Nirrimi Firebrace is a self-described storyteller working through the media of photography and writing. She tells us she used to sleep with her camera next to her pillow, and looking at her photographs you could easily be convinced you’re in some kind of heady dreamscape.
At the age of seventeen, she won a prestigious award for her photography and used the winnings to upgrade her camera equipment. Soon, she was signed to an agency and traveling the world to shoot for big fashion names.
Throughout these years of work and travel she wrote, keeping a legion of fans worldwide riveted through her popular blog, Fire and Joy. She wrote about her difficult childhood, about love and loss with her signature rawness and vulnerability.
Now she’s found a slower pace and a home in Fremantle with her daughter Alba as well as a studio space at Stackwood.
We spent some time with Nirrimi at her home to talk storytelling, creative habits and why we love Fremantle along with photographer Cheryl-Lynn Wee from The Maker's Portrait.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on two things at the moment. One is a photography series called ‘Wildbloom’. I’m taking models out to barren places in Western Australia and shooting them through prism lenses. The series incorporates a lot of flowers. It’s about having hard experiences and still managing to make something really beautiful, about finding beauty in times when life can be pretty ugly to you.
That sounds so important and beautiful, I can’t wait to see it. What’s the other thing you’re working on?
The other project is a course for creatives on managing their day-to-day lives.
It’s about committing to creativity and living a creative life. And also creating a workspace and routines and habits.
I’ve been freelancing for 10 years now and I’ve never had a guidebook to tell me how to do it. So I feel like I’ve worked a few things out the hard way. I’m a chronic procrastinator. I feel like if I’d had a guide from the start it would have been so helpful for me. I hope people will find it useful.
You talk a lot about the importance of creativity in your life, why is it so important to you?
I lost my brother to suicide. I had an abusive childhood. I was in an abusive relationship and I’ve always used creativity to help me process that stuff and figure it out. To decode how I felt. It’s been really powerful for me. And beyond that, just connecting with people, being able to share stories, connect with people who’ve had similar experiences.
What advice would you give to a young creative or anyone who would like to have a creative life?
My advice would be to really commit. That could be for an hour a day, or half an hour a day when you’re on the bus. It seems like such a small amount over a day or a week, but over a year it really adds up to a lot.
And to do it for yourself, rather than for likes or followers. Or because you think it’s going to get you somewhere in the end.
You have a particular photographic style, how would you describe it?
I was one of those people who was caught up in the first wave of digital photographers sharing their work online on forums like Flickr. I was sharing photos in a style that’s very popular now, but back then, eight or so years ago, was reasonably unique. It’s organic, natural and dreamy.
What about your writing style?
Very simple. I’m very aware of what’s going on inside me; my emotional landscape I guess. So I try to bring that awareness to my writing. So the writing doesn’t need to be really flowery and poetic, it can be quite raw.
What do you love about storytelling through your writing and photography?
I love the feeling you get when you take a really incredible photo, or write a passage that really speaks. There’s something deeper there, more than the way it looks or reads. It’s that feeling that keeps me going. I do love it, yes, but I also need to do it. That’s why I describe creativity as a lifestyle, because it’s just part of the way I am I guess.
I find it [my practice] more powerful for my anxiety than medication. My brother committed suicide two years ago, and until I wrote it down that weight was so much heavier, so much harder to deal with. I wrote down the entire thing and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. But then, when I was done, I had an instant feeling of ‘wow, I have so much less to bear now, I don't have to carry that inside me anymore.’
You talked a little about cultivating creative habits, can you explain what that means to you?
It comes back to consistency, so what you do each day becomes such a big part of who you are. If you’re doing things every day that make you healthier and happier and more productive, then you’re living a creative life.
Talk us through a typical day for you.
In the morning first thing I’ll read a book related to a project I’m doing and make notes, I’ll do yoga. I’ll make tea in the morning. Tea is really important to me, it’s a little thing but it makes me feel really present. I’ll plan my day. I do morning pages as well, which is 3 pages of stream of consciousness writing. It’s an idea from a book called ‘The Artist’s Way’.
I knock out all these little morning tasks and then I get Alba ready for school. I pack a backpack for the studio and sometimes I’ll ride, other times I’ll walk. Her school’s so close to Stackwood.
I pick her up from school. Once Alba’s in bed, around 7:30 I’ll go to my desk and keep working, sometimes until 1am. Sometimes 4am (laughs) if I’m writing a blog post and I’m in the zone.
How are you finding working in your studio at Stackwood?
I love it! Having a space like Stackwood is great. Having space which I can say ‘This is my dedicated space to make stuff. My stuff’s important, it deserves this. I deserve this.’ It’s a really nice feeling. And I find I get so much more done.
You’ve done a lot of travelling, including touring the US with First Aid Kit (jealous!) What do you like about travel?
For me, travelling is really important for self-growth. And for inspiration as well. I think sometimes, when you get stuck creatively it might be because you’re in a rut and you haven’t left your comfort zone for a while. When you travel you’re forced to think differently and see things in different ways.
Can you tell me about settling in Fremantle?
I wanted to find a good place for Alba to live and Fremantle ticks a lot of boxes for me. The beach and the artistic community. And just the feeling here; people have time for you in Fremantle.
Nirrimi will be hosting an exhibition in her studio at Stackwood in August as a part of our winter Made Local Market.
Find the full list of Market stallholders and events here.
Images by The Maker’s Portrait for Stackwood. Interview and introduction by Amy Snoekstra.