Visions from the moors

Images by Nicola Taylor
Images by Nicola Taylor
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Disillusioned with being a stockbroker, Nicola Taylor turned to photography. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Nearly three years ago, at the age of 33, Nicola Taylor made a life-changing decision.

“I realised that I was a long way from being where I wanted to be and doing what I wanted to do,” she says. “So I left my job, without really knowing what I was going to do next.”

Brought up in Great Ayton on the edge of North York Moors National Park, Nicola had moved to America after leaving university and began a career in the financial services sector.

“I just fell into it, really,” she says. “I did enjoy the experience of learning about how companies work, though, and when I came back to the UK I continued working in the financial sector as a stockbroker in the City covering US companies. It is very stressful and in time that starts to take its toll on your health, sanity and personal life.”

As she approached her 30th birthday, Nicola began to think about what she wanted to do with her life. “I studied American Literature at university but I had never really seen myself as a creative person, so I started doing some creative hobbies on the side.”

Those hobbies fed her imagination and creativity and before long it became clear that her job as a stockbroker held less and less appeal. “What prompted me to eventually make the decision to leave was that I had burnt out and had enough of the City,” she says. “I was fortunate enough to be in the position where I had made enough money to be able to take a bit of time off. I thought I would take a year and experiment with a few ideas and see if I could get a sense of what it was I wanted to do.”

During that year, Nicola enrolled on a nine-month photography course at the London College of Communication and that’s when she discovered her true calling. “I had done a bit of photography before and it was mostly landscapes. I really enjoyed it but when I was on the course I found that I pored over illustrated books. I loved the idea of illustrating stories but I can’t really draw or paint and I started to think that perhaps I could use my photography to ‘illustrate’ stories.”

Having completed her course and moved back to Great Ayton, Nicola began to work on her idea, developing themes that interested her in a landscape that she is inspired by. “I feel that there are some places in the world that are very evocative and I am lucky enough to live in one of them,” she says. “As a child I had lots of trips out to the Moors and my grandmother always had plenty of Yorkshire stories to tell and those have influenced my work. There is a lot of folklore from this area that has grown out of the people having to survive in their harsh surroundings – all the stories are really related to the landscape. I love the Brontës and Thomas Hardy, and the landscape is really a character in their stories. I try to bring that sense into my images – the landscape is always part of the story.”

Using herself as a model, Nicola captures her images with a remote control and in a collection called Tales from the Moors Country she explores the relationship between people and place. The tales feature witches and ghosts, spirits and fairies, lost loves and obscure protagonists.

“It was never really a conscious choice to use myself in the images,” she says. “I was vaguely interested in fashion photography and when I was at college I worked with some models, but I found that I struggled to communicate to them what I wanted so I started to use myself and experimenting with some of the themes that interested me.

“I found that I did my best work when it was just me and my camera in the landscape. I am quite an introverted person, happy spending time on my own. It is like being able to get lost in the story. ”

The purpose of the photographs, she says, is to fuel the viewer’s imagination, so they are deliberately left open to interpretation. “Many of the images don’t have an obvious face – often it is obscured by hair – and I think that makes them more ambiguous. The picture is the beginning of a story, a prompt so that the viewer can take their own meaning from it. There are various stories and themes that I draw on. I tend to like dramatic, angst-ridden stories – that’s what appeals to me. So, for example, Wuthering Heights is a more appealing story to me than Jane Eyre.”

Once she has an idea of an image she would like to create, Nicola goes out into the landscape with her camera. “I am always looking for locations that work,” she says. “When I’ve found a place I like, I put up my tripod and set the scene as I think it should be. I will go and stand in and take a few shots – I make sure I give myself lots of different options – I do a variety of poses and positions because often there are things on the image that I don’t notice until I get back home.”

A lot of the work is done on the image once Nicola transfers it onto her computer. She combines many different pictures and cuts them out using Photoshop. “I created a huge dress for one of my pictures by photographing the same piece of fabric several times and then putting it together onto the image. Many people think that the image manipulation is straightforward or easy but it’s really very painstaking and time-consuming. It’s something that I really enjoy.”

Nicola sells her work as prints and greetings cards at art fairs and has found the positive response to her images has been very fulfilling. “Some people find my work too dramatic or theatrical and over the top but for those who like it, it really speaks to them,” she says. “One woman bought one of my images and she said it was in memory of a child she had lost – the image had affected her in quite a profound way. When you are working on your own in a kind of bubble and you see that your work can have a real impact, that’s so rewarding.” Nicola will be selling her work at the Artsmix Handmade Market, Albion Street, Leeds on November 24, December 15 and December 22. She will also be at the Christmas Fair, Ripley Castle on December 7, 8 and 9.