Boston-born photographer Nickerson worked as a commercial fashion photographer for the first 15 years of her career, shooting for Vanity Fair
, among other high-profile clients. Exhausted and disenchanted, she has recalled
thinking, “You’re wasting your life. If you want to do photography, you’ve got to rethink this whole thing.” So when she accompanied her friend on a visit to a farm in Zimbabwe in 1997, she became enamored by the rural landscape and started to use photography as a means of acquainting herself with local residents. A trip that was supposed to be a few weeks long stretched into four years—and a new career. “I bought a small flatbed truck and started to travel all around the country and then went to South Africa, Malawi, and Mozambique. I took pictures of everything,” she told TIME
. Since then, she hasn’t stopped traversing the globe, venturing back to Sub-Saharan Africa for portraits of faceless farm laborers in her 2013 series, Terrain
. Even in recent forays back into fashion, the influence of these efforts is clear, with the statuesque figures swathed in layers in a 2014 AnOther
spread echoing the fashion and rural environs of Terrain
. In the same year, Nickerson photographed four of the five Ebola Fighters covers for TIME
—becoming the first woman to shoot the Person of the Year in the 87-year history of the magazine.