This Showcase is an extension of a piece published in the Autumn 2009 issue of London Independent Photography Magazine. The magazine features a series of ‘non-portraits’ that Ellie created for Format Festival 2009 with Latitude Photographers (a collective she is a part of) as a response to the line ‘I Always Knew You’d Come Back…’.
In this continued interview Ellie discusses her landscape work entitled Silent, Dark and Deep and gives us some insight into her development as a photographer and how she approaches her projects.
Ellie graduated in December 2008 with an MA Photography from London College of Communication, and already this year her work has been shown in five exhibitions including Beautiful Landscapes at 3 Bedfordbury Gallery and New Landscape at Kalman Crane Gallery in Brighton, which she co-curated.
LIP: How did you find the MA course at London College of Communication?
ELLIE: Really good. We had great guest lecturers and teachers and turors. I found it tough. I just wasn’t really used to the crit process of working – that’s something I found hard, exposing my work to people when it wasn’t finished, it wasn’t fully developed. You take an idea and you work on it for two years so it changes. As I was still working through it I often I felt I hadn’t decided what I thought about it before I had to then talk about it to other people, who were then giving me their opinions. It can really sway your judgement. Although In the end I could look back on it and feel it’s all been constructive and it pushed me to seriously consider what I was doing in a way I wouldn’t have done otherwise
LIP: Are you sensitive about your work then, or has that subsided somewhat after all that critique?
ELLIE: I think everybody has an emotional investment in their work, so I wouldn’t say I’m any more sensitive than anyone else who has put a lot of time into something. It’s enabled me to talk about my work, because before I hadn’t really put it into the structure of a body of work with a strong kind of conceptual underpinning.
LIP: So how much of your time do you spend actually creating conceptual statements?
ELLIE: I do quite a lot of reading and writing. I tend to write lots of notes and keep books of diagrams, and generally I’m thinking about a project at least six months before I start shooting. I always have my notebook on me and I’m writing down ideas so there’s quite a lot to draw on when I actually sit down to write a statement. I tend to tweak it later, and this is a technique I suppose I developed from doing my MA. We were writing our artist statements all the way through the course and every time the work changed and evolved you’d need to record your artist statement. I think it’s a good way of keeping a grip on what you’re doing.
LIP: It seems like you shoot most of your work at night, at least what you are showing on your website?
ELLIE: Actually all the tree landscape images are shot during the day using natural light. I always shoot in really bad weather. When you have a forest with light pouring into it, there are pools of light inside and the idea was to have a dark interior. When it’s gray and raining I run out to take pictures which is the different from what most people do.
LIP: What about your choice of format, I also thought these landscapes were panoramic?
ELLIE: No they’re not. I use a D300 with a wide angle lens and I put my camera on a tripod. For the trees I take a shot, move along a little bit and so on. I then work them together on the computer by hand. I suppose I could shoot with a panoramic camera but I really like that by building it with different images that lay on top of each other, each of them may be shot in a wonky way, it’s a slightly haphazard process and I end up with a landscape that’s different from how it looks in real life.
LIP: Your experience with the landscape then is a bit more intimate isn’t it?
ELLIE: It is, it feels more painterly because you’re building it and making it. They’re meant to be constructed reflections on traces of memories of woodland and forests. I like the pictures to look otherworldly and slightly magical because I want them to seem like imagined landscapes and I like to show them really big so that you can engage with them and feel that you’re being either drawn in or repelled.
LIP: Once you have constructed these images and take a step back to look at them yourself, do you get a sense of stepping into a narrative that was never your original intention?
ELLIE: It’s funny you say that because I went to Dartmoor with two friends and we were driving and they’re quite used to me having my equipment in the car and saying stop and jumping out and running down to the tree line to make photographs. I shoot quickly, so it might take less than an hour. My friend had been telling ghost stories about some scary things that had happened to him and he’s from Dartmoor. It was a really dark day and started to rain and we drove past this amazing forest. He was holding an umbrella for me in this creepy woodland. That night I woke up and thought ‘imagine if I start to retouch these pictures and there’s somebody in there’ and really freaked myself out. When I was retouching it, the image did take on this strange sort of presence, and I really like that about it. Because they are of the imagination I want to build something that has a kind of psychological presence. There’s a mythology with woodland, like the idea that you’re told to keep out as a child and what might happen, you know every culture has a mythology and fairytales about woodland.
LIP: So you shoot rather quickly?
ELLIE: Actually sometimes hours will flash by and I’ll think, my god I’ve been here for ages. But, the actual taking of the photographs is part of a long process. It’s deciding how I’m going to do it and then an awful lot of thought planning and testing and experimentation has gone into developing this way of working. Shooting it, I know how far away I’m going to be, where the tripod’s going to be. I know what exposure I’m going to be on, the shots I need to take, what area I’m going to cover. A lot of the decisions have been made already. And then following taking the photographs there’s a long process of retouching.
LIP: I find it interesting that you work with digital at a time when it seems fine art photographers are using medium or large format film. Is this just your preference, and do you think it prevents some people from appreciating your work in a serious way?
ELLIE: Essentially I am working with enormous files that when you see the work printed could very well have been shot with a Hassleblad digital camera. Some people feel that digital is still not acceptable quality, but for me it does everything that I want it to do and it actually enables me to work in a different way than with film. With film I’d be working very differently, I’d still be scanning everything.
I hadn’t really shot at night before using digital and I realised you get these amazing colours, I mean it’s just like magic! I didn’t know, and I remember taking my first ever digital night photograph, which was in the LIP Annual Exhibition last year, of a man standing next to a swimming pool looking at a woman approaching the surface. I was absolutely blown away by the colours. That’ll do it for me really, it was seductive. And with digital I find looking at the image in the back of the camera quite a constructive way of working because you see what’s happening and then you can play with it.
LIP: Looking at your portfolio I’m wondering, do you print your own images?
ELLIE: Yes. It seems like one of the fundamentals of photography, from its earliest stages, and although some people would say that digital is not a fine art medium I think that amount of control reflects fine art practice. I find it really important.
LIP: Are you working towards a solo show anytime soon?
ELLIE: Definitely. It’s a really expensive business to do a solo show and at the moment I’m really enjoying working towards group shows, so I feel that’s what I need to be doing right now. Maybe I’d like to do a solo show in a year or so. I’ve just co-curated New Landscapes with Wendy Pye who is also showing in the exhibition. Getting people excited about what we wanted to do and making it happen has been great, a really exciting process. I’d love to do more of that.
LIP: What are your aspirations now?
ELLIE: I would say at the moment I’ve come out of college and I want to keep on producing personal work, keep on trying to sell work and see where it takes me, see if I can sustain myself in that way. I feel very lucky at this point to be allowed to do what I want.
Interview by Tiffany Jones