Photographer Drew Nikonowicz, BFA ’16, says reactions to his work often differ depending upon the age of the viewer. Nikonowicz, 24, says the thesis of his work is founded in his world view.
“We live in a world where the ways we interact with technology are completely imbedded in the way we interact with people face-to-face, and I see that as nothing new,” he says. “On one hand, I’ve always lived with that reality, so there never was a moment for me when things went from no screens to screens everywhere. But an older person who experienced the shift from analog to digital might say, ‘This is reality, and now we have this new thing, and it’s different, and I’m not ready to grapple with it.’ At least that’s how I think people who respond negatively to my work my feel.”
Nikonowicz says some older viewers find his world view depressing because he thinks technology is liberating and exciting, while older viewers might be apprehensive about rapid advances of technology. For example, when Nikonowicz speaks about his work and references video games like Minecraft as a source of inspiration, older audience members often assume he spends all day playing video games, which he does not. But he does find “acceptable realities” in video games like Minecraft that can become part of his photographic exhibitions.
“Images have become the way we consume pretty much everything, and I tend to focus on things that excite me…things like the Curiosity Rover visiting Mars, which I will probably not visit in my lifetime, but I can still see it,” he says. “So, in a sense, I have been there, and, in my work, I draw a parallel by comparing that to going to a virtual world like Minecraft—a reality you can explore for the rest of your life and never see the same landscape twice—so I see those things as being similar.”
Alma Mater Exhibit
Nikonowicz has been invited to exhibit his work as part of Mizzou’s total solar eclipse observation. He will present a 20-minute discussion of his photographs as part of a panel discussion from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Aug. 19 in Monsanto Auditorium at the Bond Life Sciences Center. His exhibition will feature six large-format photographic prints as well as a grid of images of mostly local photographs based on his collection This World and Others Like It. Some pictures in the sequence are large-format film photos, and others are what he calls “computer-generated photographs.”
“I use computer mapping software to build landscapes inside my computer, and then I enter into them and explore—kind of like a bird—and I find scenes that interest me and ‘photograph’ them,” he says. “Even though they are not actually photographs, I understand them to be photographic in nature.”
For Nikonowicz, the exhibition at his alma mater is just the latest distinction in an early, but impressive career since graduating a year ago. Before graduation, he received the 2015 Aperture Portfolio Prize and the 2015 Lenscratch Student Prize. He also began a one-year residency at the Fabrica Research Center in Treviso, Italy, briefly returning to Mizzou to accept his diploma, and then went back to Italy to complete his residency.
Nikonowicz says he hopes viewers will find his photos to be “interesting curiosities,” and he is preparing his remarks this weekend for a general audience rather than an audience of fellow shutterbugs.
“I hope that the photographs invite the viewer to negotiate their relationship to modern technology,” he says. “Rather than simply drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘I am here, and technology is over there,’ the goal is to illustrate through the photographs how interconnected we are through new technologies.”
When Nikonowicz is not busy photographing the world around him or the world inside a videogame, he spends time developing a 3-D printed large-format camera. As his time at MU drew to a close, he says he knew he would not have easy access to the university’s large-format camera, so he decided to create his own large-format camera using a 3-D printer, which he bought instead of a car when he was an undergrad. Once completed, Nikonowicz will offer his designs for free on his website, and he plans to sell a kit containing all of the hardware and then offer workshops to show people how to make their own cameras.
Nikonowicz’s exhibition will run Aug. 18 –Sept. 23 in the Bond Life Sciences Center; a closing reception will be held Sept. 21, 4-6 p.m.