Nia Owen's personal portraits

Nia Owen is a twenty one year old photographer from Wales. She is studying Studio Art and Art History in the United States. Her captivating portraits manage to highlight the subject amongst a striking landscape and make the audience feel a personal connection with them. Owen has kindly agreed to share some words about her work with us in the interview below.

Hi Nia! How did you get started with photography?

My best friend knows a lot about photography and she triggered my passion for it. She has a huge collection of analogue cameras and my fondest childhood memories are with her taking photographs at her house until sunset. I started shooting at around age 13 with a cheap, neon pink digital camera. That same friend gave me my first 35mm film camera on my 16th birthday. That's when I truly realised the power of film in transforming visions in my head into photographs. I've been shooting ever since, but thankfully I have come a long way from my macro shots of flowers and bees.

Almost all of your photos that you shared are set in a landscape. Does geographic location play a factor in your process?

It depends on the project, but this project in particular was all about paying homage to my homeland, Wales. I grew up in rural Wales, and the physical landscape offered me everything. I have a long history of farmers in my family, and so I have a very personal, unshakeable connection to the land. I spent many childhood weekends playing in fields, woods, and barns on my grandparents' farm with my sisters. If I was not there then I was hiking a mountain or playing on the beach. It was an incredibly idyllic lifestyle but one that was also very suffocating, and that's essentially what I wanted to capture in my project. Growing up in rural West Wales surrounded by nationalism made me long to leave, despite the beautiful landscape. Wales is a mostly white, heteronormative and patriarchal society, especially in the rural villages where I grew up. This project was an attempt to visualise the tension between my identity and my home country, as complicated by my move away to America for college, given that it has offered me fresh eyes on which to see my home.

Additionally, youthfulness seems to be a theme in your portraits. Who are your subjects? What is your relationship to them?

For this project, my subjects were family and childhood friends from Wales. You're right—most of my subjects are young people because youth was a huge part of the project. Going back to Wales that summer, I knew it would likely be the last in the way I remembered it. Many of my friends are at university in English cities, and only really return to Wales for a short period in the summer. We are all at this really important cusp in our lives: our childhood is over, but adulthood isn't quite here yet. I wanted to reference this tension in my images together with the identity crisis I was having. Many of my images subtly point to this foreboding future: the inevitable move away from Wales to more cosmopolitan areas, a separation that does not come without a pang of confused homesickness and a large bout of melancholy memories, something I suffered badly with, having moved even further to America.  

Are you more partial to film or digital photography? Why?

Definitely film. I'm currently shooting with 120 Kodak Portra colour film and it was perfect in translating what I had in my head onto film. This film gave my images a nostalgic, hazy, and ethereal feel ideal for my concept. I find digital photography lacks the ability to make as high quality of an image as film does. I find only film can produce the image I want.

Is there anything you would like to share with aspiring photographers?

It took me a long time to get to a point where I felt I was producing work that I was passionate about and that was good. I don't regret any of the work I have produced until this point however, because I know it was all leading up to this, and in some little way it all contributed to this major project. I would also say find a mentor who knows what they're talking about, stick with them, and learn from them. Research the work of other, successful photographers and take note of what they are doing and have done. This helped me a lot in knowing how to pose my subjects and in composition.

And finally, chocolate or vanilla?

Chocolate, always.

More of Owen’s work can be found on her website here.