Words: Kazeem Kuteyi Photography : Kahlil Hernandez
l’ll be honest, I kind of forgot what Nick said when I asked him about how he came up with his name 7TH Kind. I think those kind of questions are cliché anyway. However I find having those answers are key into discovering more about an artist’s influences and their overall brand message. I didn’t have that part of our discussion recorded. But from what I can remember of our discussion while walking down a Queen street in Toronto, he said it had to with him watching Steven Spielberg’s film, Close encounters of the Third kind. Prior to our conversation, I only knew Nick through his photos on Instagram. I think I followed him when he had about four thousand followers and I noticed that his following grew and grew.
I’ll go off on a whim here and speculate that his following grew as a result of constantly improving his aesthetic and his ability to connect with people. He’s also been featured on the highly coveted “5 Instagram accounts you should follow” feature by Highsnobiety. In fact two weeks after we spoke, he was instagramming from Paris and then some countryside in France- I think he was working on something for cognac? Nevertheless, Nick is a prime example of creators using social media to the best of their advantage. We caught up with him to discuss his journey into photography, questioning the importance of education and asking whether back up plans are important for the young creative today.
“It was all self-taught. I originally wanted to go to college for it but what happened was, I kept on getting rejected. I got rejected three times. With the amounts of times I got rejected, I guess it kept on motivating me to practice my craft.”
Why would you choose this career? And I say that because we’re living in a time where the competition is higher than ever being that everything is so accessible and also the advantage of having social media.
Originally I was into art and I got to the point where I was like – the main reason why I was doing art was mainly for myself, it’s not that I wanted to pursue a career with it. Eventually I went to school and I started to realize that art wasn’t my thing. I was kind of lost at some point and I didn’t know what I was gonna do with my life. One day I was looking at my computer and I saw some photos I took and I realized- maybe photography could be my thing.
When was this?
I think this was in 2010. This was way before I got into Instagram and so at the time I bought myself a camera and I just wanted to take photos. When Instagram came through, it was a place to showcase my stuff – eventually it led into something bigger and you realize there’s so much more people doing the same thing. After you see the oppourtunties that come with photography, you wanna do that. For instance, I wanna say roof topping, I guess everyone is doing it but it’s something cool because it’s something you can look back on – there might be that benefit where someone sees that and wants to hire you for something. I think if you put in the work it can lead into a cool career path.
How do you differentiate yourself in such a saturated market?
That’s a hard question. How I stay different is a big challenge. I mean I always find ways to stay different. Right now, I’m getting into more documentation- capturing everything that happens. For example, I was talking to my friend about this documentary about street photography and I noticed that everything that they shot was stuff in the moment. I drew towards that because it was super unique because you can look back in time and remember certain moments. An example was where a couple of people and myself were hitting this roof and I had no plans to, but I wanted to do something different. When people go roof topping, it’s always the same shot off that roof even if it’s different angles, people just wanna get the best shot. I decided to shoot the process of going on that roof and it worked out great because not everyone sees that journey to getting on a roof. They just see the final product. I felt getting the behind the scenes would be great. I know some people wouldn’t appreciate it as much but the people who are really into photos would think it’s cool.
How did you get into photography?
It was all self-taught. I originally wanted to go to college for it but what happened was, I kept on getting rejected. I got rejected three times. With the amounts of times I got rejected, I guess it kept on motivating me to practice my craft. I used to spend an hour a day on YouTube just to figure out different stuff. Before Instagram, I really had no vision to where my photography would lead into. I used to take pictures of flowers, chessboards, you know, shit you’d see on Flickr- like those stock pictures. But then I signed up for Tumblr and I started posting my pictures there and then came across this photographer I looked up to. I loved his style. I wanted to emulate what he was doing- taking pictures in the city. I followed him on Instagram and you know how Instagram has the new section and you can see what other people like?
Yeah, the explore section?
Yeah. I got to see what other people he was following and the pictures he liked. It starts that chain reaction to discovering new work and after you wanna try what the other guy is doing. It all comes down to trial and error. You download your programs, you fool around and now I’m at this place where I’ve figured out my style and direction. I did end up going to college for photography but I dropped out because it wasn’t for me. They were just teaching basic things, things I felt people knew already. I got into the program thinking I was gonna learn new stuff, stuff you wouldn’t find elsewhere. I went to the professor and I asked, “Hey, what am I leaving with at the end of this program, is it a piece of paper or some sort of internship?” He said, “you’re just leaving with a piece of paper that says you completed the course” As blunt as it was, I mean, you wouldn’t wanna hear that but I’m grateful that I heard that. There’s no point. You’re spending all this money for what?
In short, school is not necessary?
I don’t wanna say that. I think that only applies when you truly don’t need to attend school in terms of art – if you wanna go to school for art, I don’t know if I would recommend it. I mean you might have to go to school for certain stuff like graphic design.
People could always learn that on YouTube anyway.
Yeah, I mean, with graphic design to me, I feel it’s one of those courses you have to go school for. Other than that, you can’t be taught art. There are no rules and it’s all about your own self-development. School just teaches you one way. There are people who need school and want to follow the book in terms of getting what they need and then you have people who just wants to explore – you’re always gonna be switching it up and your end goal is always gonna be different from what they’re teaching in school. I don’t wanna say fuck school- I wanna say don’t jump into school if you don’t have any idea of what you need it for.
Yeah, art is so subjective.
Yeah, there’s no right or wrong. Someone can paint something like swirls and shit – I’m sure someone could say how is that considered art. Can you go to school to learn how to paint spirals?
Yeah, I saw the Basquiat exhibition. There was this piece with an open head and I read the explanation and I was like really?
Yeah, Basquiat is the perfect example. His drawings are really different but his stuff his still art. There’s no set way to doing something, someone is gonna find gold in what you do.
Do your parents like what you do?
Yeah. I got my dad on it. My dad didn’t want me to do it at first because he saw no future in it. He really wanted me to get into something with computers or like a trade. I might get into a trade in January next year.
“I’m not saying that I won’t make it in life with photography but it’s a back up plan because you can never be too sure.”
I’m going into auto. I have a big interest in cars. I don’t know why I never did it the first place. But for my dad, he wasn’t really into it at first but after when I started showing him all my stuff and all the places I go to and tell him all the stories and my experiences, he really opened up to it now. My mom is into it but it was really hard to convince her. She likes what I do but she needs to see the money come in.
Yeah, see that’s the hard part. Sometimes I do free work and people are like why are you doing that? And for me it’s all about the big picture, I’m not just gonna do any project for free but if I feel if it’s gonna give me some experience and contribute to my self development, why not?
Yeah, and I don’t wanna sell my self out too. For example, my mom asked me why I don’t shoot parties or weddings for money. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with doing it but you have to feel what you’re doing.
Yeah, if you know your aesthetic and your vision, you can’t go against it. Do you believe in back up plans?
Of course, that’s why I’m going to school for auto. I’m not saying that I won’t make it in life with photography but it’s a back up plan because you can never be too sure.
Why does it have to be like that with art? For instance my sister who’s trying to be a doctor, she has no back up plan.
I think it’s because once you’re finished you’r eguaranteed to find something. But with art it’s a whole different story because you can be the shit for a hot minute and then fall off at any point. And because it’s more of a commissioned based job and you’re not getting something with a fixed salary. I personally think it’s best to play it safe. You know people could say, “ah, you’re not confident in yourself” but for me personally I don’t wanna be 27 and shit doesn’t end up working out and I have nothing to fall back on. Back up plans are always necessary, in my opinion.
What do you think of Toronto’s creative community? Is it supportive?
Supportive? I wish Toronto were more like Chicago. I went to Chicago and everyone is so supportive of each other. Once you get into a room with a bunch of people that follow the same endeavor as you, everyone is supportive. Toronto is the same way in a sense, but there’s a reason why they call it the screw face capital.