Today we’d like to introduce you to Nina Koyfman.
Nina, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m a Russian American artist born and raised in LA. I began doing black and white film photography in 8th grade all the way into my senior year of high school. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to make films and I took all the art classes I could throughout my childhood to supplement me not having a video camera. My parents weren’t supportive of me becoming an artist like they are now and urged me to study Economics in college which I hated but still did because of some sort of inner fear of myself I guess. I transferred into the Economics program at UC Davis and started living in a 100 years old home filled with artists. I filled up my student schedule with film and economics classes and started failing all my high-level Econ courses to the point where I got kicked out of school and had to re-enroll. During which I finally changed my major to cinema and digital media. I found myself as an artist during this time and it felt heavenly.
Once I graduated, I moved back to LA and began interning at the studio of David LaChapelle. That experience made me grow as an artist and with how I approach my own work. After leaving the studio, I was commissioned to do a giant sculpture of a strawberry for a show. I had never done sculpture before and learned everything through material tutorials on YouTube. This was one of the first times I explored my Russian heritage so deeply. I painted the strawberry in a Russian porcelain pattern inspired by a teacup I drank out of since I was a child. This triggered me to get my own studio space and begin expanding my practice. Currently working on a series of films that explore childhood loneliness and toys.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It hasn’t been a smooth road at all and in some ways, the struggles have enriched my art practice. I’ve had to fight to be where I am (still am fighting haha). I am getting better at self-discipline and managing my anxiety but its hard to get to a place where things begin to flow more smoothly. If you want to create, it has to become your life pretty much. My ideas are also not easy to make. They are intense and require an extreme amount of labor sometimes. Getting comfortable within uncertainty has been a challenge for sure. I have had to deal with things like misogyny, ageism while on set jobs so many times. I’ve grown a tough skin due to all of that, the industry is filled with all sorts of people and sometimes things don’t go as planned and you fall but then you have to get back up.
Please tell us more about your art.
I create stories through multiple mediums. Set design, sculpture, film and photography. I am picky with who I shoot because I am attracted to telling the story of the subject as well as myself, so each person needs to have a unique personality/image that sets them apart from the masses. I look for inner courage in each person. I search for how I can translate hope within my stories as well as in my made up characters.
I think what sets me apart from other filmmakers and photographers is that I want to create a world of fantasy surrounding humanness. I don’t just put someone against a backdrop and ask them to give me poses. I know what I want from my subjects and lead them to express it on camera by finding what motivates them and who they are as people. A lot of photographers just shoot what’s cool, reaching for perfection through some facade of beauty or what’s popular. LA is filled with that.
What were you like growing up?
I was super shy as a child and was always lost in daydreams. I was a part of a Russian community theatre for about five years which birthed my love for set design and acting. I was bullied a lot growing up by kids in the Russian community and kids at school. I stayed true to who I was which set me apart from others. I listened to music to block out the noise of the world and would make up films in my head to the songs I’d listen to. I wore thrifted clothes, listened to blues, jazz, classic rock, old school hip hop when I was in 8th grade going to a school in Beverly Hills, which I attended because all the schools in my neighborhood were bad and my parents had to lie that they worked in Beverly Hills so I can get a good education. When I was in high school, I spent my lunches in the darkroom developing photos and in the art classroom getting ahead on my projects. My two safe havens.
- I usually sell my photos as 24″x36″ prints for $100-$200
All photos/set designs by Nina Koyfman