- An image from Brian Nice's book My Point of View, a collection of photos taken on a 2013 cross-country trip.
"It's like living in a Picasso painting nonstop," says Brian Nice, describing his daily perception. A congenital cavernous malformation caused bleeding in his brain in 2009. After two operations, Nice found himself confined to a wheelchair, with almost no fine motor control. Since then, he has attempted to convey his visual reality through photographs. Nice's show, "Another Point of View," will be exhibited at the Buster Levi Gallery in Cold Spring April 5 through April 28.
Few lives have changed as dramatically as Nice's. The son of noted watercolorist Don Nice, Brian grew up in the East Village of the 1960s.
After attending the Rochester Institute of Technology, he began a highly successful career as a fashion photographer. Nice loved the glamorous life: "It was like a party. I didn't see winter for 15 years." Suddenly he found himself in a coma, hearing a doctor say he would never move again. "I tried to move my middle finger, but I couldn't," Nice remembers.
Arthur Rimbaud wrote: "The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses." For Nice, this effect requires no mescaline or absinthe; it's a bona fide medical condition. He uses a Russian toy camera, with a plastic lens, to simulate his own perception. The Holga often has light leaks, creating bright diagonal streaks, and easily produces double exposures. For most photographers, the trick is making a two-dimensional picture look three-dimensional. Nice is trying to convey his visual reality, which contains no depth, so he accentuates the two-dimensionality of his medium. The prints are organic, untouched by Photoshop.
"I'm like a chameleon," he says. "One eye is horizontal, the other is at 45 degrees, and they see independently from each other." About half of the show is diptychs, which convey Nice's divided sight by juxtaposing two unrelated images of equal size. How does he choose the images? Purely by feel. He'll place Xeroxes of two pictures together, mount them on the wall and live with them for a few days. Then he'll decide if they belong conjoined.
"Another Point of View" contains messages from the skewed world Nice is forced to inhabit, but it doesn't strike me as anguished. Rather it has an air of shimmering calm. The paired pictures resemble a two-page spread of a magazine. This effect was not intentional, but was perhaps the subliminal influence of a fashion photography career.
Most artists speak of the centrality of their art, but for Nice it is absolutely essential. I asked him if art-making was the most important thing in his life. "It's the only thing," Nice replies. He still paints watercolors, and has made over 800 images of hearts for his 12-year-old daughter Sam, so even his personal relationships are mediated by art. Don Nice died the week I spoke to Brian. (An appreciation of the elder Nice appears on page 84.) The photographer almost canceled this show, but his father insisted: "No way! You've got to keep going."
Brian Nice's "Another Point of View," will run at the Buster Levi Gallery in Cold Spring April 5-28.