Jamie Nelson — Why a pink palace is this photographer’s creative sanctuary
Take a scroll through Jamie Nelson’s Instagram page and you’ll quickly get a sense of the photographer’s style - both professional and personal. Nestled amongst glossy images from fashion and beauty shoots, shiny magazine covers and celebrity portraits snapped by her, there are a number of pictures of Jamie swathed in pink marabou feathers, driving a pink 1968 Mustang or snapping a selfie in a saccharine powder pink boudoir. Offering a glimpse into the photographer’s life, you might think that these images are from the photography sets that Jamie spends most of her days on, but you’d be wrong. The pink shag-lined wall to floor room? That’s her bathroom. And the pink pillared mansion with a matching convertible parked out front? Yep, that’s her house.
Cover photo by Ryan Schude
Jamie’s home - somewhere between the girlie templates of Barbie’s Dreamhouse and the kitsch of a John Waters’ movie - is her haven. A source of constant inspiration the house is a visual representation of Jamie’s craft, and a wander through the antique filled retro rooms - all neon Playboy signs, 1950s perfume bottles and vintage electronics - may feel like a trip to your local flea market, but by being constantly immersed in her own fantasy Jamie’s home allows her to bring the ideas in her head to life, and has elevated her style into one that is instantly recognizable. But while her creative space has only really taken shape in the last year, for Jamie this fantasy has been a long time coming.
“When I was 17 and realized I wanted to become a photographer, I formulated this whole plan,” she says. I dreamed I would retire at 35 (which seemed a long way off at 17!) and have this big pink mansion with pink flamingos in the yard and pool boys serving me trays of drinks and canapés while wearing Speedos. I never forgot the dream. Last year, at the age of 34, out of nowhere I just got an itch to find this house.” Several months worth of trips back and forth to LA ensued before finally, Jamie clapped eyes on the house of her dreams and wrote a long letter to the owner explaining her 17-year-old promise to herself.” I asked her to choose me, and she did - even over a cash offer!”
There’s no denying that the house that fuels Jamie’s creativity is uniquely her but there is one familiar location that she drew inspiration from, and it’s one that any fans of Golden Hollywood trivia may have already clocked: actress and bombshell Jayne Mansfield’s Pink Palace. Bought in 1957, Mansfield’s Los Angeles home featured pink furred bathrooms, a pink heart shaped swimming pool, fluorescent cupids and the pièce de résistance - a fountain that continually spurted pink champagne. In the years following Mansfield’s untimely death it was subsequently owned by the likes of Ringo Starr and Englebert Humperdinck before being demolished in 2002, but remains a mainstay in Hollywood folklore, an ode to the frivolity of times gone past.
“I just go for it and often forget that these statements might be just plain ridiculous to most.”
“I definitely have drawn a lot of inspiration from that home and I am so sad it no longer exists,” says Jamie. “There is something so liberating to me about just having a glass of wine and putting pink shag fabric all over my house. Some people probably think it's absolutely hideous, but I am obsessed with transforming my house into my own idea of visual candy.”
“Throughout history pink too has had meaningful moments of both rebellion and femininity and people have had their own interpretations of it in art and culture. There is Jayne Mansfield, Elvis and his pink Cadillac, the iconic Barbie, and Angelyne known for driving her pink Corvette around LA in the 80s. My pink life is more of a salmon tone reminiscent of pink Depression-era glass.”
“I think it takes a lot of work on a daily basis to show on the outside who you are on the inside,” Jamie continues. “I've always felt really strongly about things that I like and am attracted to visually. I just go for it and often forget that these statements might be overly flashy, colorful, too glittery, or just plain over-the-top and ridiculous to most,” she laughs. “I often get asked if I'm going to a 70s themed party or if I dress like this on the regular. I always respond, ‘Oh honey this is my casual look. I'm just running errands today.”
Jamie's infatuation with imagery from times gone by started young, and out of family necessity to make ends meet. Born in Texas Jamie grew up in Colorado Springs, a conservative town that’s visual limits stretch to “sprawling strip malls and fast food chains”. Jamie says her family would shop at thrift stores to save every penny they could, leading her to appreciate vintage clothing early. “I remember walking into my first day at public middle school wearing vintage bell-bottoms and platforms,” she says. “I definitely recall getting made fun of by popular girls in school for wearing vintage clothing and then seeing them a couple of years later roaming the hallways in store-bought pre-ripped vintage looking jeans.”
“The truth is that I’ve always only cared about making art.”
Her foray into photographer started around this time too, again as a type of necessity. “I was taking an art class in high school and was horrible at all mediums - drawing, painting, you name it - so I picked up this camera that my grandfather gave me and hoped that it would save me from failing the class. It did, and I never looked back.” Following graduation Jamie studied at a college in Santa Barbara, “a big step for a small town girl”, before moving to New York with nothing but two suitcases of belongings. Going door to door looking for magazine jobs she lived in a tiny apartment and survived on soup cooked on a hotplate on her dresser and care packages of granola bars sent by family and friends back in Colorado.
Jamie’s hustle paid off and as work began pouring in she continued to develop the aesthetic that she is known for today. New York, though, proved too grey for her palette and several years ago she made the move to LA to continue creating her imagery steeped in sun and nostalgia.
“I've always been so stuck on the idea of the good old days,” she says of her distinct style. “I felt like I was born during the wrong time most of my life and I tend to be overly nostalgic and resist technology and fast paced lifestyles. I love rock and roll and rebellion and manual everything. I like the smell of an old car or a worn leather jacket, motorcycle oil, camel cigarettes, lighter fluid, a hardworking man.”
For as long as artists have been making work, specific locations have proved to be fountains of creativity, from Cezanne’s famous series of Mont Sainte-Victoire in Southern France to David Lynch admitting to going to the same diner in Burbank, California every day for seven years from the mid 70s to early 80s to craft his ideas. And for Jamie? “I do feel like I have found my forever home,” she says, “but I’m still a small town girl at heart. I need that escape from the fashion industry every once in a while to recharge and remember where I've come from and who I really am. The truth is that I've always only cared about making art. Self-expression and any inspiration that I can provide is what truly matters to me.”
Words by Holly Fraser.