Boss Lady - Nancy Nolan

Bella Vita launched a blog titled “Boss Lady” in March 2017 - after years of being inspired by the women that we are friends with, work with, or do business with, that are building their empire doing what they love.  Running a business takes work, and getting started takes courage. At Bella Vita, we wanted to take this opportunity to praise and encourage some of the great female entrepreneurs we have met over the years and we hope to inspire more young women (and men) to follow their instinct/talent/passion and become entrepreneurs.  
My team and I are reaching out to the woman owned businesses that inspire and amaze us on a daily basis.  We will start with a brief background, then dive into the nitty gritty of running a business, what keeps them inspired, and everything else in between.



I am a single mother of two amazing boys, Park and Henry!  We have been living and working in the Soma area for 17 years.  We love downtown loft living and adore our neighborhood.

I was born in Flushing Queens NY, the second of four kids.  My Father was a Naval Officer and we moved a lot when I was a child. I was one of those fortunate people who knew what they wanted early on.  So, after high school I move from Va. Beach to Georgia and attended the Art Institute of Atlanta for photography. While at collage I landed a job with one of the top fashion photographers in the city at the time. And after a couple of years I was shooting JC Penny’s, Macy’s and other national accounts for him.  I was 22 years old and off and running.


  1. Give us your elevator pitch.  I am a commercial, advertising, and fine art photographer.  For 30 years, I have created images for national magazines, companies and catalogs.  My goal is to pull the beauty out of the everyday. To shine a light on the hidden parts of people, places and things.  My goal is to tell their stories with light and truth… no matter where I find it.

  2. What is your business?  My business is commercial, advertising, fine art, and editorial photography.  I shoot for local and national magazines, companies, books, and catalogs.

  3. When did you start your business?  I have had a number of business over my 30 years of working as a professional photographer.  My first studio was Dualine Studios in Atlanta, and we opened in 1985.   I started Nancy Nolan Photography in 2004 here in Little Rock.

          
  4. What inspired you to make the leap? The inspiration came from the natural course of apprenticing. I was lucky to get a good assisting job while still in collage.  It was also fortunate that I understood the fundamental benefits of having that opportunity. It is important to apprentice with an established photographer if you want to succeed in this business.  As I moved through my apprenticeship there came a time when I realized there was nothing more I could learn from the situation, and it is then that I knew I was ready to go out on my own. 

  5. What helps you get started each morning? Coffee, diet coke, 10-mile jog, meditation??  Long answer:  Knowing that I do not know what will happen that day.  I am in a different location with different people shooting different things most days. I have a wildly interesting job and it gets me started most mornings.  Short answer:  Coffee with coconut milk.

  6. Tell us about a day in the life of running your business.  Like most business I have days of bookkeeping, planning, advertising, and post work.  But I will talk about a shoot day because it is far more interesting and fun.  The shoot days when outside is at the mercy of the weather and light.  So, I am often up before sunrise on the set to catch the morning light.  I am irritated about having to get up so early, but it never fails to be worth it when I am watching that beautiful light wash over everything.  The shoot never goes as expected so the shifting and problem-solving start as I begin photographing. Because the sunlight can be harsh between 10 and 2, we get a good break mid-day. We then regroup and catch the great evening light through the sunset.  There are long days with any number of interesting subjects and places.  Some I never want to experience again - but most I will never forget.



  7. What keeps you motivated?  Money.  I know this may sound crass, but I am a straight shooter (excuse the pun).  The proliferation of photography in recent years has made it difficult to make a living at it. I am a single mom raising two boys and I want to photograph.  So, If I want photography to be in my daily routine I have to have a steady income from it.  This takes discipline and a truck load of hard work. If I could wait for inspiration to shoot pictures, trust me I would.  But I cannot, and money seems to keep me motivated.

  8. Describe your dream day.  A beach, no camera, and absolutely nothing to do.

  9. What is your greatest strength/super power?  My intuition.  I have the ability to understand people and situations on the spot.  My father’s alcoholism helped hone this skill.   His descriptions and stories would not match up with what I was feeling when he spoke.  And as time passed I learned my first impression of situations were usually correct.  This sounds negative, but it is a gift he gave me. Knowing how someone or something makes me feel is more important than my perception of it. It is invaluable as an artist, and a guiding force.     

  10. Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat?  I tell the stories visually so Instagram is natural choice.



  11. What do you do in your free time? (ha! What is free time?!)  I am a huge fan of movies. There was a time when I wanted to make a switch to filmmaking, but it hasn’t panned out for me yet.  So, for now it is what I love to do if I have free time.

  12. If an investor gave you 1 million dollars to use toward your business, how would you spend it?  I would use it to acquire the time and space to reinvent myself and my work. It is important to a business and an artist to reinvent occasionally.  It keeps you fresh, relevant, and interested in your work.   I have had a couple of reincarnations over the years and I see another one coming.  It can be hard to take the risks need to accomplish this, and 1 million dollars would make that a whole lot easier.   I think I want to change my answer to question #8 “describe your dream day” - it would be the day an investor gave me 1 million dollars to do that. :)

  13. What’s the biggest risk you ever took; how did it go?  The biggest risk I took professionally was to give up being a fashion photographer.  I was successful for 15 years in Atlanta shooting only fashion.  I had lost interest in it and wanted to scale down to something less stressful.  I started shooting Interiors and portraits for designers and editorial magazines when we moved to Little Rock.  It was the perfect answer and I am happy to say it was enjoyable and successful. 

         

  14. Name something you hate doing but have to do for the good of your business. How do you make it tolerable?  There are two things essential to photography that I have a love/hate relationship with.  Social media and post work.  I have mastered the discipline for post work, but the joy in it is still elusive.  I schedule computer work just like I schedule the shoots.  I listen to podcasts while I work and that helps to keep me in my seat.  As for social media- I am not one to talk much about myself unless asked, and I don’t have an appetite for knowing what other people are doing. So, this makes social media a chore for me.  I am working on it.

  15. How do you handle discouragement?  When I lose confidence and enthusiasm I have to go inward.  I do this by shutting down outside noise and influences.  I go into what I call my bubble, and I am very selective who and what I let in.  I have to spend time with myself to understand what caused the breakdown in my confidence.  I suffer from depression and there are things I have to do most days to keep on an even keel.  It is a balance and when there is a crack in my confidence I can spiral.  It is not something I can power through, I have to stop, slowdown and address it. 



  16. Which iconic person inspires you?  Annie Leibovitz - She is a groundbreaking woman in a male-dominated industry.

  17. Do you have a favorite, inspiring quote?  I do!  I love good quotes.  I write them on chalk boards and post-it-notes around my loft.  Here are some of my favorites that pertain to my work… 

    “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”
    -- 
    Anais Nin 

    “All Photographs are accurate, none of them is the truth.” 
    -- 
    Richard Avedon 

    “I don’t look Back.  I don’t look ahead.  I just look around.”
    -- 
    Francesco Scavullo



  18. If you could choose anyone to pick as a mentor, who would you choose?  Annie Leibovitz - because we share a passion for similar subjects. And of course, she is so damn good! But more important to me, she has had some of the same setbacks and hurdles I have encountered.  How wonderful would it be to be able to chat and get advice from someone who had been through it?  That is exciting just thinking about it. 

  19. Who are you in your next life?  Oh geez, I am still working to figure out who I am in this life.

  20. Any secrets on how you balance the ins and outs of running a small business?  This is something I haven’t gotten close to mastering, and I would feel foolish giving advice on it.  But I will share this... As I have gotten older I have softened on the pursuit of balance, I don’t think for me it will ever come.  I realized that I have lived my life though my photoshoots. It has afforded me community, lasting friendships, and love.  I play as much as I work most days.  I travel, learn, and give back. There are days when I photographed a president in the morning and spent the afternoon in Charity food pantries shooting children.  I have been behind the roped off places nobody is allowed to go. I have had intimate access to people that another person would have to pay a lot of money to see.  I guess what I am trying to say is that there are things you may not need to be pursuing.  You may have it already, you just don’t recognize it.   Because it is your version of balance - defined by you.  I believe if you are doing what you love, the balance is there.   

      

  21. What’s the best advice you have for other women wanting to be entrepreneurs?  I think it is very important to work in the field you are choosing to go into before you open up your own shop.  Find someone who is doing what you want to do and get a job with them.  They have been doing it long enough to have made all the mistakes that you can learn from.  Even if you have studied in school, there is so much more about business to learn on the job.  There are location factors to take into account.  Traffic patterns, clients in the area, tastes and appetites of the regions, vendors and supplies to consider.  Also, there is so much to learn from how your boss interacts with clients and navigates through tense situations. These are valuable tools you will need to know to be successful.   There is a romantic lure to owning your own business, but you have to be honest with yourself and do your homework.  Know your strengths, but more importantly know where you are weak.  Own it, don’t think of it as a fault, and get the right help. Lastly, remember you are a woman the best thing you can do is be true to that.  You may be going into a business where you will be in the minority.  Don’t fall into the trap of trying to fashion your company in a way you think a man would do it.  This will not work for you in the long run. You may have to forge a new path, and it will be well worth the extra work.  We need the feminine voice, aesthetic, and practices to be present in equal parts of business. As a group, we account for over half the population and we are underrepresented. Understand I am not dogging Men and their business, I am just saying we need both voices and views equally represented.  And the way to do this is to fully embrace that you can do this as a woman, your own way with your own rules.

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All photos provided by Nancy Nolan Photography

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