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Nicole Franzen: Living la buena vida in NYC

Posted September 18, 2015

Find Nicole’s recommendations for bars, cafes and restaurants on our app Supper.

After finishing high school in a small town called Taos in New Mexico, a young Nicole Franzen decided to take a different path from most kids her age applying for college.

She packed her bags and headed for St John in the US Virgin Islands on the advice of her godfather, who knew a man who could get her a job working in fine dining.

“It seemed like a no-brainer,” Nicole said.

So at 17, with optimism and a couple of thousand in her bank, she just showed up.

For two years, she worked the busy seasons in high-end restaurants and traveled in the quiet months – living the idyllic lifestyle many always dream of.

Fast track 10 years and Nicole is still living a life many would envy. In fact, many surely do, with an incredible 187k followers on Instagram coveting her every picture.

Blogging and photographing her life in Brooklyn as well as her travels all over the world, we spoke to Nicole about her love of photography, moving to New York, and what she loves about this chaotic but inspiring city.

How did you get started in photography?

I’ve always taken photos my entire life and then I more seriously tried to decide to do it as a profession about 5 or 6 years ago. Back when blogging was quite in style, I started a blog called La Buena Vida, which was featuring different restaurants and different things I was doing. It slowly started to — well I tried to assist, actually, assist different photographers and nobody would let me in. I didn’t go to school for it and I’d worked in restaurants for 13 years so I come from a really heavy food background. I started combining all my loves to my photography, which is interior design and food and travel. I started just practicing every single day and putting it out to the world. At the time Instagram had just launched, and blogging was popular, I was social networking and working on my craft and everyday things started falling into place. Next thing you know, I’m doing it as a professional five years later!

I’ve read that you lived in the Caribbean for a year. Where did you live?

At 17, I moved to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I was working in restaurants at the time. I decided to not go to college, instead because I was pretty clear that I wanted to work into fine dining. I wasn’t doing it as a casual job, I was doing it pretty seriously. I wanted to do work at Thomas Keller, I wanted to work at these really high-end restaurants. So I moved to the Caribbean and lived there for two and a half years working in fine dining down there, living that kind of lifestyle where you work seasonally and travel on the off months.

What came next?

I moved to Buenos Aires. Well actually, I went back to New Mexico, I continued this phase, went through a breakup and started saving up a bunch of money. I was like I wanted to go to South America next. So I saved a bunch of money and I was supposed to travel all around South America but I ended up just staying in Buenos Aires for seven months. Then I finally was like “Okay, time to settle and do something with my life” so I was like okay, let’s do New York.

So how long have you been living in New York?

I lived in the East Village for a year and a half or so and have been in Williamsburg and Greenpoint for the last eight years.

When I moved here it felt huge. It felt enormous. I think I was scared of Brooklyn when I first got here. Like, “Oh my God a whole other borough” that I couldn’t even imagine to explore when you’re just trying to adjust to the city and explore your neighborhood. The first year I just stuck around SoHo and Nolita and the East Village and just stayed there and got to know it really well. When I first moved to Brooklyn, I slowly started to just explore more and more and more. Now it just all feels really accessible and I feel like I have good places to eat everywhere and know where to hang out in every single neighborhood. I’ve spent a good amount of time in each place. Nine years later it feels much more manageable.

Are you inspired by the hustle and bustle of New York or is it more of a distraction?

It gives me an energy. It definitely fuels me. It’s definitely inspires me, I’m definitely motivated here. It kind of overwhelms me and exhausts me at the same time, I’m not going to lie. It’s a tricky thing for me because I probably still need a bit of a balance in my life and it’s very hard to access nature here quickly as opposed to the West Coast where you’re able to walk out your backdoor and for a hike. So New York definitely kicks my butt. Literally.

What would be your advice to someone trying to get started in your field?

Such a tricky question. I won’t lie, it’s a very populated industry. Nowadays, people can just buy a pretty fancy camera and call themselves a photographer. There are a lot of things that have been changing over the years and people can just quickly move their way up as opposed to having learned all of the things they used to have to learn back in the day to be a successful as a photographer. I don’t know what it is and why certain people stick in the industry. I think a lot of it has to do with who you know, unfortunately, making the right connections with people, making an impact, being really consist and practicing every single day.

It has to be part of your soul and you have to want to take pictures every single day and be looking to improve. Maybe patting yourself on the back here and there, but really always challenging yourself to get better every day because if you ever get stagnant then you never get better. I also think trying to assist other photographers is a good way to learn. I couldn’t assist, so I couldn’t learn that way. I’m not a very typical example, but that really shows how the industry has changed. The social world is a really powerful tool as far as reaching people around the world which can be really powerful as well.

For Nicole’s all-time favorite places to eat in New York City, check out her list of recommended restaurants here.

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