Nicole Bentley


Photographer Nicole Bentley captures the kind of pictures you want to fall into: she has such a romantic eye. I have always adored her images and the way in which she combines a kind of languid, sensual aesthetic with such emotion – I can't tell you how thrilled I was when she agreed to journal a weekend in her own style with her divine family in tow; her viewpoint is as inspiring as the stories she lenses. Here, the photographer at home on Sydney's northern beaches with her husband Brett Riseberry and their sons Harper and Emerson 

  1. Photographed by NICOLE BENTLEY

  2. With additional portraits by BRETT RISEBERRY 

  3. Interview NATASHA INCHLEY

Stand By Me: main picture top, photographer Nicole Bentley wears Vita Kin, her son Harper, aged five, wears Nico Nico, and Emerson, aged two, wears Yoli & Otis. On the wall is a selection of artwork including Bentley's own photographs and an illustration by Holly Sharpe; above, the family's picturesque home; a Mark Tuckey sofa and coffee table accents the living space. 

Nicole, your pictures are as much about fashion as they are about capturing a connection – the storytelling seems to stem from a feeling. What is your approach when photographing a new assignment? I always like to ask myself: 'who is this girl or boy?' I create a scene and a story for them. I have a vision for images before I take them, but then hope that beyond that I find and capture something unexpected and magical that I couldn’t have dreamed up. I like to remain open to my plan going out the window, to be surprised and to find beauty in the fleeting moments before my eyes. I also want to take images that make me feel something. Sometimes it all just falls into place and sometimes it’s a search and a journey. No amount of experience can predict how a shoot will play out. You just have to remain present and open to possibilities.

The Kids Are Alright: above, lying in, Harper wears Summer & Storm and Emerson wears Yoki Pete; top left, Emerson in his bedroom wears Yoli & Otis, and Harper, right, wears Stella McCartney Kids; Child's Play: below, Harper wears Stella McCartney Kids, Summer & Storm and Fallen Broken and Emerson wears Printebebe.

What ignited your love of photography? I always enjoyed art in school, but my hands often wouldn’t translate the beauty I saw in my mind. I decided to study Bachelor of Arts in Design and that was the first exposure I had to a camera. At first I found the camera very intimidating, but was determined to master it. It was in the same moment that using the camera became ‘easy’ that my eyes were open to the endless images I could capture if my mind could think them up. This magical tool was like me meeting my match. A medium perfect for me to get what was in my head onto paper without needing to draw. 

Here Comes The Sun: above, in dappled light, Bentley's Mark Tuckey sofa and dining table with Thonet dining chairs; below, her sons wears Yoli & Otis at the beach. 

Beaches: above, Bentley's husband Brett with their sons Emerson and Harper, wearing Nico Nico; below right, Harper in his bedroom wearing Nico Nico; left, in the garden, Emerson wears Summer & Storm, both boys wear hand-knits.

How would you describe the mood of your photos? What do you hope the audience takes away from your work? Perhaps there is always an underlying romance to my images. I love story telling as much as portraiture. There is always a strength and femininity there. I love to make women and men look beautiful. I hope my audience has a little escape from reality, a moment to dream and something to feel.

At what point did you feel a certain confidence, that you were on your way as a photographer? I remember back when I shot model tests that I had no brief to follow and was trusted to take a selection of images for each girl. There was something very special about being trusted with my own aesthetic to take these images. I think it was through those years of model testing that I was able to develop my own style that was not directed by anyone other than myself. I was fortunate that other people admired this aesthetic which has led to me to be able to professionally do what I love to do. 

Did you grow up in a creative environment? My mother was an art teacher and had a history and appreciation of weaving, macramé and crafts. I have memories of making our own Christmas decorations and designing and sewing my own clothes on her sewing machine. My mum taught me how to macramé, sew, embroider, blind draw, typography, pen and ink draw and lots of other arts and crafts. I loved looking at her old artwork and wanted to try all the things she did. 

Creatively, is there a theme you keep returning to, a common thread throughout your work? I guess I could say portraiture. I often take a portrait approach to my fashion images.  I love to tell a story with pictures, but the images that steal my heart are always timeless portraits that stare into the subject’s eyes and hold a beauty that surpasses time.

Sweet Dreams: above, Emerson wears Yoli & Otis top and Frou Frou pants from Mama Papa; below left, the family's modus operandi in chalk; and right, Harper in Stella McCartney Kids, Summer & Storm and Fallen Broken.

Baby, Baby: above, Nicole wears Doen and Emerson wears Yoli & Otis standing in front of a David Bromley artwork entitled Rosie, painted from one of Nicole's own images; On The Waterfront: below, Nicole wears vintage lace, Harper and Emerson wear Yoli & Otis.

Since becoming a mother, have you noticed this has shaped your work? Someone once said to me before I had children that you become less anxious about work after having children because your perspective takes a shift and they become more important to you than anything else in the world. I remember looking forward to that feeling and it really is true. My children have given my life balance. I don’t feel guilty if I’m not working and spending time with them. I have become more decisive in my work and not so over analytical. I’m enjoying my children being the most important thing in my life, it gives me great purpose and has put a healthy perspective on my work life. 

A photographer needs to almost thrive under pressure – how do you handle those set moments when the tension is palpable? I’m always calm on set. I’m not one to raise my voice or show stress. I’m a big believer that a crew will feed off a photographer’s energy. My mind can be turning over a thousand ideas in search of an answer in those tense moments, but I keep that internal.

What is your viewpoint on motherhood, in particular on raising boys? My focus is on sharing feelings, being grateful, compassion and seeing beauty in small things. We talk at the dinner table about what we’re grateful for each day. I believe gratefulness pulls our focus to positivity and instilling this way of thinking in my boys is my greatest aim as a mother. I ask lots of questions and want to know what they’re thinking and feeling. Communication is really important to me. I want my sons to feel like they can tell me anything and know that my love for them is unconditional. I give them lots of hugs and kisses and tell them I love them everyday. I dream of them being men one day who share their feelings with me and give me big hugs. 

As a mother, how do you nurture your sons' creativity? I like my children to see the beauty in the world around. I make a point of teaching them to notice and appreciate things around them. We appreciate things together like a beautiful shadow on a wall, colours in the early morning sky, patterns and reflections, and things like dying flowers and dried leaves. I encourage imagination, building, creating and dreaming. I can smile at a big mess in their rooms if I know they’ve been building and imagining. 

At the end of a busy week, how do you indulge or really reward yourself? A bit of a luxury online purchase seems to be my biggest indulgence these days. Going to bed early is like a treat or even a little time in the garden is rewarding in itself. 

  2. Lastly, it's always such a thrill to find in one person a great sense of style in everything – please share your current inspirations ...
  3. Signature fragrance: Chloé
  4. Beauty essential: Sunscreen
  5. Favourite artist: Christiane Spangsberg
  6. The movie you could watch over and over again: Memoirs Of A Geisha
  7. Most memorable read: Desert Flower by Waris Dirie and Cathleen Miller
  8. The secret to success: Finding your passion.
  9. Your earliest memory: Playing as a little girl on our deer farm in Serpentine Hills Western Australia, where I was born.
  10. The living person you most admire: my mother.
  11. The trait you most deplore in yourself: wanting
  12. The trait you most deplore in others: ungratefulness
  13. In your fridge right now: veggies, hommus, homemade soup and dark chocolate
  14. Your family motto: Be grateful