InSpero People: Corey Nolen

July 1, 2016
Photo by Rob Culpepper
Photo by Rob Culpepper

InSpero is delighted to highlight Corey Nolen. Corey is a Birmingham-based photographer and musician. He is a dear friend of InSpero’s and is coordinating some of our efforts with musicians in Birmingham. We are so glad to learn more about him and his work and to share it with the InSpero community.

Tell us a bit about you and your work.

I make my living as a commercial, lifestyles photographer. I travel around the US taking photographs used for marketing material, editorials, and advertisements.  In the gaps of my travel I am able to dedicate concentrated time on writing, recording, and playing original music.  

I didn't learn how to operate a camera until I was 27 years old. I wrote my first song within a couple of years of learning to play the guitar which was when I was in college. I'm certainly an example of a late bloomer.

I'm married with 2 boys. My wife is a great encourager and a fine photographer herself. She is no doubt the primary reason I've excelled in photography.  

As a photographer, I work with numerous universities, industries, corporations and am represented worldwide by Aurora Photos. As a musician I have recorded 5 albums, 3 EP's, and consistently play live shows.  I never dreamed I would be doing either one of these things at this stage of my life.  Prior to this I've worked more jobs than I can count simply trying to keep my head above water and hoping to find my place. I fully count on my situation changing again but for now I'm very grateful to have 2 major creative outlets in my life.

What's a lesson your art and/or work have taught you?

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how strange it is that everyone around us sees, hears, experiences us for who we really are. We however are shocked (often disgusted) when we occasionally see a photo of ourselves or hear our own voice recorded.  When we look in the mirror we don’t even get to see ourselves for who we really are. It’s literally backwards.  

I don’t think we are ever really able to know ourselves the way we really are. Putting my art out there (most clearly with music), I’ve had to come to terms with the reality of who I really am… the person everyone else already knows. Though I would often like for my voice to sound different or my stories to say something different, putting myself out there for myself to see/hear has allowed me to be honest about who I am. Over time I’ve learned to value and love the specific, unique person I am even though in some ways I’m quite different than the person I would have hoped to be.

How is your life different from what you imagined when you were in high school?

My problem with answering this is that I don’t think I ever knew what I really wanted. There was never a clear, strong desire to be anything specific. Looking back I see that I was highly emotional and probably had a lot to express however I never had any solid outlets that gave me any direction. Now that I’m in my mid 30’s and my occupation and my hobby are both creative, it seems like I should have had some stronger indicators when I was in my teens. I find hope in knowing that we aren’t ever really done developing and changing into the person we have the potential to be. Not until we’re dead. Because of my bizarre route to where I am now, I fully expect my life to hold something different in another 15 years.

How would you like to be remembered?

I hope I’m remembered as someone who ultimately was restful. I continue to work through a lot of anxiety, but I like to think that as my experiences have broadened, my faith has deepened and I’m settling down despite moving into environments that are more overwhelming. I’ve failed and thrived enough to know that both of those things are a part of life. I hope people will remember me as someone who was calm enough to be able to pay attention to the present moment. Hopefully in turn, while I’m alive, I’m able to speak some truth through my understanding of my experiences. I hope that truth outlasts me.

Can you describe a time you have failed?

On numerous occasions with photography I’ve attempted to be represented by agencies that I respect. For a long time I was rejected by every single agency I approached. Every time I put my best work forward someone told me (if they answered at all) that my work wasn’t good enough for them to be associated with. Every single time it was crushing and it would usually take a couple of days for me to level out and regroup. However, over time I was able to see more of who I was and the reasons I didn’t fit into certain agencies (on top of my work not yet being to their high standards).  

These failures gave me direction. Eventually I focused on one of those agencies and made it my mission to build a better portfolio and try again. After a full year of making these efforts I finally found my representation, and it’s been a great fit ever since. Experiencing those failures helped me believe my work had progressed and was good after I finally broke through.  

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island, what 5 things (besides food and other necessities) would you want to have?

A photo of my family.

A guitar.  

A notepad.

A pencil.

A fishing rod.

What are some of your goals for nurturing the creative community in Birmingham?

I hope that through my experiences in music and photography I am creating authentic relationships.  As an extension of that, I hope those relationships lead to a deeper community that helps diffuse some of the insecurities we all feel as creatives.  Ultimately my hope for this city would be to see more encouragement between artists and a greater openness to other people's creativity.

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