Photographer, stylist, and graphic designer Nicola Parisi is passionate about artisans and the things they create. She has photographed makers and artists in their workspaces, and has styled, photographed, and created websites for local maker brands (including several Bay Area Made members) and restaurants. Last fall she styled and photographed our “Bay Area Made at The Rake: A Locally Crafted Lifestyle” showcase. We chatted with Nicola about her background, her inspirations, and her creative journey.
Hi Nicola. Tell us a bit about your background and your path to becoming a photographer, stylist, and graphic designer.
My interest in photography started in middle school but didn’t develop more seriously until I was out of college. I majored in fine art so was able to take classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, digital art, photography… you name it. I loved getting this broad-brushstrokes type of education, but I definitely didn’t leave college with clarity around what I wanted to do professionally. I fumbled my way through my first couple of post-college years (doing small design projects and writing for blogs), and eventually got a full-time job as a staff photographer taking portraits at a casting agency, which gave me the stability I was craving.
Above: Nicola Parisi and styling/photography for Mommenpop apertifs.
In 2016 I started freelancing, and assisted a couple of amazing photographers really closely and learned so much from their mentorship. All of the photographers I worked with were in the food and beverage space, which opened up my network to folks in the restaurant/bar and spirits world and also enabled me to work with some amazing prop and food stylists. Through observing all of these incredible people, I started to do more and more of my own styling. And as a lover of physical objects I had an excuse to start accumulating gorgeous vases and ceramics, and trinkets and folding them into my work. My office is now full floor-to-ceiling of bins of dried flowers and linen napkins and candles and balloons and cheese graters and all kinds of random things.
Covid actually pushed me to do my own styling and work solo because of concerns around having people in the same space. 2020 was a rollercoaster of a year that I think we will look back on with a lot of acuity because of how disruptive and heartbreaking it was – but one thing I feel grateful for was how the circumstances pushed me to tap into different skill sets. In 2020 I did more graphic design work than I ever had, working with existing photography clients on beefing up their online presence. I built a few websites for some of my clients, which was a super fun integration of both photography and design.
Above: Artist Kristin Texeira in her studio.
“One of the reasons why I love photographing restaurants and small businesses and artisans is that I get the opportunity to connect with amazing people, and get to use photography as a tool to help bring their product or space to life. I get to be wholly creative and build community at the same time.”
Above: Artist, designer, and maker Hannah Beatrice Quinn in her workshop.
You seem to have an affinity with artisans and makers, having shot many in their workspaces and studios. What draws you to them?
My parents are artists and collectors, so I grew up with a huge appreciation for material objects, especially ones that are handmade and have a story behind them. There isn’t a lampshade or a curtain in my parent’s house that my mom didn’t embellish with vintage beads or sew by hand. The space that they’ve curated is brimming with flea market treasures and the raw materials for making things (fabric, clay, paints, woodworking tools). Each nook and cranny in their house is highly customized and uniquely their own.
Above: Illustrator Lea Carey.
When I’m in other people’s spaces, I feel so visually stimulated and want to know the backstory of everything. I draw so much inspiration from observing others and I enjoy learning about new things. People are so cool! Freelancing can be really isolating, so I just started reaching out to artists whose work I liked in the hopes of forging new relationships in the art world. It was personal work, not something I did for money. The goal was to build community, keep my creative juices flowing, learn new things about other art practices, learn new things about my own photography practice, and celebrate the work of other artists.
Above: Styling/photography for Mommenpop apertifs.
I also like the idea of immortalizing a space with a photograph. All photographs are documentation of an exactly specific moment in time that can never be recreated. The way the light filters in through the window on February 22nd 2016 at 4:37 pm and hits the worn hand of the ceramicist – that moment can never be recreated. It feels really special to be invited to someone’s workspace or home to take photographs – it’s a very intimate experience and makes room for almost immediate connection. A quick look at someone’s desk and you can tell a lot about a person and their tastes, their tendencies.
Above: Styling/photography for Lolo restaurant.
You’ve shot and styled for local food and drink brands, as well as bars and restaurants. What do you enjoy about working with them and their products?
Food is everything. It’s a means for people from all walks of life to connect. Chefs and winemakers and restaurant owners are artisans in much the same way that ceramicists and painters are – whether they are creating physical products or developing spaces for people to gather. Working with local businesses invigorates my love of the Bay Area and makes me feel connected to where I live. Restaurants and bars and local businesses are the heartbeat of our cities and towns – I love that it’s my job to help elevate and celebrate these businesses with photography. And, I just really love to eat.
Above: Styling/photography for St. George Spirits.
What do you love most about what you do?
I feel so grateful to be able to do what I do. I love that I get to be creative on a daily basis, that my work doesn’t just orient me around a computer screen, that I get to be out and about and meeting new people and moving my body and making things. I’ve gotten to a place with photography where, when I’m actively taking photos, I get into this flow state. Before and after a shoot can feel stressful in terms of logistics and planning and post-production, but when I’m actively using my camera, time completely disappears. All of the stressors or to-do list items that float around my head most days slip away and I feel unilaterally focused and energized. One of the reasons why I love photographing restaurants and small businesses and artisans is that I get the opportunity to connect with amazing people, and get to use photography as a tool to help bring their product or space to life. I get to be wholly creative and build community at the same time. Many of my clients have become friends, and many of my friends have become clients.
What or who inspires you?
There are so many photographers out there whose work I just completely drool over. Right now I’ve been feeling really inspired by a few photographers who just have such amazing command of light. Of course, lighting (or lack of it) is an essential part of photography – but it is far more nuanced than I ever knew, and is something I learn more about every day. Sometimes when I’m driving I’ll think about how the beams of car headlights bounce and bend and interact with other objects on the street. Light is interacting everywhere, and not just coming from the sun. It’s so much more complex than I ever thought it was.
You’ve taken some great photographs on your travels. Any favorite places you’ve visited?
My most recent travel (pre-Covid, toward the end of 2019) was to India and my mind was completely blown. It was just brimming with color – so dense and so stunning – complete stimulation all of the time. I couldn’t help but take photos constantly. I think I took over 6,000 images over the course of that 2-week trip – I could’ve taken double that and still barely scratched the surface!
Above: Images from 2019 trip to India.
Image at top of page: Styling/photography for Stillwater restaurant.
Click here to view the “Bay Area Made at The Rake: A Locally Crafted Lifestyle” showcase styled and photographed by Nicola.