What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what have been some of the most important milestones in your career up until now?
I grew up in the New Forest and I spent a great deal of time outside in the woods with my twin sister.
The woods and heathland were a big part of our lives, whether we were making dens or skating on frozen ponds in the winter, we were in the landscape all year round. When I left home and moved first to Cheltenham and then to London I missed these wild places but gradually I found a way to bring them back into my life through my work.
I’ve always taken lots of photographs but it wasn’t until about 15 years ago that I started to think about it as a career. Throughout my teens I wanted to be a sculptor but I found the process of making something over many weeks a very intense and very solitary process. I loved it but because of its almost obsessive intensity I wasn’t sure how I could make it into a way of life.
When I first moved to London I started to assist lots of different photographers. I gained a great deal of invaluable experience over the next few years but also realized that my personal work, the work that I wanted to make from my heart, didn’t fit into any genre of commercial photography and that I wasn’t very happy working from commissions.
I took the MA Photography course at London College of Communication and came away with the certainty that I wanted to make landscape photography and it felt like a dream that I could spend my time out in the woods literally playing with ideas, building and making things, and capturing them as photographic images. I love the technology and the geekiness of photography but I also like to work in a very ‘low-fi’ way. Small kit, just me and my campervan in the woods.
How do you approach editing your work, and what advice would you give to others about evaluating their photographs?
I feel very emotionally involved with the images once I’ve made them because the experience is so fresh in my mind. I usually do a rough edit after shooting but I don’t begin the final selection for at least two weeks. This distance gives me a fresh eye, and allows a distance and an objectivity needed to separate the experience of making them from the images themselves.
The editing process can feel brutal, and it’s tough being really honest about whether an image is strong enough to stand on its own, as well as in a series. It can be hard to accept if you have invested time and emotional energy but it is worth it in the end because you know that every image deserves its place.
How do you decide on new projects to work on? Do you always shoot with a concept in mind or do you wait to be inspired as you go?
I always have a concept in mind because my work involves a fair bit of preparation. I write down all my ideas, often in the form of simple lists with lots of diagrams and sketches. These gradually form themselves into a new concept. Once I’m fixed on a new series I can’t wait to shoot it but first I need to gather materials, decide where to shoot, make things to be taken into the wood, decide how I’m going to light it and the time of day to shoot. I like to work in overcast or rainy weather, the gloomier the better!
What ways have you found successful for promoting your work and finding a receptive audience for it?
When I left college I found it useful to have my work on art databases such as ArtSlant and Axis; various curators, buyers and gallery owners have all found my work through these sites.
Joining photography groups such as London Independent Photographers and London Photographers Association is a great way to meet other photographers who might be interested in putting together projects. For example, I was approached a while ago by Jonathan Illingworth who is a fellow member of LIP. He was collaborating with Tangerine Press to make a limited edition photo-book featuring four photographers working with forests. Since then the book has been purchased all over the world and added to the V and A’s National Art Library. This one contact lead to lots of exciting exposure for my work and illustrates how worthwhile it can be working in groups and collaborating with other artists.
Exhibiting is at the centre of my promotion. It’s a good idea to build your mailing list by having a visitors book so that you can keep in touch with your audience. To promote my exhibitions I send a press release to a wide range of listings sites such as ArtRabbit, Source, Re-title and Culture Shot, and to the photography blogs. I also send new bodies of work to photography magazines and blogs, they are often interested in featuring new work so it’s a great way to reach a wider audience. It’s also useful to get a Stat Counter on your website so that you can see how people are finding you online.
I’ve found it useful to enter competitions and submissions because this will get your work in front of curators that are otherwise hard to reach, and winning competitions has lead directly or indirectly to further exhibitions so I think it can be worthwhile as long as you look carefully at the terms.
Probably the best way to reach a receptive audience though is to work with a commercial gallery because they already have a wide and established audience for the work they promote. The relationship can continue long after the exhibition with further sales, a wider audience for new work and continuing opportunities to work together.
© copyright all images Ellie Davies, all rights reserved.