The photographer who portrays the humanity and the epicity of the athlete

“I think there’s a reason I tend not to gravitate toward wider lenses. I like to isolate and focus on individuals – it helps me simplify and draw the viewer in. Wide angles offer too much information – at least to my eye. The closer and tighter I push in, the better. It’s an engagement and an emotional connection we don’t get if we don’t seek it out”

Emotional connection. Nils Ericson’s photography is summed up in this magic formula. Emotions that turn into images, images that turn into emotions.

In the sports compositions of this American photographer, the athlete is simultaneously humanized and mythologized, it achieves the epic through daily and evocative actions.

“I’m always looking for drama – drama in the shape of the body, drama in light, and drama in the way pain or exultation reads on the face. Mud and sweat and blood and fatigue all add to and help create and describe the atmosphere. Is there an epic component? Absolutely. Does it depend on an imaginary link to sports romanticism? Of course. Athletics are so often couched in war and battle jargon – I’m simply utilizing and embracing a language, hopefully in a poetic way, that has existed for a long, long time”

A language that Nils raised in the wonderful 80s, a colorful carnival of athletic and aesthetic grandeur. From MJ to Diego Armando Maradona, from Andre Agassi to Jim McMahon and the Chicago Bears of 1985, passing through the Los Angeles Olympics… At the time everything was inspiration, everything was something to somatize.

A language put into photographic prose almost by chance, thanks to the influence of a college professor, after a long and multifaceted academic approach.

“I didn’t really develop a passion for photography until college. I took photography classes through Middle and High School and was good but not great at it. In college I took a drawing class as a prerequisite with a professor named Ben Moss during my freshman winter term. Anyhow, drawing was followed by design and then I finally got to take photography and by the end of that term I remember telling my professor I wasn’t sure I could do anything but take photographs in this life. That professor, Brian Miller, and the art library at Dartmouth were the best introduction to art in photography I could have ever had”

Influenced by giants such as Emmet Gowin and Sally Mann, Nils has managed over the years to build his own visual poetics.

A poetics that he studied and refined at home, with his family, in the midst of dogs and flowers. A poetics that blends perfectly with the contemporary sporting act.

“Here I included some personal work of my wife, child, father and images from my time spent at my childhood home in the midwestern United States. The work of my family, the day-to-day life-type work is my most important, like anyone else’s I imagine. The sports images are from assignments that are special or memorable to me in one way or another. The man throwing the javelin, for instance, that came as a result of a relationship I had with the brand Puma. They are a main sponsor for the high school track meet in Jamaica – the likes of which Usain Bolt ran in. It was unforgettable”

According to Nils’ thoughts, every sport offers something different: and we can easily say the same about his portraits. In the near future his photographic sensitivity is destined to evolve into new projects, into new emotional connections to be created.

“I’d like to explore more water-centric work. Whether that’s above or within. My Coast Guard project has only really just begun. I’ve always wanted to photograph high school football. I imagine I’ll continue to photograph flowers and document my kids as they grow”


Photo by Nils Ericson
IG @nilsericson

Text by Gianmarco Pacione