In a world where your attention is becoming a valued commodity, everyone wants your eyes on their content, and they want you to genuinely care, too. Growing a large audience completely organically is the ever-elusive unicorn that is chased by many and caught by few. Is it still possible, going into 2017?
Nirrimi Firebrace is a photographer and storyteller who has been sharing her photography as well as personal stories online for a decade. They are often synonymous; not uncommon for contemporary creatives whose personal journeys are often just as captivating to follow as their professional work.
Her ultra-engaged international audience spans over 100,000, drawn in by her honest writing and raw photographic eye. They take on the form of a large extended family and have been a tight-knit support network through the crests and troughs of her life: the wins of her first big photography campaigns as a teenager, the birth of her daughter, Alba, four years ago, and the loss of her brother only recently.
When hit by near defeating blows, her reaction isn’t to retreat inward. Instead, she often photographs self-portraits as a response, capturing devastating feelings in their moment within her. Then, she shares them with the world, inviting others in. It’s a grounding reminder that we are ultimately in this human experience together, and that we are usually more alike than we assume.
She shares with us how she did it, what it takes to continue to do so, and her advice to fellow creatives who are pursuing the same influence.
Billabong Europe Campaign
With daughter Alba Joy as a newborn
J: Hey Nirrimi! It’s great to have you for this interview; thank you for agreeing to sit down with me. For those of us who don’t know you yet, give us some background about what you do, who you are and how you live.
N: Thank you lovely lady! I’m Nirrimi. I’m a 24 year old mama, blogger & photographer living in the Sunshine Coast, Australia. I’ve been writing most of my life and taking photos since I was thirteen. My photos have brought me all over the world and my blog has shaken up my life in the best way.
J: You’ve shared your stories and imagery online for almost a decade now. When would you say the traction and growth really took off? Was there a monumental moment?
N: In a lot of ways, it was luck. It was at this beautiful time in the internet where it felt so much more possible to be noticed as a creative. I had a steady following for my portraits and short stories online, but it wasn’t until I was sixteen and won some big awards, signed to an agency and starting shooting for big brands that things really took off. I’m not as well known now that I’m not shooting fashion anymore, but I’m doing something way more meaningful to me.
J: From your experience in storytelling, what have you found truly resonates with people and why do you think that is?
N: Humanness. There are so many things we all feel, but are afraid to show. When we are brave and show our scars and fears and imperfections, other people feel less alone. And more than that, they feel a genuine connection to us. One of the reasons we love our families and friends so deeply is because we’ve seen them without their armour on. When I started shedding my armour, I connected to strangers in ways I didn’t think were possible, and human connection is where it’s at.
One of the reasons we love our families and friends so deeply is because we’ve seen them without their armour on.
J: Describe a time your active vulnerability has brought you a big opportunity, and why you think it happened.
N: First Aid Kit was one of my favorite bands since I was 16. A few years ago, the lead singer Klara emailed me asking me to come to their show in Melbourne. She told me she’d been reading my blog for five years and my writing meant a lot to her. I could have died of joy. I toured with them all across America and now Klara is one of my best friends. If I’d been too afraid to write the hard stuff, she wouldn’t be in my life.
First Aid Kit on tour
J: High-quality storytelling is being touted as a necessary asset for individual entrepreneurs as well as companies in 2016 (going into 2017). What does excellent storytelling mean to you?
N: Things like emotions, lessons and little details. Little details often carry more weight than big ones. For me storytelling feels innate. I don’t try to structure anything or follow rules, I’ve just always been a big reader and the more good books I read the better I am at telling stories.
J: How have you converted your large and incredibly engaged audience to support your work financially, and what other ways of engagement do you foresee having with them in the future?
N: I suppose maybe you’ll have to ask them! (J— haha) I guess just being genuine and doing what I do for them and myself before money. By offering content and writing that is meaningful. By working hard and appreciating them. My followers are also just really kind and generous humans. I recently found Patreon and finding a space where people can support my work (and get more in return) is my happy alternative to advertising on my platforms.
J: What are the downsides of being personal and vulnerable in what you share?
N: When people attack you they can do so much more damage. You are judged, and you lose followers. You have to be careful when your story includes others. You have to confront ugly parts of yourself you’d rather ignore.
But you know what? So fucking worth it. All of it. Because when you can make a positive impact on other human beings, give them hope and let them know they’re not alone—it is worth it all and more.
J: Have you ever considered holding back or filtering what you choose to share, and what was your conclusion?
N: In a lot of ways life would be so much easier if I could stay on the surface. It’s like working in the fashion industry, it was exciting, easy and it paid stupidly well but it never truly fulfilled me. Sharing the way I do now does. Telling my stories does. This is my thing, and I’m so grateful.
J: If you had to give advice to someone trying to grow an authentic and connected audience, what would that be? What would you advise them not to do?
N: Don’t share expecting to grow an audience, just share as genuinely as you can—or want to. Even without reaching others, practicing vulnerability and openness can have a big impact on your life. Connect to and appreciate those who follow. Focus on growing and learning so you can give more to others. Connect with the people who inspire you. Do your thing the way only you can.
Don’t do this for numbers or money or success, just do it for love and for you! If those things follow, they are an awesome bonus.
J: What are some projects and plans you have coming up, and a big hairy audacious goal—BHAG—you’d love to accomplish one day?
N: I’m working on a simple plant based guide & cookbook called ‘Plant Love’. It’s a bit funny, because I’m not a chef, but that is the whole point. It’ll be the bare basics, as simple as possible, so that eating kind and healthy is accessible for everyone.
Oh man, so many big one day goals. Firstly a children’s fantasy novel. Secondly an album. It’ll happen.
Rapid fire round!
What’s your Myers-Briggs personality type?
Describe your typical morning routine/ritual.
Alba wakes me up and I groan a bit. We have soaked oats with berries for breakfast. I try to drink 2L of water. We do some yoga together sometimes. Alba plays while I check my to do list (that I’ve written the night before while she was in the bath) and answer emails. Every day is so different when you have a child. I imagine when she’s in school next year I’ll have more of a routine.
What has been your best purchase under $100?—Tim Ferriss’ question from his podcasts that I had to steal because I love it so much!
The app Ulysses. It has changed my writing life forever.
What is something you preach, but don’t—always—practice?
Almost everything I preach, haha! Mostly when I’m preaching to others, I’m also preaching to me.
Please list a book, a podcast and a piece of technology you recommend to other digital creatives.
How I Built This, it’s my favourite podcast right now.
For all the boss mamas out there juggling motherhood and work, what has helped you maintain the balance between both?
Being sure to spend truly present one-on-one time with Alba every day. My mum has always said if you want to get things done, focus on the children first. Once their buckets—metaphorically—are full, they will give you more space to do your thing. I make time for both roles, because to me they are as important as each other. Sometimes I feel like a crappy artist and a crappy mama, but all I can ever do is my best and that’s enough.
All photography belongs to Nirrimi + was used with permission and love.
Find Nirrimi’s storytelling on Fire and Joy