project:
“I found myself asking the question: in a time of political turmoil, when in the context of sponsored immigration, staying in your hometown is an act of political rebellion; when there is no electricity, power, food or social infrastructure: how do people survive?”
How funny then, that she should find her current home in a country in similar political turmoil, but it’s clear that the politically and socially fragile climate is exactly the kind of environment her work flourishes in, one where she always sees a silver lining:
“I learned that in time of hardship, creativity is more important than ever, it’s part of our humanity. Their culinary industry is booming, there are outages of power but people are still shopping!”
Surely capturing this must have been very fascinating?
“In my practice, I’m always photographing sensitive things; it’s the nature of my work. I have unlearn, explore and question assumptions but in a very careful way; sometimes you can communicate the wrong message by accident in a very subtle way.”
Has this ever happened?
“Oh yes! Many times— I look back at photographs I used to take when I was younger and some of them are so distasteful, they contributed to a narrative I have no business in being in anymore.”
We wondered then, how she is able to consciously unlearn these narratives when documenting people in a foreign country:
“Studying colonial history [at university] was such a crucial step towards how I look at the world now. As a Norwegian, I’m aware that my perspective was naturally very eurocentric, but I need to be aware of that and what it is I might be saying subconsciously.”
Is questioning yourself a big part of your creative process?
“I need to question myself all the time! Am I fetishizing someone? This is a question I ask myself a lot; particularly when photographing women. But I’m learning all the time, speaking with the people I capture, creating a rapport with them is so important to me; and if I can communicate a little of them in my work, then it’s a successful photograph.”
With such a fertile background in semi-anthropological documentary photography, I wonder why she has made the conscious move to get formal education in fashion photography:
“I hated all the fashion photography I saw when I was growing up, all the messages and bodies I was presented with were quite depressing. I want to reflect this documentary photography in fashion; I want to create work that is vulnerable, something that really connects with people.”
In a world of explicitly non-inclusive brands and racist faux-pas’, it’s reassuring to hear that the new generation of fashion photographers are taking deliberate, careful steps in their own work to make the industry a better platform for all:
“I guess I’m doing fashion photography because it’s such a large platform, there are so many eyes on it every day; but if I make a teenager feel good about their body in any way, shape or form, then I’ve succeeded as an artist.”
Contact Nora Nord via Instagram or her website for further information about her work.
Words + Design by Hannah Crosbie.
Photography courtesy of the artist.