"When I was a little girl my Mum hitchhiked to Spain with me and my sister, fell in love with a small village in the hills of Alicante and decided to stay there for a couple of years. Nikita is what they called me at the village school we went to." (NR, Feb 2015)
Nikki, you were a professional dancer. Where did you do your training?
I started dancing as soon as I could convince my Mum to give me the 50p it cost to go to class at the local dance school. My Mum was hesitant as 50ps didn’t come easy back then and I think she always wanted me to concentrate on my music abilities (I played the drums, steel pans and guitar), She was a musician. But I was insistent, once I started I worked hard and was selected for the competition team soon after. Taking trophies home at the weekends was a thrill but nothing like the feeling of actual performance. I knew then that dance was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Unfortunately it’s not easy to train at the best places if you are from a low income family in the UK but I worked my ass off, auditioned for some great places and got to learn under some of the best teachers around at the time. I did my work experience at The English National Ballet, at weekends I trained at W.A.C (weekend arts college), I did my BTec at Kingsway College and took classes in the evenings at Danceworks, Pineapple Studios and Various other schools.
How long have you lived in Barcelona and what brought you here in the first place?
We moved to Barcelona after living in Amsterdam for 5 years. Initially our move was related to my husband’s work but it’s now very much a lifestyle choice.
How easy was it to find work here as a dancer?
I didn’t intend to find work as a dancer in Barcelona, I had two small children when we moved here and I took class to keep me sane ☺ It was only while taking class that the director of the school asked if I would join her Performance company ‘Coco Comin Teatrals’. Without really thinking about it I was back on the stage. It just sort of fell into my lap.
You recently made the move from dancing, health and fitness to photography. Can you explain how this process happened?
I’ve always been a very visual person and photography is something I’ve done as a hobby for years. I was asked to cover for someone else on a photography job out of the blue which then led to more work. This pushed me to dedicate hours to studying and fine tuning my photography skills to be able to move into doing it as a full time profession.
How did you come up with the name Nikita Alba Fotografía?
When I was a little girl my Mum hitchhiked to Spain with me and my sister, fell in love with a small village in the hills of Alicante and decided to stay there for a couple of years. Nikita is what they called me at the village school we went to. My middle name is Dawn which is Alba in Spanish.
What services do you offer as a photographer?
I have two businesses, Velvet Cuts which is a visual production company specialsing in corporate, event & wedding videos and boudoir photography. Nikita Alba focuses more on portrait and creative arts. Most of our clients are young people; babies, kids, teens and young artists.
Are there differences in how you photograph children and teenagers?
Yes, different ages demand a different style of direction. I don’t believe in staging shots, I want to capture honesty and personality. Children have a very pure beauty, capturing their individual personalities and imagination on film is a very rewarding part of my job. With younger children I prefer to let them just 'be' as I photograph them in a paparazzi style. With older kids posing them is much easier. Teenagers, meanwhile, are in a very vulnerable stage of their development and are usually so shy, part of my job is to encourage them to lose those inhibitions. It is wonderful when they let go and really become the stars of their show.
What makes a good subject for portrait photography?
A person ☺
How does your role as a photographer differ when you are taking still portraits and moving dancers?
Capturing movement uses different technical skills, a faster shutter speed and a wider aperture etc but it’s mostly the direction that differs. Dancers are very self critical and competitive, it comes with the discipline acquired from years of training in an environment of extreme scrutiny - an entire image can be ruined by a foot that is slightly sickled or an un-straightened back of the knee. We often have to re-do the action to get the shot. My dance experience has given me the eye to be able to correct at the time of shooting. Dancers can become weary so having a positive and enthusiastic manner when working is essential.
What has been your most enjoyable assignment to date?
I always have a moment in every shoot that makes my heart skip a beat and I’m often surprised about how a session will go, how much confidence the subject will have in front of the camera and when the magic will happen. Sometimes it takes longer than other times but I’m a stubborn artist and will not settle for less than amazing from any one of my models, myself and the opportunity of that given day.
You obviously love your work - how important is that to you?
It’s the dream isn’t it? I have never been money motivated but I am a person who is comfortable with change and completely addicted to being creatively challenged and pushing the boundaries of my own abilities.
You are also the mother of 2 very active girls. Can you tell us a bit about them?
Isabella is 14 and a typical teenager, hungry for privacy and independence. She is very musical and plays the piano and guitar beautifully but I wouldn’t say she was active.. she mostly likes to hang out at home, watch series on her Ipad and think of ways to get money out of me and her dad to buy more clothes ☺. Maia is 10, a dancer, gymnast, master of card tricks and lover of Michael Morpurgo books. Both girls fill our lives with joy and light and not a day goes by when we don’t feel incredibly blessed to have them.
Do they inspire your work at all?
Life inspires my work so I guess yes. It’s funny because Isabella will not get in front of the camera for me but all of her friends always want to which I think drives her a bit mad. Maia likes to assist on shoots with dancers and her post production skills are very good. She has her own channel on youtube (elmundodemaia) and edits a lot of her own videos.
You and your husband are both British - how well integrated would you say you and your family are?
I think as Expats we will always be living a little on the edge of intergrated. My Spanish teacher once said to me “the only way to fully grasp the language and fit in to life here is to have a Spanish/Catalan boyfriend”. I was open to the suggestion but my Husband is a little more traditional than me hahahaha
Do you think it’s essential to speak Spanish or Catalan where you live? How good was your knowledge of Spanish before you moved to Barcelona?
It depends whether you choose an international or local school for your children and whether or not your work is servicing a local or international community. For the work I do having a strong hold of the Spanish language is essential for me to win clients and be taken seriously in the local market. Catalan is a language I struggle to speak, I think I have some kind of mental block with it, but I understand enough to have a conversation and get by in parent/teacher meetings ☺
What is your impression of education where you live?
The education system is very traditional in Catalunya and at times feels extremely antiquated. My kids don’t have drama classes as part of their curriculum which I find shocking. The school day is SO long. Trying to fit in extra curricular activities on top of the school day means we get home most nights at 10pm.
Why did you choose a local school and are you happy with your choice?
Our girls went to an international school up until last year. On top of the long school hours they started and ended each day with a 1.5hour bus journey. We paid a fortune for what we felt was a mediocre education for the luxury of them learning in English. I guess we felt that at some point we would go back to London and having them at a British school would make the transition of that much easier. 7 years later and still here we looked at it long and hard and decided that the comfort of them being at an English school was needed more for us than for them. They would thrive more from being able to walk to school and back, have friends in the local area and learn Catalan and Spanish to a level necessary for them to fit in in a way we never would.
Many mums say there is plenty to do in Barcelona with young children. You have a tween and a teen. Is Barcelona conducive to this age group?
Honestly their extra curricular stuff keeps them so busy that we are never at a loss for things to do. When we don’t have a performance, casting or competition on we love to simply walk on the beach with the dog, eat at nice places, catch up with friends and mooch at home.
Are there any activities/places to visit/shops in particular that you would recommend for this age group?
We love the science museum, the cinema and our local library. Isabella goes to Diagonal Mar and Mare Magnum with her friends to hang out, shop and bowl. She loves her skateboard and there are some great skater groups for teenagers down at the forum.
What couldn’t you live without in Barcelona?
The sea and imports of Marmite.
What could you live without in Barcelona?!
Pick pockets. Mosquitos. Pee on streets. Dirty air.