Elena Ellen first became truly interested in photography when she left home, moving to Paris and studying darkroom developing night classes at Paris College of Art. Since then, although she studies Fine Art (now doing her masters at Central Saint Martins), she’s still addicted to photographing people and faces, and feels like photography allows you to explore character, whether of strangers or of friends, in a deeper way.
How did the idea for the series come about?
It was basically a first for me as I’d found Camille through Instagram. I’m usually a little wary of finding models in this way, as I first fell in love with photographing people that I knew or that I saw on the street, and it was like seeing beauty in everyone. With Instagram I think we can all become to exposed to thinking of only one kind of beauty; just the kind that looks good in selfies or that is obvious or symmetrical, and to me that’s not the only beauty at all. But I put out a call-out for a last-minute model and found Camille, and she just seemed really cool, very down to earth, so when she came to London we were both keen to work together. She was reading this Patti Smith book at the time, Just Kids, and talking about how much she loved it and how nice it was just to read rather than be on social media. I found this quite funny, as I used to read so much growing up, but also considering how many 17-year-olds probably don’t, and who would instead love the kind of exposure online that Camille has. From there I was thinking how much all of us should learn to be just kids, to be inquisitive and fun and not care so much.
How did your shoot with Camille go?
Quickly! We only had about 2 hours so a lot of it was lighting, set-up, all the things that get in the way. But when you’re actually shooting it’s always great. We just put on some music and messed around.
Can we photograph the female body differently in a more powerful way?
I think it’s essential that we do. The female body must be one of the most told stories on the planet, yet we still want to represent or see it, and most often it’s still in this banal or repetitive way. There are so many photographers and artists of all kinds doing great work to show the body differently, but we mustn’t forget that the majority of how it’s represented is not in this positive or artistic way. After all, we’re surrounded by advertising and media that are looking for clickbait or to make money. I think the best way to represent the body would be to forget that it’s a sexual thing. It’s just a body, we all have them, they’re all pretty dreamy and they don’t need to be a certain way. But there’s always a difficulty because just because you’re photographing that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way it’s seen. I also think that maybe it’s important to stop segregating the male and female body so often. Underneath we’re all just the same.
What inspires you?
Paintings, memories, books. But when I’m shooting it’s normally just the people.
How would you define beauty?
Philosophically, in the eye of the beholder. But physically, good hair meets good lighting on a good day!
Film or digital?
Ridiculous though it sounds, I don’t actually have a digital camera. I picked up my first film camera at a flea market in Paris, and several years and many breakages later, it’s still what I like most. Obviously I use digital if I need to, but I quite enjoy the urgency of not having so many shots … You have to take more care over everything. That can’t be a bad thing.
What makes you happy?
My dog, the rain. Swimsuits in bed …
What’s next for you?
I’m still studying my masters so focusing on that is probably slightly necessary. But I’ve also got some shoots upcoming I’m really excited about, and a show in February.