You may not recognize New York based photographer Collins Nai at first glance but you’d certainly recognize his work. As a creative director and photographer, he’s captured many of the beautiful images you see representing The Laundress. Despite spending so much time behind the camera, we were excited to put Collins front and center for a People We Love feature including what inspires him, some of his favorite things, and more.
Tell us about yourself…
I’m an image-maker, art director, and creative and strategic consultant living in NYC. It’s always a bit of a challenge trying to describe what it is specifically that I do because it’s in constant motion; which is something I absolutely love about what I do. I was born in Ghana and moved to the US when I was six. *Insert fabulous montage of starry-eyed child Collins flying half away across the world for this new adventure. I grew up in Delaware with both my parents before moving to New York for college. From a young age, I had a deep love and reverence for photography, art & design. From performing arts to visual art and design; I’ve always had a passion for creating things. I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to call it my job. I’ve had the opportunity to create editorial imagery and advertising campaigns for some top brands and publications in the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle industry. When I’m not creating photographic work with brands on art direction creative strategies through my creative studio and consultancy. It’s seriously the best job. Beyond that, I’m utterly enthralled with travel, interior design, and cooking, and planning my next adventure with friends.
How did you become interested in photography?
I have always gravitated towards visual art and craft. I remember as a young child I would always have a little notebook with me that I would take everywhere and always be drawing things that I was seeing or imagining. Around the time I was six years old, I discovered my parent's little point-and-shoot film camera and became utterly obsessed with wanting to document everything that I was experiencing. That excitement never went away and grew with my love for art, fashion and design as well. I would obsessively read every photography and art book I could get my hands at the local Barnes & Noble after school in high school. I taught myself through doing that and had the help of the best photography teacher in high school, Mrs. Rossi who helped me get prepared for studying photography in college.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere. I’m incredibly curious and I learned to let that guide me. I find inspiration in everything from art, literature, fashion, and cinema. Much of my inspiration comes from people and their stories. Finding ways to connect more meaningfully to people and hearing their stories is deeply inspiring to me.
Tell us about some of your favorite places in New York…
I wish that all of New York could be the answer… I feel like I’m always discovering new spots and adventures. By far one of my favorite places to go is the Flower District in Chelsea—It’s a botanical haven. I recently moved to Astoria and I love exploring the restaurants in the neighborhood. It has some of the best restaurants I've experienced in New York so far. The Museum of Modern Art in Midtown is a favorite as well. I'm particularly excited to explore more of the thrift shops and outdoor markets in Brooklyn now that they’ve opened. I’m always on the hunt for something special for my apartment.
What are some things you do to make a house feel like home?
I try to cultivate a space that feels true to who I am at this moment while also reflecting on my past interests and my aspirations for the future. I’ve found that my home is so integral to maintaining my overall wellness and spirit; so in recent years, I’ve had more of a focus on creating a space that feels calm and grounding while also being inspiring. Unless I’m on set, location scouting, sourcing or doing pre-production; much of my workday is done at home so try to cultivate creative energy that keeps me moving beyond my consumption of one too many espresso shots.
Incorporating pieces from my travels I’ve had the privilege of experiencing to ones that are gifted from family, a thrift, or stooping find is what brings me the most joy when putting together my space. The homes and spaces that I find the most compelling feel like they’re telling a story about the person. What we choose to put in our home has meaning, so I’m constantly working on being more intentional about this to continue to cultivate a space that I want to come back to and have my friends feel just as home as I do. I don’t want anything to feel overly precious or fragile.
Fresh flowers, candles, and music are my absolute go-to for my apartment to feel cozy and inviting. I like to think of them as the trifecta of perfect home vibes. They’re also things that I draw inspiration from. Candles and fragrances are a special kind of alchemy that I value in my everyday routine.
What are your current can’t-live-without wardrobe or home pieces and why?
My "can’t live without's" are more centered on home pieces and books. I love getting dressed every day and having a whole moment, but I don't tend to get too overly attached to a wardrobe item. I love how evocative candles can be in a home. Recently, I’ve loved burning Boy Smells K*USH Candle during the day while working, Le Labo’s Palo Santo Candle while I’m reading, writing, or meditating ( it’s total bliss), and Byredo’s Burning Rose Candle while entertaining friends. Live Beautiful by Athena Calderone is a book that I go through often. I’ve always found Athena’s thoughtful perspective and sensibility to be inspiring.
What is a piece of work you feel most proud of and why?
It’s difficult to choose one piece of work that I’m most proud of; there are bodies of works and projects that I’m proud of for sure. I revel in the experience. It's south of getting to create alongside friends and colleagues who work and ideas I admire and respect. It’s most likely because I’m currently having such a wanderlust to travel again now that it's safer to do so. I’m remembering my first experience in Paris a couple of years during the Haute Couture shows. I had the opportunity to shoot backstage at some of the fashion shows, and I’m always pleased with those portfolios because I felt like they were the first time after feeling creatively stuck that I allowed myself to lean into creating images in new ways that I was too fearful to do before. The images I created at Dior and Balmain are some of my favorites. That whole trip was the catalyst for my work shifting in ways that I’m proud of and trying to cultivate more of.
What are some tips you can share with anyone hoping to take better photos?
From a creative perspective, I would tell you to create images you like, things that interest and intrigue you. Photography is such a beautiful method of how we can communicate with the world. I believe everyone has such a unique perspective, so I would encourage you to lean into that regardless of whatever the current trend is. Your voice is and how you see the world is important, and I would encourage you to share it.
From a technical standpoint; good lighting is important. Slowing down and taking the time to see and capture light in whatever way you find intriguing will make for a great image.
What is your favorite product from The Laundress and why?
This is such an unfair question… It’s like a parent publicly proclaiming who their favorite child is. I do love every product I’ve used. But alas, I will choose two. My two current favorites this summer are the All-Purpose Bleach Alternative and the Le Labo Santal Signature Detergent. Both are truly ICONIC! The All-Purpose Bleach Alternative is one that I discovered after a recent photoshoot with The Laundress and I’ve fallen in love with it. My summer wardrobe this year tonally more whites, creams, and overall lighter tones ( it’s a vibe) and the Bleach Alternative does such a great job at keeping my white garments without destroying them. Despite living in a world of neutrals; I am incredibly klutzy… so it’s perfect for stains. The Bleach Alternative combined with the Stain Solution is MAJOR— 10/10 for those of us who are not the neatest. The Le Labo Santal Detergent is a staple for washing my sheets and certain tee shirts I wear more often than others. As a quasi-insomniac, I do everything I can to try and sleep better, and having your bedding smell like Santal is enticing. My friends might say I’m a bit neurotic and have a problem, but I think I’ve found the solution :).