Nick Thompson is a filmmaker and photographer who grew up in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle. Nick’s work has been presented at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, Local Sightings Film Festival, and Northwest Film Forum, and he's published five photo books available on his website now. In our interview we talk about Nan Golden, cleaning up fake blood, and what makes a neighborhood karaoke night really sing.

Tell me about Curveball Karaoke and how this book of portraits came to be.

I’d been taking candid photos for about 10 years, mostly of my friends drinking in parks, and finally wanted to get more into doing some lit, posed photography. Last year I decided to set up a little photo booth when I threw a party and took pictures of people who attended, which were then compiled into a book called Equinox. Cole and Lindsey started Curveball Karaoke around that time, and I was hosting trivia right across the street on the same night, so I’d shuffle over after. 

Nick Thompson

There had been little to no karaoke in Columbia City at that time, and after spending a few months staying up way past my bedtime for a Tuesday I thought it would make a great subject for a book. I wanted to do a project that wasn’t just pictures of my friends but at the same time, I didn’t want to manufacture something that I didn’t actually have a personal connection to.

So many bars in Seattle, especially on weekends, can just feel overcrowded and overhyped, and I often find that karaoke nights, both here and in other cities, have a more laid-back, human atmosphere with crowds that feel very much local to the neighborhood but eclectic and unpredictable at the same time. Especially having grown up here, I really cherish that, I guess. And karaoke at Lottie’s is just exceptionally great. But when you’re at a karaoke bar you’re usually seeing people from across the room, the lighting is dark, they’re constantly in motion, someone is handing you a glass with an umbrella in it. I thought it’d be cool to be able to kind of take a deep breath and get a more intimate, illuminated moment with people, but something more celebratory than just a raw, documentary approach. 

Nick Thompson

Lindsey and Cole were down with the idea, as was Beau, the owner of Lottie’s, who generously proposed the idea of having the photos up on the wall as well. My good friend Kevin Middleton, who also sometimes hosts karaoke there, worked with me that night on setting up lighting, directing people out to our little makeshift studio, and helping me button my coat, and I couldn’t have done it without him.

Shortly before taking the pictures, I went to SAM and saw, among other things, Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table Series, which were just these phenomenal photos in a square aspect ratio like the camera I’d be using for the karaoke photos. And while I was there, I happened to come across a series called Rich & Poor by a photographer named Jim Goldberg, who I’d never heard of, which are these striking portraits of people where he had them basically write their reaction to their own photo right on the print. I thought it’d be cool to do something similar and have people write their own caption instead of typing it, and then Kevin suggested the wonderful idea of using scans of their karaoke song slips as the captions.

Nick Thompson

I always had in the back of my mind Lee Nye’s portraits of bar patrons at Eddie’s Club in Missoula. My sister and friend lived there and I remember walking into this casual bar, now with a different name, in this small city, and seeing all these incredible black-and-white close-ups of people covering the walls. They were just regulars at the bar decades ago, many of them middle-aged or older, and Nye, who knew most of them, would take their picture in the alley out back with a very simple set-up. They’re some of the best portraits I’ve ever seen and are now in a book, but as far as I know before that you’d just have to find yourself in this bar in Missoula to even know they existed.

Skagit - Teaser from Skagit on Vimeo.

Last year you released an award-winning experimental horror film set in the Skagit Valley, called Skagit. We covered your Local Sightings premiere, but for anyone who missed it, has the film been picked up, or is it streaming anywhere?

Skagit played at several festivals last year and we were lucky enough to win Best Feature at three of them, including Bleedingham up in Bellingham, which meant a lot since it’s so close to where we made the movie. Now the festival run is over, but we’re currently working with a sales agent to find distribution. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll at the very least get it somewhere online like Vimeo or Dailymotion for people to watch. I recently decided to cut a couple short scenes from the movie that I think makes it flow better and also brings it under 100 minutes, so I look forward to sharing it with the public someday soon!

You've been taking pictures since 2011, and making films a lot longer, right?

My parents are both filmmakers and often work as a two-person team so I was really fortunate to have their mentorship and have access to their gear. When I made my first movie when I was 12, my dad also cleaned up most of the fake blood after the shoot while my friends and I had a sleepover, which was a sweet deal.

I don’t really remember very well, but when I was first taking pictures, any inspiration was mostly coming from filmmakers rather than photographers. Like Michelangelo Antonioni, who is one of my favorites. Sometimes influences can serve more as validation than anything else. Like when I saw Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency exhibit after I’d already been doing photography for several years—oh, here’s someone who was taking pictures of her friends decades ago and being celebrated for it. She’s influenced so many people. And Roy DeCarava, the way he would shoot in these subtle, low-light registers. Or another Seattle photographer, West Smith, whose photos are so full of this brazen energy. You can smell them. 

Nick Thompson

Anything upcoming or plug-worthy?

I’ve started to write a second feature film, and I’m excited to say it’s being produced by Foghorn Features, a company recently started by Rachel Price, who is a friend and was the exec producer of Skagit. This one’s gonna make slightly more sense than Skagit and will be set mostly in Seattle. More comedy and slightly fewer geese, which I know might disappoint some of our ornithologist fanbase. I’ll be looking for producers and other crew soon, so if people are interested I encourage them to hit me up!

Nick Thompson’s new book Curveball Karaoke is out now—visit Third Place Books Seward Park, Paper Portal in Madrona, and Ophelia's in Fremont, or order it here.

Find more of Nick’s work at and follow him on Instagram at @skagitfilm.