My first camera was an Argus 126 cartridge camera my mother purchased with S&H Green Stamps. It was made of off-white plastic and featured a leafy gold filigree pattern on the front and the model name, Lady Carefree, printed large and in script at the top near the viewfinder. It was embarrassing.
Still, I carried that camera everywhere, pointing it at tree branches, blades of grass, and bits of debris. I was looking for secrets, I think, or buried treasure, maybe, that would show me something outside my small hometown, if only for a moment or two.
All that’s left of that Argus is my affection for it and my gratitude for the lifetime of image making it helped begin. These days, I carry a more sophisticated camera, and I work in a variety of photo-based print media, as well as with drawing and collage. But my subject matter hasn’t changed. I’m still truly interested in the overlooked, the ephemeral, and all that grows unmanaged in the physical world.
It’s just that the world now seems both more fragmented and more connected than it ever did before, and so I’ve begun using collage and montage to construct work that reflects and questions that dichotomy. Do images piled atop one another deny or define what’s underneath? Do collaged layers invite you to look at them as a whole? Or do you look through and around a pieced-together image instead of just at it? What happens when two images bump up against one another? Or words bump up against an image? Is it unexpected? unsettling? strange? revealing? funny?
I no longer go out looking for secrets. But I do still carry my camera everywhere. I look for shifts in position and association that lay bare otherwise arcane information. And if what I find is funny: all the better. It’s much like buried treasure.
Elise Nicol is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She has exhibited at The Print Center (Philadelphia), Buddy Holly Fine Art Center (Lubbock, TX), Center for Maine Contemporary Art (Rockport), Springfield Art Museum (Springfield, MO), Janet Turner Print Museum at California State University (Chico), and Soho Photo (New York, NY), among other venues. Her work is in the collections of The Library of Congress, Boise Art Museum, Mesa Arts Center, Photomedia Center, Graphic Chemical and Ink Company, and more. She is the recipient of an Anderson Ranch Arts Center Scholarship and a Vermont Studio Center Artist Residency.
- “Abstraction Is the Norm for Artists Elise Nicol and Melissa Zarem” by Arthur Whitman, Ithaca Times, December 16, 2015
- “Elise Nicol’s Composited Photographic Landscapes” by Arthur Whitman, Ithaca Times, May 22, 2013