Creative junkie, Nick Onken, and I met at Soho House on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. Soho House is an exclusive members-only club for creatives who work in fashion, film, art, and music. With entrepreneurship and creativity radiating off of this photographer, artist, writer, and popular podcast host, it’s no surprise that this is his hangout spot. We sat in the bar, abundant in velvet pillows and chairs. It was a hot day and Nick was drinking an iced tea, wearing silver chain bracelets and a loose button-down with Coco Breezy sunglasses tucked into the neck.
MR: The cover shoot of Rocky Barnes is gorgeous. How did you first meet Rocky?
NO: Rocky is great. We met years ago on a photo shoot. It was her actual real first commercial shoot for State Farm. It’s one of my favorite ads— young kids hanging out on cool vintage cars in sunsets. We met and I casted her for other photo shoots. We went to Cuba and did a project together there recently. We’ve shot quite a few times together.
MR: Tell me about your career and how this podcast came to be.
NO: Graphic design and branding was my first career. I moved into photography eight or nine years ago and the podcast just happened a few years ago when I realized the expansive network I had of interesting and inspiring people. The podcast was dreamt up when my friend Lewis Hawes interviewed me for his podcast probably like three years ago and I just thought it was a lot of fun. I met his producers and they made it much easier to execute. So I just had to start my own and start interviewing my network. At the core, photography is what I do and love. Photography is the primary outlet of my business. It’s business and creativity and I love it.
MR: What is your interview process like?
NO: I try to interview everyone in person because I like to create a portrait of each person. You have to create a rapport with your subject and be genuinely interested in them. I think casting is a piece of it as well. The subject must have depth and that can be determined by asking myself, what is it about this person that’s interesting and what is unique about them? From a photographic stance, I am fascinated with a person’s look, their style, and the way they dress. A lot of it is aesthetic but the flip side is that the people I interview always have something amazing going on. I conduct my interviews in different places. A lot of times people will come to my studio in Williamsburg but I like going to people’s spaces in New York City to capture them in their environment. I think it makes it more dynamic to show the environment that’s theirs and it gives context to the portrait. I have a portable studio with microphones. I have the package condensed down so I can transport it really easily in a backpack.
MR: Who have been some of your favorite people to interview?
NO: Usher has become a friend of mine over the past few years. He’s great to interview. I think what I liked about our interview was that he didn’t want to talk about normal things or promotional things like the songs he’s making. Instead, the interview was more personal. It was about what he cares about, like his friends and family. We sat down together for an hour. It’s hard to list all of my favorite podcast episodes because there have been so many. Amber Rae is a very talented artist and writer. I enjoy inward exploration and in the interview she talks a lot about creating art from the inside out. I interviewed Erv Braun, the father of Adam Braun, philanthropist and founder of Pencils of Promise, and Scooter Braun, music talent manager and founder of record labels and media companies, School Boy Records and RMBG. Erv escaped the Holocaust as a kid and moved to New York City. The interview with Erv is titled, How To Raise World Changing Children. Artist and author, Ella Luna, and I talked about her book, The Crossroads of Should and Must. In that interview, we focused on what you must do in life versus what everyone says you must do. It’s a really strong concept and it’s so important for artists.Stacy London, former co-host of What Not To Wear, and author of The Truth About Stylegave a really open and honest interview. She’s actually my girlfriend. We dove into people’s fears and mindsets, and what drives people’s success. MR: How did you meet Stacy? NO: I met Stacy through a friend, television personality, producer, and filmmaker, Max Lugavere. He’s on the podcast. He talks about how what you eat affects your brain. He has become a good friend of mine. I was at Soho House one day and I ran into him. We were catching up for a minute and he said he was going to meet his friend, Stacy.
We all jammed and had a great conversation and I said to Stacy, “You need to be on my podcast. She had so many amazing things to say. We were friends for five months before we started dating. We have lot of good chemistry.
MR: What is your mission?
NO: I want to inspire people to create their own success. I always say that we learn what we need to teach. I spend a lot of time learning for myself and sharing it with other people. What I really care about is spotlighting my guests and giving them a platform to share the things that they care about.
MR: What charities and organizations are you working with currently?
NO: Pencils of Promise has been the charity I’ve been working with over the last 7 years. I think basic education is highly important. I Am that Girl is a
new charity that I’m just starting to be interested in and work with. I recently interviewed the founder, Emily Greener. The program is about empowering young women and creating communities of young girls that teach them to interact with each other in a positive way—build each other up instead of bringing each other down. I feel strongly about women being empowered at a young age. I love seeing women being empowered and I love powerful women. I’m dating one. There are more and more powerful women but for instance, on the podcast, the majority of my guests are men. That’s why I like to find women who are making a difference. I hope to see more and more of them.
MR: Where have been some of your favorite locations to shoot?
NO: Antarctica was a pretty amazing place to shoot. I didn’t go there for a specific shoot but my friends got married there and we did some portrait stuff and landscapes. There are a lot of penguin photos from that trip. Tokyo is amazing. That’s one of my favorite places. There are a lot of places that I’ve been to once but there are only a handful that I would go back to, Tokyo is one of them. Their culture is completely first world and so different from what we know. I find it fascinating.
MR: What’s coming up for you?
NO: I’m working on more paintings and murals and focusing on my own art. I’m doing a project with Pier 59 Studios for New York Fashion Week. There will be walls of stars inside with typography. All the letters will be made up of tiny stars. I’m trying to bring positive inspiration through art. I’m also developing a brand called Nion Life and the podcast will be rebranded into Nion. It’s about living life in color, creating a brand, community and
products around that idea. It will be the same podcast just with new branding. Everything is moving under the umbrella of Nion. Soon we’ll be doing t-shirt collaborations with designers and different things like that.