College student turns grief into beauty

“I want people to take a moment from their crazy lives and live in these imaginary, dreamlike worlds I’ve created,” says photography student Nico Nordström, known on Flickr as Nico Nordström.

“Because that’s what my work has done for me,” she tells The Weekly Flickr in this week’s episode. “It’s been an escape — healing me in more ways than I can describe.”

Nico knew she wanted to become a photographer since the first time she held a camera. She would spend hours as a child inside Houston’s art museums, focusing on lighting and composition. Afterwards, she’d go home and set up little photo shoots with her Barbies, using disposable cameras and house lamps for lighting.

“I fell in love with photography,” she says, “And knew if I wanted to become successful, the only way would be through hard work, dedication and practice.”

If Winter Ends series   Gasp

Nico is inspired by surrealism and conceptual photography. However, she also seeks to personify emotions and feelings through her work, specifically grief, death and loss — which stems from a very difficult time in her life.

In December of 2010, her best friend, Louis Yonich (captured in the photo below), of 10 years unexpectedly passed away. Nico was 20 years old at the time and didn’t know how to cope with such a tragic loss.

Louis Yonich <3

“Having somebody who you always expect to be there… to just be gone,” she says, “It was completely shocking, very surreal. Nothing felt real to me anymore. I felt like I was living in another world.”

Nico poured everything she was feeling into her photography. She felt like it was a very safe place to go, and ultimately would be a constructive way to handle her grief.

"On Fire" from the "Renovatio" series   "The Struggle"

“Creating worlds provided a cathartic escape for me,” she said, “There’s something so special about seeing something in your head and then seeing it in front of you. It’s one thing to create a world in post production, but to be able to live in it — even if it’s just for a few hours — it’s beautiful.”

Thus began Nico’s “labor of love” as she put her mind, body and soul into her work. Nico planned huge and elaborate productions in her sketchbook. She taught herself how to sew and began creating handmade costumes and props for her characters. Being a poor college student, she’d often sacrifice food money in order for her vision to come alive. With the help of others she built sets, had her friends pose as muses, and spent many sleepless hours shooting and editing her proofs.

Falling Through the Passing of Time   "The Great Escape"

One of Nico’s favorite photos is The Unreachable Goal. It was inspired by the chaos in her life upon returning to school after Louis’ death.

“I was balancing everything,” she says, “And to deal with school on top of dealing with life felt impossible and completely unreachable.”

Nico made the dress in the photo and borrowed an old desk from her parents’ house. Together with her friends, she lugged everything into the forest, positioned her model horizontally on a bar stool, and threw papers around. “We definitely got a lot of confused looks from runners and dog walkers that day,” she says.

Reaching Out   Spring Solstice

Photography has healed Nico and helped her come to terms with her grief. But more importantly, it’s helped her honor her best friend, Louis.

“The last conversation he and I had, I was seriously considering changing my major to something a little more practical,” Nico says. “Louis told me no and encouraged me to stick with photography because he thought I was good. When he passed away, pursuing photography had a bigger meaning for me.”

Nico says Louis was obsessed with dragonflies, and to thank him she hides dragonflies in some of her pictures, like in her If Winter Ends series.

Nico hopes when people look at her work, it helps heal them as well.

“I feel that my pictures reflect the different stages of grief but it also shows the beauty that comes out of it,” she says. “When something awful happens, the only thing you can do is try to spread love and happiness and beauty to everyone around you.”

Visit Nico’s photostream for more of her photography.

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