Nicholas Dominic Talvola: Expressing Vision with Music and Photography

Nicholas Dominic Talvola was born in 1982 in Arcata, a small town off the Northern Coast of California. In 2002, he traveled to Europe with a backpack, camera, soccer ball and a trumpet. He ended up in Spain where he has lived for the past 12 years. For six years, he has made a living from his music but has a huge passion for photography and never leaves home without a camera strapped around his neck. Below, he speaks with Alex Coghe about his project in Japan and his relationship with music and photography.

Q: Dominic, you are both a musician and photographer. How do you reconcile the two? Do you think there is a relationship between these two forms of expression and have ever you experienced conflict between them?

A: Being a musician for me, photography-wise, has completely been like some sort of passport or key. It gets me into situations that as a photographer alone are hard to come by. They go together so well. I am always traveling with my music and as a photographer this is important I think — to make you stronger and more versatile, never shooting the same thing or place, so that allows you to be really free and fresh minded while shooting. I know you know what I mean. Sometimes when being stagnate in one place for too long you don’t see things with fresh eyes so that allows me to return to where I left off with fresh energy to my daily routine or long-term projects. My biggest conflicts are that both my instrument, the trumpet, and the process of shooting film demand a lot of time on both sides. The trumpet is a pretty demanding instrument since you are making the sound with your mouth. This requires a lot of muscle structure in your face and to keep those in shape you have to practice a lot! That’s hard to do when you are in the middle of developing a trip, especially like this last one I did to Japan for three months. I shot around 88 rolls and we have been traveling quite a lot. I haven’t had time to keep up with my developing and making contact sheets. This is frustrating because, to tell you the truth, I have more fun developing and looking through photos than I do practicing my trumpet. I just have to organize my day well. That’s really the only conflict I have.

Q: You fell in love with photography as a young child thanks to your mother Sharon Talvola. Is she a photographer too?

A: My mom is a great photographer. She gave me my first camera and really supports me a lot in my photography. She was always at all the family reunions with the camera, posing us for pictures or just shooting snapshots. To tell you the truth, I always thought it was annoying how she was always shooting photos, but then when we would go to the store and pick up the prints it was our little moment together sitting in the car out in the parking lot laughing and remembering these moments captured on film.

Q: You traveled to Japan in 2013 and that was a great experience for you. Can you tell us about it?

A: Japan is amazing. I don’t know where to really start but I just have such a good feeling when I’m there. The people are so kind and respectful. It inspires me. Maybe it’s coming from living in Barcelona where you’re always watching your back for thieves, not only the kind that steal in the streets but the ones in the music business as well, club owners, managers, etc. I’m not saying Barcelona is a bad place; I also exaggerate a little too! However, you do definitely have to “estar al loro,” which is a Spanish expression to be on the look out at all times. I have begun not to trust so much in people in Spain over the years. Japan, on the other hand, is completely reversed to what I am used to. It seems too good to be true and at first I was suspicious that you could trust so much in people. I felt like I could get up from the table to order a drink with my wallet open on the table, a bag sitting on the chair next to the table with my cameras and lenses in there and truthfully not think twice about it. Also with this way of life, the people are not so suspicious of why you’re taking a photo of them or near them. In Spain I have been stopped in the street and interrogated about why I took a photo of the door of a bar or chased by hookers and yelled at. People just get uncomfortable when they see me with a camera around my neck. They look at you suspiciously. It’s ridiculous!

Music-wise, it has been so amazing. The Japanese really respect art and musicians. I  met so many cool people and we have been able to share and spread our music to quite a lot of people. We are planning to go back next September for another tour with the band. This is exciting for me and something to look forward to for 2014. I have to say Japan has really motivated me as a photographer and has helped me to develop my style. It’s pretty funny to look at the three trips and see how my vision and perception has changed so much on how I look at and compose my frames. I know sooner or later I will end up living there.

Q: What is photography for you? And do you think your ideas about photography have changed over the years?

A: Photography for me is an expression of one’s vision and mood. I love that photography has made me see my everyday world in a different way. I love to capture moments, expressions, light and because of photography my eye has become refined to see things before they happen or just to see the simplest things that are so beautiful. It’s my alone moment, my get away, my personal escape. I have to say that in the end photography is also my memory; kind of sad but it’s true. I have a terrible memory due to late nights and meeting so many people.

I don’t know if my ideas have changed so much in the past three years; maybe more that I have changed in the way I see things. This could be due to consumption of art, sculpture, paintings and photography that I have taken in. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I think the more knowledge you have the more your ideas grow and manifest.

Q: Looking at your photos made in Japan through a fun and relaxed atmosphere, I can see also some latent melancholy. Is it just me or do you think that in this work emerges even this state of mind?

A: I would say you’re right; it is something I definitely look for when shooting. I shoot most of my photos while drinking and very late at night, normally after my concerts. I mosey around until I find a little hole in the wall bar with modest working people and make conversation. I love to meet people this way and it is how I capture most of my photos. If you take a look at my other photos, you will find the same melancholy feel. I’m always shooting at wide apertures and at 1600 ISO. This gives a pretty dreamy effect to my photo. Also choosing to shoot black-and-white has a pretty big effect on this state of feeling in my photos.

Q: Tell us about your experience with the Leica cameras and lenses.

A: My experience with Leica has not been such a long one, but a very intense and close one for me. It has been an ongoing love affair. I feel like a complete nerd to say it like that, but I love my Leica. I have always been aware of Leica, but I really  started to become interested in Leica cameras through the work of one of my favorite photographers, Joan Colom. Colom was an authentic street photographer who shot the neighborhood of Raval in the late ‘50s and ‘60s with a Leica M2 and mostly a 35 mm lens set to hyperfocal. I began to save money, dream almost every night, researching what Leica body and lens I wanted and what I could actually afford. I have never used a light meter in my photography so I ended up getting an M2 for its simplicity, 35 mm frame lines, strong build, price and beauty. My first Leica lens was a 35 mm f/3.5 Summaron. To this day I regret selling that one! That lens made some beautiful images for me. I’ve had a couple M3 cameras, M2 cameras and I had an M5 for a while too — that thing was a real tank. At the moment my set up is a brassed out M2. It looks like it came out from under the sea or something! I have tried many lenses from Leica — all fabulous and wish to have them all — but I mostly have the 40 mm Summicron glued on my camera. I really love that lens and it has been my lens of choice, my third eye, for the past three years. It’s so tiny and has that classic Summicron look that I love. I also fiddle around with a 28 mm Elmarit.

Q: What drives your creativity when it comes to photography? Do you feel your music and your vision through photography are connected?

A: I love randomness, wacky people and of course the unknown and unexpected. I love surprises in my photos too, mistakes or photos you forgot about and when developing they actually come out cool. I love it when that happens. I’d say my creativity and drive comes from these things. My music and vision are connected for sure; both music and photography can give you a mood. I’d say my music has more emotional pull than my photos do, that’s for sure. Music drives my vision and my camera captures it.

Q: Has it ever happened that one of your photos has inspired a song or vice versa?

A: For me personally, sadly no! For others, yes. My photos have been used to inspire a poet and have also been projected on a stage to create the mood for each song.

The opposite? YES! When shooting in the street, I wear headphones sometimes. I normally listen to jazz or classical music. The last album I listened to was my good friend and inspiration on the trumpet Raynald Colom’s “Rise.” Man, I shot a lot of good photos with that album! It inspired me and made me feel invisible. I would never call myself a street photographer; I’m too much of a shy guy to be in your face, but music has helped me be more relaxed and inspired while shooting.

Q: Can you tell us about your next projects?

A: Currently, I’m up here in the snow shooting with a good friend of mine, a pro snowboarder named Lluc Navarro. I am doing something a little different and it includes the full moon. I don’t want to say too much more; the photos will be coming out soon. Apart from that, I am continuing with my Raval work whenever I visit Barcelona and of course my love affair with Japan. I don’t know … I just shoot, enjoy life, don’t think too much, keep my doors open and see what comes my way.

Thank you for your time, Dominic!

- Leica Internet Team

Connect with Dominic on his website and Flickr.

Alex Coghe is an Italian photojournalist currently based in Mexico City whose professional activity ranges from editorial photography to events. Learn more about Alex’s nasty project on his website, Tumblr, YouTube and download his books on iTunes. He is also a member of the international photography collective, noise. Check out their work on Tumblr, Facebook and Blurb.