Photography Pioneer

Nic Nicosia ('74) (Photo by Daniel Driensky)

After earning a degree in radio-TV-film, Nic Nicosia ('74) opened a camera shop near the Art Building. Four years later he sold the store, returned to school to pursue an M.F.A. and quickly followed that path to an extraordinary career as a photographer.

Today, Nicosia is heralded as one of the leaders in the staged photography movement, in which the photographers create the sets and scenes to be photographed. His works have been featured in two Whitney Biennials and are in permanent collections of the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum, among several others in the U.S. and abroad.

As a common exercise for beginning and student photographers, Nicosia also started with "street photographs," walking around the streets of Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth, taking pictures in pursuit of the perfect moment. In class, instructor Al Souza introduced him to photographers such as John Phahl and Robert Cummings, who were altering the landscape or making set-ups to photograph.

"I wanted to take this kind of photography even further," Nicosia says, "to combine the fantasy with the reality of what was already there."

He started making photographs as art, fabricating images. Linda Carthcart, then-director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston who discovered Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, selected one of his images as the Purchase Award for the Voertman Student Art Competition on campus in 1980. In 1983, his work landed him in the prestigious art exhibition, the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and appeared in an issue of Life magazine. The two pictures published were from his "Domestic Drama" series, which featured a couple arguing in a highly stylized restaurant and a father (Nicosia) picking up his kids after they made a mess.

"I drove to a downtown night-time magazine stand to buy the issue," he says. "I just remember thinking, 'Wow, I think I'm a mainstream artist.'"

And Nicosia, who lives in Dallas, still keeps pushing his limits. In 2008, he started to stretch his artistic talents by drawing and sculpting.

"I now have more confidence and freedom than I feel I ever had," he says.