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Photographer Nicholas J R White’s love letter to Dartmoor

Photographer Nicholas J R White, an alumni of Arts University Plymouth, is the subject of ‘Embracing the Familiar’, a new film by Canadian documentary photographer and filmmaker Kyle McDougall.
<p dir="ltr">Photographer Nicholas J R White, an alumni of Arts University Plymouth who studied an Extended Diploma in Art &amp; Design in our Pre-Degree &amp; Sixth Form campus before moving onto BA (Hons) Photography and graduating in 2013 with First Class Honours, is the subject of <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">‘Embracing the Familiar’</a>, a new film by Canadian documentary photographer and filmmaker Kyle McDougall.</p> <p dir="ltr">Now an internationally-acclaimed photographer, Nicholas began photographing the militarised landscapes of North Dartmoor for his final major project at Arts University in 2013. In the period that followed he won numerous national and international photography awards, working with clients including National Geographic, New York Times, Adidas, Red Bull and TIME Magazine.</p>
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Nicholas J R White

<p dir="ltr">In 2018 Nicholas began working in partnership with <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">Romanian NGO Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC)</a>, on a photographic series <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">‘Carpathia’</a>, documenting the formation of a new European Wilderness Reserve in the Southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania. This project came about as a result of being awarded the Royal Photographic Society ‘Environmental Bursary’ in association with The Photographic Angle and Metro Imaging. </p> <p dir="ltr">Following the Rangers of the Romanian National Park, Nicholas joined the patrols of the ‘Guardians of the Forest’ in the Southern Carpathian Mountains, mapping shoots using scientific data and following migration corridors of bears and footprints of wolves, with the project later <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">featured in the New York Times</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the UK entered lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Nicholas returned to Dartmoor and began re-walking the footpaths and bridleways, clambering the tors and swimming in the rivers. Working with Garry Fabian Miller, in 2023 exhibited the result of this work in Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery, as part of his <a href="">‘Crucible’</a> photographic series.</p>
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An image from Nicholas' 'Carpathia' series

<p dir="ltr">Documentary filmmaker Kyle McDougall approached Nicholas in 2023 about collaborating on a short film to kickstart his new film series, ‘Process’, diving into the creative journeys of notable photographers, with a focus on the lessons that they’ve learned along the way.</p> <p dir="ltr">Nicholas said: “As I reflect on 10 years of work on Dartmoor, and 33 years of life on the moors, I couldn’t think of a better way to mark it than to work with a filmmaker whose work I have admired for a long, long time. ‘Embracing the Familiar’ talks about my relationship with Dartmoor, and the importance of photographing local areas despite the battle with familiarity and oftentimes, lack of inspiration that comes with it.”<br /></p>
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An image from Nicholas' 'Crucible' series

<p dir="ltr">We caught up with Nicholas to find out more about the new film, the role that stubbornness has played in his photographic practice, and why he kept returning to Dartmoor in his work and home life:</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>How did ‘Embracing the Familiar’ come about?</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">Kyle and I “met” via Instagram, I can’t remember how exactly, but I’ve been watching his popular YouTube channel for a while, and I suppose we gravitated towards one another through a mutual enjoyment of analogue photography and process.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kyle had been wanting to begin a new series for his channel titled ‘Process’: short documentary films each featuring a photographer and their work—diving into their creative journey, with a focus on the lessons that they’ve learned along the way. We began talking about this over a year ago, and finally made it happen in late 2023.</p> <p dir="ltr">I had been on the moors for most of my life and made two projects there a decade apart. The Militarisation of Dartmoor – a series looking at the military training zones of the north moors was photographed in 2012 and 2013 whilst studying BA (Hons) Photography at Arts University Plymouth. In 2023, I completed ‘Crucible’, a collaborative project with Dartmoor artist Garry Fabian Miller. In 2024 I made the decision to leave Dartmoor, and create a new home in the North West Highlands of Scotland. As a result, this film with Kyle became a sort of farewell to Dartmoor.<br /></p>
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Stills from 'Embracing the Familiar'

<p dir="ltr"><strong>Can you give us an update on your work on rewilding in Romania?</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">My work in Romania records the efforts of FCC and their gradual formation of a National Park in the Southern Carpathian Mountains. It began in 2018 after I was awarded the Royal Photographic Society’s Environmental Bursary, and I’ve been chipping away at it ever since. The project was never going to have a clearly defined end-date, as the photography works in conjunction with the rewilding-efforts on the ground, and these things take time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Broadly speaking the work is divided into three ‘chapters’, each highlighting a particular strand of the organisation's work: Forest Replanting, Wildlife Monitoring and Community. As the series develops I’ve written about the work of FCC for the New York Times, and recently <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">photographed a separate story in the Carpathians for the NYT</a>.<br /></p>

'Embracing the Familiar' is available on YouTube

<p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you think that it’s possible to stay in the South West of England and build a successful photography career?</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">Well I stayed on Dartmoor for two reasons; firstly it was home. It was an important place for me and my family and I felt I had a lot more to say about the place. Secondly, I’m quite stubborn and refused to accept that in order to succeed as a photographer you’ve got to move to London. I saw little sense in moving away from the place that filled me with joy and inspiration, and starting a life in a place that did the opposite.</p> <p dir="ltr">I’ve always photographed the places I’d choose to visit regardless of photography, if that makes sense, so I followed my heart – put my own happiness and wellbeing first, and allowed the photography to come along with me. Obviously, if you’re a photographer that wants to carve their teeth in the advertising world then a move to a bigger city will benefit you and your career – but for the work I make, and the things that interest me, hunkering down in the South West – or the North West of Scotland as is the case now – made more sense.<br /></p>
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An image from Nicholas' 'Crucible' series

<p dir="ltr"><strong>What’s next for Nicholas White?</strong><br /></p> <p dir="ltr">I always want to be moving forward, I don’t want to stagnate. For a long time, I focussed on working in a very specific way, using very specific tools. But that started to feel like a cookie-cutter approach to image making. Over the last few years I’ve worked on a variety of editorial and advertising assignments, and enjoyed the challenges of introducing new skills and techniques to my practice. But I rarely allowed these to translate into my project work, which started to feel quite limiting.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recently – and looking to the future - I want to lean into this organic evolution of my personal work and I’ve been experimenting with LiDAR, collaborating with cartographers, historians and writers, and started to build my own darkroom.<br /></p>