Composing works filled with spectral beauties in an atmosphere that seems to exist between worlds, artist Ellen Rogers creates her ethereal photographs solely in analogue. Remarkably the work bears no trace of Photoshop nor any other modern interference, the colors and filters conjured within her compositions are created entirely by hand. This blend of emotive image capturing and ‘painting’ separates her work from contemporary photography, relying on antiquated equipment to reveal her vision. Hi-Fructose recently had the chance to speak to the UK based artist as she released a new book,‘Abberant Necropolis’ about why she chooses to work in analouge, fashion in art and her love for her homeland. View more of her work and read the full interview below.
In an age rife with digital technology, what attracts you to using film cameras?
I think part comfort, part love, part chaos. It’s always been about organized chaos for me, in love, in life, in cameras. I always thought too that on a primitive level, grains are prettier than pixels. I could spend hours in my darkroom and that I do. But it seems somewhat removed from catharsis when I see people editing in Photoshop.Sometimes I think, this image is real, if you were here with your camera too you would see this happen also. It adds power to the image (for me at least), when I look at a very well executed digital photograph I think ah, this never happened. When one of the strengths of photography is that you are documenting something real. Perhaps I think that some modern ‘photographers’ fall under the category of ‘photomontage’ opposed to photographer but that is just my opinion.
The darkroom appears to be to be your sort of “painting” studio. How does this environment foster inspiration?
It is, it’s odd you should say this actually as of late I have been without a darkroom until my other half and I are settled in making our house a home and have our own spaces again. We are trying to find furniture and perfection in piles of boxes. So I have to envision my work without any hands-on-space to work in. It has been forcing me to think outside of my prescribed area. So I have been collecting ideas that I might not have if I were there. I think now, maybe it is important to have time to reflect as well as experiment, quite often if you are there too much you become so aware of your limitations.
The landscapes act as secondary characters to your work. How do you choose locations? What speaks to you about them ?
That is such a nice question. For me it is now and perhaps forever, my love of the British countryside that draws me to certain places. I often read English ghost stories as a child and I love the romance of them. Some of them are positively Brontësque in pace and always beautifully dark and full of trauma. It seems to me that what I have been trying to do with many of my outdoor images is capture my heritage and my blood and collect it in silver gelatin. I am very proud of my country and how beautiful it is, I feel a deep sense of connectivity to it.
Artist Ellen Rogers
Also, I’ve seen photos of you building sets for photographs. This appears to be a very involved process . . . can you talk about this ?
I have most certainly been doing that rather instinctively since I was a child. For some odd reason I stopped when I left University and now I have come back to it. I did for a time consider taking a career as a set designer. I am rather besotted with the idea of creating a real life tactile environment from nothing. Entirely of my own making and very real, you could touch it, interact with it, yet it is terribly unnatural. I have been working on a set; it is something quite stark and different to my cannon style, in an attempt to emulate my opinions in a brutal way, with no frills, something much more painful, for me and potentially the viewer to, to highlight issues I wish to raise.
How do you choose the models you feature? Do you look for certain personality traits or is it their physical form you are attracted to for your work?
When I chose a model for fashion, I can only go by their previous modeling work, so it’s really difficult to know their world, their emotions their ability to convey whatever it is you transpose on to them. I suppose there is the notion that a person tells their life story on their face. I would try to pick someone who seems to look as though they could tell my story. Or someone I would warm to instantly, I can safely say I worked with very natural intuitive models, and some very uncomfortable ones too.I fell in love with one model; Hana and I often spend time with her and shoot with her, because she is so empathetic and intelligent, she wears her heart all over her body.
Can you talk about the union between fashion and art in your work, how you decided to feature it / play with it in such a beautifully subtle way?
Fashion is very important to me, more so than perhaps it should. In many ways I wish I was considered an artist and draw a line between my personal work and fashion but it’s never been an easy distinction as I am so imbued by fashion and aesthetics too that it’s hard for me to separate my will. Willfully I will grow and pull away. But you ask how I have managed so far? It’s tough, I think there is so much that maybe I do both personally that I never feel comfortable sharing. In fear of ostracizing some viewers or clients, so for that reason my work tows a line of acceptable on either side of the rather precarious tight rope I walk of remote public image.
As opposed to painting, how to you invoke the emotional complexities of your models where a painter could draw in these features?
That is a great question, hard but great. I cannot torture them, or make them feel what I do. I cannot expect that they know what I talk about or how I react as we have separate lives. I can however talk to them; see where they stand and how they have dealt with past lives too. Somewhere there we find a level playing field and build a bond of communication.
Color and pattern appear to take a large role in your work. Can you talk about how you work them into your art?
Patterns are something that appeal to me greatly, as a source of comfort as much as anything. I feel much safer and at ease by clutter and detail, I always want so much to look at and distract me. I mostly collect objects containing these distracting properties. It’s certainly something that I associate with my being. It’s hard living with a minimalist environment when you are a certified maximalist. I find ways to clean up the chaos, both at home and online. My new website is a happy comprise in fact.
Are there any preliminary sketches for scenarios or is it more intuitive once you have the elements in place?
As it happens my other half [ Prizme ] is a wonderful illustrator and designer and he and I have worked together to make sets and bounced ideas around through drawings, especially with poses, when I want to explain a particularly tricky angle or expression. So yeah there are at times provisional treatments I may work from if I have a lot of preparation time.
Each piece appears to be wholly contained, to stand on its own, but I couldn’t help but feel a narrative presence in your book. Do you feel this is conscious? What would be the soul of this collective narrative if you could put your finger on the pulse?
Up until recently it was a definite sense of loss and lament. It is perhaps a feeling that I could never reach my goals or I always wanted to say or articulate something I could never place, later I knew it again as the death of a loved one. A sense of loss was always there in my life, even before I had experienced it psychically; my other half says I am naturally a melancholic person. It’s true. It’s not always been something I should have felt. But maybe its overt sensitivity, whatever it is I am not alone in having this in my life. Perhaps it’s the unnamed emotion is the ‘artist’s disease’.
What do you consider to be the true heart of your work?
Oh I wish I had reached the heart. The heart is the mediator between me and anyone who likes the work at all. Where I can express exactly what I mean to say with no words and yet devastate a viewer. I haven’t got anywhere near what I hope to achieve. I will be much more hardy and competitive before that time comes. I will one day hope to achieve a sense of pride from a message I share. I am far from that. I trudge on.