We had the good fortune of connecting with Norrel Blair and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Norrel, why did you pursue a creative career?
There was no other option. I studied Advertising/Public Relations at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and by the time I graduated in 2016 I had become so disenchanted by the field. I wanted to be creative, but I ultimately I wanted to use my creativity to create meaningful & memorable art – not ad campaigns for brands. The irony is that my degree has actually helped me tremendously in thinking about my work from a branding & marketing perspective, and I think that’s something a lot of artists across all mediums hate to think about naturally, but for me, I still invest a lot of my mental power into it because I know exactly how important it is, especially in today’s digital landscape.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Well, I guess I’ve been photographing on a “professional” level I suppose for nearly half my life, since 2008, so I feel like going through all the “trials & tribulations” so early on in my life really gave me the experience I needed later in life & now to make smarter decisions. For context, after I was gifted my first Canon DSLR, an uncle who was the editor for a Boston-based music publication asked if I would want to start taking concert photos for them. I said yes, and he proceeded to tell me my first show would be Linkin Park’s 2008 Projekt Revolution tour stop in West Palm Beach, FL at the Cruzan Amphitheater. From there it was just nonstop shows & opportunities. I shot Katy Perry’s first tour for the Palm Beach Post, Ultra Music Festival for four years straight, and even got asked to contribute for a South Florida-based music zine. I didn’t really stop doing any of this until 2012, so that was FIVE years of my life and by the time I stopped I was still a baby in college. Eventually I wanted to be the one experiencing the concerts and also just focus on school, so I took a step away from that world, and when I finally came back around to photography, I knew I wanted to focus more on queer-centric work. In Orlando, I just wasn’t seeing a lot of queer photographic work, so my advertising-brain kicked in, saw a “gap”, and decided I’d create work to fill that gap in the local area. As for what I think sets me apart now… I think I take the Madonna approach to things and just embrace new & young voices, artists, platforms, etc, rather than shove them away. I continuously seek out other creatives across the world through social media, I take time to understand all the different social media platforms and how they work, and how to create content tailored toward each one. Not only that, but I force myself from time-to-time to wear many hats; creative/visual director, stylist, location scout, color grader, retoucher, etc. Most of my studio work is also on my own little set-up that I’ve built up over the years with the money I would save up from working at my service jobs. Was it it easy? Of course not, but I have a stupid-high standard for myself and my work, and if that means spending a lot of time & effort to be absolutely proud of my work with no regrets, then I’m willing to take a few headaches here & there.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place that doesn’t even feel like you’re in Miami at all. It’s a great place to take a stroll and find inspiration, and I think anyone visiting Miami would be doing themselves a disservice to not visit this place, especially if they’re an artist. Obviously, I would also take them to Wynwood. I feel like no trip to Miami is complete without a trip to Wynwood. Coincidentally, that’s also where some of the best food, shopping, and drinks are. In Wynwood, is one of my favorite places – Yoko Matcha. Besides the fact they have such a cute indoor space, they’re one of the only dedicated matcha bars in Miami I believe? Which is weird because most other cities have tons of them. I’m a huge fan of matcha, and if you’re craving something sweet, they have amazing ice cream as well!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I think the person who comes to mind as of most recently is Toby Kaufmann, who has been nothing but supportive of me & my work, and has really encouraged me in my pursuits of being an artist. Her experience in the creative industry has really enlightened me, and on top of that the work she does is so freakin’ good! As far as anyone else, I don’t think no other artist has helped push me through more than Madonna. As both a queer person and an artist, she’s inspired me in so many ways. I’ve watched all of her shows, so many interviews past & present, and it’s crazy how consistent she’s always been consistent in her mission as an artist, her opinions about censorship, and having absolute control over everything that she puts out, and I can respect all of that. From her body of work, nothing else has inspired me more than her ‘Erotica’ album and subsequent Girlie Show World Tour. It’s freedom of expression in the highest form.
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