A. K. saw photographic equipment as merely a means to an end. His interest lay in preparing the scene in front of the camera.

A.K. Nicholas artist signature

Education and Influences

A. K. attended a boarding school in Denton, Texas that had one full-time and one part-time art teacher. Neither oil painting nor photography classes were offered at the small high school. A. K. tried acrylics but didn’t excel at the technique. An adolescent fascination with surrealists like Salvador Dalí and Jerry Uelsmann made A. K. want to experiment with painting and photography. As a graduation gift, his mother chose a large set of oil paints from Holland. He also requested and received a used Nikon SLR film camera.

A. K. studied art at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. His art degree included the traditional disciplines of oil painting and drawing. This foundation would influence his compositional approach to photography, in which he weighs design elements independent from the medium when constructing an image. He composes photographs in a similar fashion to how he would complete an oil painting—it was never his goal to capture moments of reality.

A. K.’s enduring influences are nuanced storytellers like Sandy Skoglund and Sally Mann. He admires the elaborate theatrical scenes Skoglund creates. Although she produces photographs, Skoglund’s artistry is in constructing her subject matter. This paradox of using the camera to document a fabricated reality fascinated A. K. and stimulated him to conceive of photographic art with a mindset comparable to directing a movie.

A.K. self portrait in college
A.K. 1:00 a.m. college self portrait.

A. K. took photography classes but didn’t see results until he practiced what his parents had taught him: you get no more out of life than you put in. He took his camera everywhere, attaching it to his belt so he could scale fences or climb onto rooftops. He would often stay out until early morning, taking time-lapse exposures with a portable tripod. On occasion, his activities attracted the attention of the police, although after a short explanation he was always released without arrest.

Fascinated with people, he photographed both male and female students. For most photography assignments he worked a human subject into the exercise, sometimes by intentionally misconstruing the instructions. For a project on “tabletop” photography, he put a classmate on top of a table to photograph her.

Interested in devoting more time to making art, he sought the dean’s permission to enroll in extra course hours. He studied advanced photography, painting, printmaking, and art history. He trained in both traditional and archaic processes such as view cameras, medium format, darkroom chemistry, and color transparency. He hand-produced Ilfochrome as well as selenium toned, black and white fiber-based photographs and experimented with liquid emulsions to layer photographic imagery with painting and drawing.

Student oil painting
A. K. 's basic painting assignment

A theater design class expanded his lighting and set-building skills. Large oil paintings became backdrops for photoshoots. He learned airbrushing, inspired by Olivia De Berardinis. Combined with sculpture classes, these skills helped him create photo sets. He would photograph other students under colored lights after drawing labyrinths of lines on their bodies or adhering objects to them.

On a college trip to Italy, he watched another visitor take only two photos of Michelangelo’s David after spending several minutes selecting a separate lens for each. This was one of many examples that demonstrated an emphasis on tools could threaten creativity. He learned that technique had little utility until he had a compelling concept.

He studied luminaries such as Ruth Bernhard and Edward Weston, and was especially intrigued by Bernhard’s subtle Nude in the Box. Robert Mapplethorpe’s nudes of bodybuilder Lisa Lyon also fascinated A. K. Working with graphite, he attempted to blend the two approaches. Despite the fame that nude photography rebels like Helmut Newton and Mapplethorpe achieved in magazines and galleries, the avant-garde were in a different league than the museum-exalted nudes by Weston and Uelsmann. In light of this, A. K. feared his nascent contribution would be misunderstood or dismissed. He limited his initial study of the nude to painting and drawing copies of photographs in books and magazines.

A. K.'s photograph of classmate incorporating his painting and drawing.

He took every opportunity to photograph art students, theater students, and others with a creative side, but almost never fully nude. His first art from live nudes was of student models in figure drawing class. A. K. also worked as a model posing for life drawing classes as a last resort, if the instructor could not find a model or when one canceled. His first nude photoshoot in college was almost by accident. He invited a female classmate to pose and she emerged nude, making an assumption based on the norm for drawing class. He did only one other fully nude photoshoot in college, also at the request of the model.

It wasn’t until after college that A. K. sought nude subjects. Within a few years, he transitioned to working exclusively with the female nude.

A. K. briefly tried his hand at stock photography of landscape and still life but was initially rejected on technical grounds. Realizing the need to build on his college education, he improved his technique through self-directed study.

As A. K. transitioned to exclusively making nudes for art, his motivation moved away from the shock value of Mapplethorpe and the tour-de-force wizardry of Uelsmann. He now aspires to the lighting and storytelling techniques of painter Edward Hopper, the cinematic qualities of Mann, and the design mastery of Skoglund. He has also made a series of photographs inspired by Mel Ramos’s surreal pin-up nude paintings.

A. K. is committed to continual enhancement of his creativity. He strives to learn new ways to communicate visually and reinvent the female nude. A. K.’s artistic philosophy rejects formulaic rules, predictability, and mass appeal. To explore a genre, he believes we must contribute new ideas and meaning.

Both A. K.’s mother and sister are painters, and he occasionally shares his work with them for critique and discussion. He also solicits feedback from longtime artist friends scattered across the country.