“My favourite way of working is just roaming and stumbling across scenes that haven’t been staged or manipulated, but still tell a story,” says photographer Nick Ballon. “That’s why I got into photography- to find these beautiful moments. I like having the space to wander without reason.” He is describing his series of five prints, currently for sale from Crane Cookware, each of which are loosely connected to the rituals and habits around food and eating.
Nick knows a thing or two about the power of images to tell a story and evoke a feeling. Having studied photography at the Berkshire School of Art and Design, he went on to shoot for the likes of The New York Times, The Sunday Times Magazine and The Guardian – to name but a few. Initially, his career centred on portraiture, but, more recently, he has moved to, what he describes as “long-form photography that is all lodged in storytelling with a  documentary approach, and which allow the images to breathe and relate to each other .”
 
Alongside his career, he has maintained a body of personal work, which explores his Bolivian heritage, ideas of identity and place, and ‘foreignness’ and belonging. This body of personal work has taken the form of a book, Ezekiel 36:36, published in 2013, and another forthcoming project called The Bitter Sea. Visually, Nick’s photography is minimal and graphic, with clean lines, simple compositions and warm colours. His photographs are characterised by a sense of quiet stillness and ambiguity, which often serves to belie the movement of the subject underneath. The viewer is invited to dig a little deeper, and uncover the story that is concealed, just barely, behind the photograph. The five prints available to purchase from Crane Cookware are a mixture of Nick’s personal work and commissioned projects, and perfectly exemplify the minimalist compositions and powerful storytelling for which Nick is heralded.

ÅLAND ISLANDS

“This is simply a photograph of a lollypop stick on the floor of a boat. It was from a commission for The New York Times, that I shot in the Åland Islands, a group of islands off Finland. I was loosely following a writer’s journey that was exploring the loss of a family member, but was given complete freedom to explore and shoot around the idea of isolation encouraging contemplation. It’s an incredibly isolated set of thousands of islands, with very few people, but all beautifully interconnected with ferries and land bridges. You can explore for days are barely ever see anyone. I spent four or five days driving and cycling around the islands, photographing the loneliness and isolation that the writer had gone there to feel. The image of the lollypop stick as banal as it may be, resonated with me and the story, I'm sure the lollypop stick wasn’t dwelling upon its  loneliness though.”

CIUDAD REBELDE

“This was from a personal story I did in El Alto in Bolivia. El Alto is this sprawling, rapidly growing city of largely indigenous people, with a newly formed middle class. There is an ostentatious show of wealth among the newly rich through their buildings. In particular, they design these buildings called cholets, with over-the-top, brightly coloured exteriors, and interiors that are full of the same bright colours, ornate decoration and mirrors. The buildings have a functional use – the owners tend to live right at the top, then the ground floor is a commercial space with shops. The first floor is usually a hireable space for parties or weddings.

“I was photographing the exteriors of these buildings for a project, and we were invited in to a wedding. This shot is of the wedding cake, which just goes on and on, and is, in some ways the ultimate fairytale wedding cake.

“But at the same time, it is all about displaying wealth, with the gold and insignias, and it is that that I find most fascinating. Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America, but with this upwardly mobile society of indigenous people who, increasingly, have a money and a voice in the way that the country is being run. For years, a lot of my Bolivian work had a slightly negative slant – whether that was because of the ongoing political unrest, or just people who were living in poverty. It has been very turbulent for many generations. These people finally have a voice, and that’s, ultimately, what this picture represents.”

BEFORE SUNSET

“This was another New York Times story, in which I was looking at a sense of place on the Biarritz coastline. I was inspired by Eric Rohmer’s film The Green Ray from the mid-‘80s, which explores the location of Biarritz and a sense of nostalgia. It’s a very maudlin film.
 
“This image was shot in the middle of November, so the off-season. There was a tiny bit of tourism there, but nothing like the craziness in the summer. I love those in-between moments. This is one of them – the tables aren’t set properly, in fact you don’t quite recognise them as tables. I like the idea that they don’t quite make sense to the eye. Most of my favourite images are ones that have been observed naturally, not staged or contrived. I love having the space to just wander.”  

LOLO

“This was a story from a friend who’s grandfather lived in Provence. I spent several summers with her in Saint-Remy-de-Provence working on a project. There was a Roman quarry nearby where this old man – Lolo – ran a very casual restaurant. He was in his 80s at the time, but would cook for up to twenty people, cooking these incredibly simple, local meals, with big joints of meats, salads, olives that were grown there, and nice rosés. I pitched the story to a magazine, and went and spent a few days shooting him. He was just a fascinating man, and I knew I wanted to spend some time photographing him.
 
“Most of my favourite images are still lifes, where, instead of a person, there is an object telling a story – like this one.”

EL CHORO

“This was an exhibition project in collaboration with a foundation called We Feed the World, which supports and gives a voice to self-sustaining communities who live in remote parts of the world. They commissioned a group of photographers to go to these communities, and look at sustainability and eating. I was sent to a small village called El Choro, outside Cochabamba in Bolivia. The community live about 5000m, and farm on these incredibly steep, terraced hillsides. They had running water and a little bit of electricity, but it was, otherwise, a very simple life. They were reintroducing Inca potato varieties that had been lost due to the colonialisation of the country.
 
“They killed a goat for me when I arrived. It was roughly butchered, and buried in the ground for for the day . Known as Watia, the art of cooking food by burying it in hot earch. For Bolivians, cooking this way is to live the rituals and share the tastes of their Inca ancestors. It was a very different form of cooking for me – there was soil mixed in with the meat – but they had butchered an animal on my behalf, so, of course, I had to be grateful!”

Words by Rosily Roberts 

November 13, 2022