Playful Practice: Nikki Culley

A still like image of two red-capped mushrooms laying down on a sage green background. There is also a small branch from a plant positioned behind them.

Image: Nikki Culley - Magic Mushrooms

The importance of the arts in our everyday lives has become even more apparent after our time spent in lockdowns. In this new series of blog posts Redeye hears from photographers who take pictures for the joy of it, in particular looking at how photography can improve our wellbeing and be beneficial for our mental health. If you would like to submit your work to this series please get in touch at


Nikki Culley is a Manchester based photographer working with analogue photography. Nikki’s practice began in earnest 4 years ago after getting a place in a photography collective through Redeye’s Lightbox talent programme in 2017. Since then, she has built up short and long term projects in creative storytelling, still life and documentary photography, exploring themes of love, loss and discovery. Nikki has been published by Fly on the Wall Press and in artist-made zines and independent magazines: Hope Valley Journal, Dropped and Escapismo. She has also exhibited at Liverpool Biennial Independents festival.

Image: Nikki Culley - Summer Apples


Do you find that photography impacts your wellbeing? 

Photography to me is a way of slowing things down. I can sometimes lose myself to overthinking, which is the main reason I shoot film as the process is considered in a way that is different to digital; you’re shooting blind and often have only 10 shots in a roll, so you really have to believe in what you’re taking! I find a real stillness in those more drawn out shooting moments.

Photography and nature is the combination that has the biggest impact on me in terms of wellbeing. It’s just a fool proof method to feel better on a bad day. It offers me solitude, gets me out of the house, keeps me creative and makes me look around to notice details in the landscape that might make an interesting photograph. In that way, I suppose it brings mindfulness and a real connection to nature to my life. These still life photographs are essentially a more focused version of that.

Do you have a particular process to how you make your work?

Most of the work I make comes from feeling curious about something -  a subject or what I’ve not tried before. I’ve seen lots of inspiring still life images and always felt a mystery to them because you can’t see the context of how that image was made. It felt a bit intimidating to me because of that; did they have fancy lighting? How did they do the backdrop? What aperture are they shooting? So I just gave it a go and can now say that you don’t need anything fancy.

I used a piece of A1 coloured card from a craft shop and sellotaped the ends to a small table edge with the top of a tall board leaning against it, to make a kind of hammock as a nice smooth background. I used natural light from a bay window and positioned the set up in various places to pick up different light patterns. I also allowed myself lots of time faffing and playing around with different arrangements. In Summer Apples, it was the late golden hour summer light shining through foliage in my kitchen that inspired the whole thing. I didn’t need to do much, the beautiful light was already available.


Image: Nikki Culley - October Pink


Where do you find your inspiration?

For the still life images I’ve been making recently, it’s mostly seasonal. I’ll go out for a walk and forage, collect things and take them home to make arrangements. Sometimes it’s more purposeful - I went out hunting specifically for fly agaric mushrooms in October with real intention - other times, something will stick out to me on a walk. Recently for example, I noticed a real softness in the hidden pinks of the autumn, sitting quietly behind the loud, obvious reds, yellows and oranges, and made the little October Pinks series. I also take lots of inspiration from others. For the still life stuff, I was really inspired by the work of Azzy Mayor and India Hobson.

What is the most important part of your photography to you?

I guess, the quietness in both the making and the end image is probably the thing that seems to come through the most in all my work. I also like the idea of beauty in photography - I think I always want my photographs to be quiet and beautiful. The best thing is when people tell me they had feelings about something I’ve made. That’s when a photograph has something special.

What are your future plans for your photography?

I want to collaborate more. I think there’s something unique in being creative with others that you just cannot access on your own. The quiet solitude I find in solo photography time, like with the still life, whilst also being challenged by working creatively with others feels like the best combination for balance and growth. I also love storytelling and creative narrative photography which I always have projects on the go for.

Image: Nikki Culley - Magic Mushrooms


See more from Nikki on her website:

Or on her Instagram: @nikkiculleyphoto

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