Creative in the Countryside: Nina Nixon

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Nicola: You describe yourself as a photographer, filmmaker and wanderer who lives for her wax jacket and wellies.  Can you tell us more about the work you do and how it all came into being?

Nina: I’ve always been a very visually creative person. All my family work with their hands, in some kind of expressive way, so it’s only natural I have this need to create too.  

I remember pouring over the faces from the frames in my grandparent’s house as a child.  I would wonder who they were.  Standing still, with little emotion on your face, gives nothing away about a person or their actual life.  Which is where my passion for pictures developed. 

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As a child I dabbled with cameras, but it wasn’t until I met my husband in my early twenties that I started exploring more. I remember we blew a whole months food allowance on a top of the market Canon.  We lived off beans on toast until the next pay cheque came in. In my mid thirties I had my third (and last) child, and it was then I decided to start a blog. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.  I wanted to fill my days as a stay at home mother, and connect with other creative people.  I soon realised I was better at taking pictures, than writing and connecting with others. 

I’m more of a listener then a chatty person.  I'm known as the ‘shy photographer’, which is handy when you want to go along in life unnoticed. You can capture the most joyous and emotional moments when people least expect it. Pulling the true feelings out of a person and immortalizing it on film. Not staged or styled, just honest. 

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I know nature, creativity and the comforts of home are really important to you.  Can you tell us how you incorporate each of these into your daily life and why they mean so much to you?

Nature has always played a huge part in my life. I would sit for hours when my friends were off chasing the boys, observing my surroundings. I take more pleasure in watching a butterfly, or listening to a blackbird sing, than gushing over fashion. Or gossiping about some irrelevant scandal. I can’t remember where this part of me stems from; it’s always been there. Wherever I live I always make sure I have a space to create, an environment I can escape to. No matter how small or lack of budget. Just an area where I can bring nature to me.  Even if it’s a lone bumblebee. A place to think and clear some of the noise out of my head. It’s where I get most of my creative ideas. I spend a lot of time in my garden. It’s the perfect place for me to ponder.

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I also love to sew and have a fascination with American quilts. In my late twenties I took a course on how to piece together, and ended up staying on for another five years.  My grandmother was an amazing embroiderer. I didn’t find this out until she died and was left some of her work. I’ve always wondered if I take after her in this respect. There is something soothing about the rhythmic process of stitching each piece together to create a story or pattern. I tend to save quilting for winter on the coldest of evenings.  I snuggle under the quilts with my girls and listen to them read me their latest story, or chat about how their day has been.

Home is really important to me. My childhood was quite chaotic.  I’m from a family where you were made to pull your weight and muck in. Being the eldest with three younger siblings it was full on. Which is why, whenever I had the time, I would withdraw into my head, go climb a tree or build a den and hide for a while. As a mum I want my children to discover the world, but know that home is where they can escape to.  We also have an open door policy where all are welcome.  There is always plenty of tea and biscuits and a good old chat if needed. Our home is busy, but in a good and positive way.

I also spend an enormous amount of time at home.  It’s my workspace and the place I am a mother, so it has to feel comfortable and be welcoming. I want a home to feel like it wraps you up and embraces you.  Filled with love, laughter, chocolate cake and hugs.

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You live in a small village in the Cheshire, on the edge of the Peak District.  What lead you and your family to settle here?  And I’m curious what a day living in this little village looks like when you’re at home?

We’ve lived in Cheshire for over three years now. It was a snap decision to move, and one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. We’d lived on the Kentish coast for seventeen years. We raised our children there and loved the beach life.  But my husband was offered a job and we knew if we didn’t give it a go, we would always wonder ‘what if'?  Within six weeks we had found a house, schools for the children, sold our family home and moved almost 300 miles. I then spent the next two years making sure everyone was settled and happy. It wasn’t easy, looking back on those first few months, but now I would say it was the best decision we ever made.

On an average day we start at 6.30am, and one by one leave for our various work places or school. My time should consist of school runs, housework and shopping.  But I'm a daydreamer.  So as long as there is food in the house and clean clothes, I prefer to spend my days gardening, baking and taking photos.  My youngest knows if I suggest walking to school it really means, 'I'm going to head to the hills for a few hours with a thermos of tea and my camera'.  But we do love the walk to school past all the tiny mill worker cottages.  We chat along the way, spotting various bugs and birds.  Her latest obsession is buzzards. We have a few of those swooping around these hills.

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Our village is small with a canal running through it and an old railway route that you can now walk or bike along. We are surrounded by hills and valleys.  The huge mill buildings now have other uses, like office buildings, cafes and gyms. Although there is at least one I know of that has almost tumbled down. It’s quite ominous, looming out of the landscape. The village is very friendly and local.  There are butchers and bakers that have served the community for generations.

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You also write for ‘This Is Your Kingdom’, an online guide for planning high days and holidays around the UK.  Does this work allow you to travel?  And what’s your favourite part of the job?

I love working for This Is Your Kingdom and feel so honoured to be part of the team. It gives me the freedom and opportunity to explore to my hearts content. And being new to the area, I have a lot to discover. I can travel as much or as little as I desire, which allows me to be the person I want to be. For me family is everything and they will always come first. I feel so grateful to be able to work in this way.

The best part of the job is tricky to answer, as I love it all. From finding new places to write about and capturing the imagination of it on film.  To then submitting an article and seeing it all come together. I also love reading about the places others have found and forming a collection I would then love to go find.

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And lastly, I’d love to know what is your favourite subject to photograph and why?

They say never work with children or animals, but for me I love faces.

This is my favourite subject to photograph, as you never know which emotion you will capture. It all goes back to those stiff, blank faces in the frames. I’m a people watcher and I love a good story. A face to me can tell a million of those, and much, much more.

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You can find Nina on Instagram @nina_nixon or visit her website here.

CreativeNicola Judkins