From Nick Onken to NION

“What does live inspiration mean to you?”

Source: Nick Onken’s Official Website

The Paris Salon was a famous art exhibition hosted by the Académie des Beaux-Arts between 1748 and 1890. From head to toe the venue would be filled with the most exquisite paintings and artwork. However, the rising of an art movement began rejecting the structure of traditional art–impressionism. Impressionist paintings were often rejected at these Paris Salon, so they banded together and made their own Salon. This would not be the first time artist would come together to make a collective, and share their artwork at a public venue.

Nowadays people are sharing their work through Instagram, Twitter, and even Facebook. There has been now a shift to places online where people can curate and provide platforms to showcase art. People are coming together to make art and communication more visible, and ever more efficient. But what people are forgetting are the people behind those communities. Who are the people putting this together, and why?

Nick Onken is a lifestyle photographer. He has photographed a series of celebrities and brands such as Justin Bieber, Usher, Nike, and Adidas. He also hosts a podcast NIONradio (formerly known as SHOPTALKradio) where he interviews people in the creative industry. He also uploads small episodes in between (approx. 5 minute) where listeners can delve into the mind of Nick Onken. They get a glimpse into his work flow, and marketing tools/skills.

Onken originally started out as a graphic designer; designing book covers and working as a freelancer. When working with his clients, he would take an assortment of photos as stock images to implement into his design. This skill began to flourish to new found talent–photography. He was soon later asked to go to Africa to take photos for a client’s library. This created a new opening for Nick Onken.

Source: “MTV Breaks: Photographer Nick Onken”

Originally being a freelancer, Onken has been very transparent about the transitions he has taken over the years. He started off mainly doing graphic design work, and photographing/assisting on the side. Until a friend of his asked him to help photograph for Nike. He got called him up last minute to take a series of photos of athletes. In an interview with A Photo Editor Onken explains that he felt a joyous relief finishing, as he felt his “status has risen”.

“When I finished I thought, there it is I’m totally in, the ball’s rolling”. — Nick Onken, Nick Onken Interview A Photo Editor

He quickly realized the ball was not rolling in the direction he wanted. He did not find another big job like Nike in the next two years. He took his money from his Nike campaign to move to Paris. He moved to Paris for six months to develop himself, and just explore as a pure artist. After spending time in paris he knew he would not be able to establish a career when staying in Paris, so he moved back to the U.S.

Source: “Madbury + Neon”

His move to the U.S. was significant as he began to narrow down his options of where he could play with the big fish–New York or L.A. He packed up all his equipment into his car and moved off to L.A. There he shot for small gigs such as modeling agencies, and tried to accumulate not just work but a work ethic and network. In an interview with The Great Discontent, Onken states he did not start making money five years into photography. Soon enough Onken began to shoot another smaller campaign for Nike, a number of non-profit shoots. At one point he ended up landing a rep and being under the agency Greenhouse Reps. The ball began to run in his direction.

Nick Onken is known for his warm livid tones, and pushing the exposure to create crisp yellow lens flare. His photos range from candid portraits, travel photography, and commercial/campaign work. Aside from photography Onken also focuses on trying to push his brand through social media. Nick Onken has over 50,000 followers on Instagram, and 11,000 on Twitter. With a large following, Onken actively uses his Instagram by responding to a majority of the comments and even creating discussions in the comment section! He also actively promotes his brand through specific usage of hashtags.

Currently, Nick Onken focuses on fostering a community using the hashtags #CreateYourMoments. The hashtag is rooted in the core of Onken’s brand, and an integral pillar to who he is. The hashtag questions individuals to consciously look and create moments/spaces to inspire others. The biggest question he always ask at the end of his podcasts is “what does live inspiration mean to you?”. Together the hashtag and question work in conjunction. With the success of the hashtag, and identifying his values as “Nick Onken”, he was able to transform #createyourmoments into a community.

SHOPTALKradio was the original name of the podcast. It was not marketed as a podcast filled with interviews of people. It is marketed as a way to share the network Onken has. Considering Onken is a creative, in usually an 1-hour long podcast episode Onken tried to dive into the minds of another creative. Onken attempts to ask questions that are not the generic ones you hear. He specifically tailors the interview to the interviewee. He also tries to find people that rarely get the limelight to not only promote individuals, but promote the projects they have going on/upcoming.

SHOPTALKradio began to cultivate quite a successful following. In September 2016, SHOPTALKradio launched it’s 100th episode. The 100th episode is an interview between Nick Onken and his current girlfriend Stacy London. Instead of interviewing London, Onken is the interviewee. He mentions a number of things about his brand, but the vision he has moving forward. The 100th episode marked the change from SHOPTALKradio to NION. He decided to create a brand identity different to “Nick Onken”. “Nick Onken” is the lifestyle photographer, entrepreneur, and creative, while “NION” was his brand based on the “Nick Onken” aesthetic. NION is another way for Onken to provide a community, while removing himself as being at the core.

Source: “Creating Positivity in an Office Environment

NION is a combination of his podcast, and fan following to provide a community to learn and share ideas and projects. Currently NION is mainly seen in hashtags: #createyourmoment and #nionlife. There is also an e-newsletter individuals can sign up to get more information about different opportunities. Their ultimate goal is to promote people to go out and change the world through art and design. Currently NIONlife (on Instagram) has just over 1,000 followers. Onken has been actively trying to promote the platform both on his personal account, and through his podcast.

Onken is actively trying to create a platform for people to feel inclusive on the Internet, while also promoting his brand identity. Both NION and Nick Onken are interwoven, but follow two distinct models as they target different markets and goals. Moving forward, Nick Onken is attaining something many other brands and collectives are beginning to push for. A platform for people to share their work, and create a community.

As spoken in the introduction, this is not a new phenomenon. People coming together to create unique collaborative experiences and communities has been happening since the mid-1700s. But in the world we live in the way we experience these communities has changed. As technology develops, and communication becomes more fluid and efficient will these communities flourish? How can they become uniquely interesting, and not just “another copy-cat?”. Does Nick Onken nail it on the head by weaving in his personal brand identity to his platform, or does this limit NION? As we delve further into these communities and look for the benefits in the communal experiences, this creates a new movement and discussion for individuals.

Not everyone needs to be considered a “great painter” to be an artist. Neither do you need to make art to be an inspiration. Going against social norms, and providing experiences that can inspire others is a form of art too. Creating comes in all shapes and forms. While we transition the economy from a knowledge economy to a creative economy, people are beginning to think outside of the box. “Creative thinking” is becoming a crucial player in how individuals move and live. Whether or not NION is for your or not, Onken has the right question in mind as we move forward. What do live inspiration mean to you?

Here are other information about Nick, and communities you can get involved in:

  • Read Nick Onken Interviews
  1. Nick Onken’s Interview with A Photo Editor
  2. Nick Onken with The Great Discontent
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