An Interview with Ellie Lane

I came across Ellie Lane on Tumblr just over a year ago and have been following her work on there ever since. I was really pleased therefore when she agreed to participate in my ‘muse as artist’ interview series, especially as she was one of the artists who inspired me to write that original post almost a year ago now.

Ellie lives in Dayton, Ohio and describes herself as, amongst other things, “an experimental photographer, alternative fine art model, vintage enthusiast and escape artist”. Ellie publishes her work on Tumblr as Ellie Lane Imagery. Here are a few of her self-portraits provided by permission of Ellie and all copyright Ellie Lane Imagery.

Here’s what Ellie had to say in reply to my questions.

Tell me about the path you have taken to get to this point in your artistic development, what artistic training you have had, if any, and what it is that makes you do what you do (including the escape artist bit).

Growing up, I was a highly imaginative, deeply sensitive, and terribly anxious child. I fought anxiety and depression long before I knew what to call them. As an introvert, I never felt quite comfortable with other people, so I retreated into books and movies, particularly those in the horror and fantasy genres. Simply put, other worlds made more sense to me than this one, and they still do. As I grew older, I still struggled to find, not a way to fit in, but a place in the world that fit me. On a whim, I started modeling in late 2010, and soon found myself welcomed into a world of creativity I could never have imagined. After participating in the art of photography firsthand, I began to wonder what stories I had to tell, and what photographs I could personally create. Using books and online resources, I started teaching myself the basics of photography in late 2011, and took my first self-portrait in February 2012 as part of the Guest-Directed Self-Portrait Project on Tumblr. For me, my first self-portrait represents a moment of insane courage previously unknown to me, and the beginning of my life’s true work.

Your self-portraits have a very ethereal, dreamlike feel to them with lots of blurred motion, low light and unconventional camera angles. They are quite distinctive and have a particular style. How have you developed this style and who would you say your influences have been?

I try to render my inner world to the best of my ability in my work. Dark, dreamy, emotive imagery has always resonated with me, so when I started photography, there wasn’t really a question of what sort of work I wanted to create. The development of my style so far has been a combination of personal torment, diligent research, tireless experimentation, good old-fashioned stubbornness, and lots and lots of cursing. I’ve been influenced primarily by photographers like Francesca Woodman, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and Clarence John Laughlin; filmmakers like David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Jan Svankmajer; authors like Stephen King and Anne Rice; and painters like Andrew Wyeth.

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you come up with the ideas for your images?

I gather inspiration everywhere! My nearest and dearest sources of inspiration are my own dreams and the rural Midwestern landscape that surrounds my hometown. I’m at my most creatively charged while taking long drives through the countryside. In his creative dictum’s, titled “Decalogue,” Jan Svankmajer wrote:

Succumb totally to your obsessions. There is nothing better. Obsessions are the relics of your childhood. And the most precious treasures come from the depths of childhood. You need to always keep the gate to your childhood open. It is not about specific memories; it’s about feelings. It is not about consciousness; it’s about unconsciousness. Let the inner river flow freely through you.

I take inspiration from my own obsessions: horror/fantasy/sci-fi from the ‘70s and ‘80s, stop-motion animation, puppets, dolls, antiques, Victoriana, memento mori, the paranormal, time travel, etc. My work is usually about communicating a feeling – or an array of them – in a single image. I tend to be a rather reserved and private person by nature, so my work has become a kind of conduit for sharing myself and my emotions in a safe way.

Once you’ve had an idea for an image how do you go about planning and executing it?

Because of my anxiety, I typically work in a panic. There isn’t much planning involved at all; if there were, I’d probably chicken out. I’m very deliberate on the technical side of things, but I try to make the actual process of shooting as quick as possible. The majority of my self-portraits have been taken within walking distance of my suburban apartment, in parks or roadside areas that seem more remote than they actually are. When I set out to take a self-portrait, I usually just throw on a tattered dress, find an intriguing spot, and attempt to express something while simultaneously capturing what I’m expressing. I wish I could say there’s more to it than that, but if there were, I’d probably talk myself out of doing it at all.

I’m always interested in how photographers and models keep their creative juices flowing? What do you do to maintain your creativity?

Living with depression, my creative spark is always in danger of burning out. To combat this, I do my best to care for myself and immerse myself in the things I love, those which inspire me and inform my work: films, books, music, images, etc. It also helps that I’m surrounded by creative people, in person and online, who continually challenge me and remind me why I do what I do. That being said, there’s no substitute for being alone in a strange wood in the early light of morning with a camera in hand.

I know you publish your work on Tumblr but do you show it elsewhere? Have you ever exhibited work in a gallery?

I’ve exhibited in a gallery once before – last fall in Columbus, Ohio – alongside some very talented friends of mine. Gallery exhibitions and publications aren’t things I actively seek at this time, however.

Give me your thoughts on the state of photography, particularly art photography like yours, in the digital age? Are we living in a renaissance period where everyone with artistic ability can have a channel to publish their work or is the market saturated with too many wannabe photographers pumping their images out on sites like Flickr and Tumblr and degrading the art form for the true artist?

There’s no doubt that the photography market is saturated – but so is every market. I can’t speak to whether or not that saturation is degrading art photography in particular, because I’m part of that saturation and could easily be deemed unworthy of the title of “art photographer” by others in the industry. Art will always be subjective, and its public success or failure will always be dependent on myriad factors beyond the artist’s control. I prefer to channel my energy and efforts toward that which I can control: my own work.

A couple of techie questions now, what equipment do you use for your photography?

I started out using my husband’s Canon Rebel XT for my self-portraits and my first few model shoots. In 2013, a very dear friend lent me his backup camera – a Canon 40D – which I used for the majority of my work that year. As for lenses, I typically used a 50mm f/1.8 lens or an 18-55mm kit lens. As of this spring, I’m now devoting my time, energy, and limited funds to shooting film only. Here’s a sampling of a few cameras I’ve used thus far: Smena 8m, Yashica Lynx-5000, Voigtlander Brillant, Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, Holga 120N, Polaroid Spectra, Polaroid 103, and various handmade/self-assembled cameras. I consider myself an indiscriminate film-shooter, but I have certain affection for 120 film and twin lens reflex cameras.

How much post-processing do you do on your images and what software do you use?

My digital work was quite heavily edited in Photoshop. I knew early on that I preferred the look of film (particularly expired film) to digital, but lacking the funds and confidence to explore the world of analog, I tried to replicate the look I desired in post. In my current film work, I do very little editing aside from basic color/contrast adjustments.

Who are your role models (on both sides of the camera)?

Nearly all of the photographers I’ve modeled for have been incredible role models. They continually inspire and astound me with the work they create and the chances they take. The same is true for the models I’ve photographed; they are some of the bravest, kindest, most hardworking people I’ve ever met. There are a number of people I haven’t worked with though, whom I consider role models as well: photographers such as Sebastian Rut, Gretchen Heinel and Brittany Markert; and models like Onoh, Palesaent and Rivi Madison.

What advice would you give to models that might be looking to have more of a creative input to the shoots they do?

Ask for it! I’ve been spoiled in my modeling work so far, in that almost all of the photographers I’ve worked with have respected and valued my creative input above all else. I realize this won’t be the case on all shoots, but as long as you’re respectful of the photographer’s vision or style, there’s no harm in asking. It always helps to have other skills under your belt as well: wardrobe styling, makeup and hair, prop-making, set design, etc. And if you have an interest in learning photography, don’t be afraid to head in that direction. I’ve seen a few models online express interest in taking self-portraits, only to be answered by a dozen photographers telling them exactly what kind of expensive equipment they’d need to even think of getting started, which I think is nonsense.

What plans do you have for the future? Do you have any particular projects in the pipeline?

I plan to learn at-home film processing so that I can have control of my work from conception to completion. In order to raise funds for the necessary equipment, I’m opening an online shop specializing in vintage cameras and typewriters. As for particular projects, I plan to take a bit of a break from modeling to spend the remainder of the year focusing solely on my self-portrait work.

Thank you Ellie.

For other interviews in this series see here.

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