Interview with Fine Art Photographer Ellie Davies

Ella
2nd July 2020

Ellie Davies is a fine art photographer who has been working in the forests of the UK for the past ten years, producing work which explores the complex interrelationship between the landscape and the individual.

In her new series ‘Seascapes’ (2020), Ellie continues her long preoccupation with the woodland, this time combined with mesmerising images of the sea to offer a personal commentary on the threat of rising water levels in her beloved New Forest.

Davies is represented by Crane Kalman Brighton Gallery in the UK, Patricia Armocida Gallery in Milan, Susan Spiritus Gallery in California, A.Galerie in Paris and Brussels and Brucie Collections in Kiev. Stars 8 was awarded ‘Fine Art Single Image Winner’ in the Magnum Photography Awards 2017 and in The Celeste Prize 2017 and was exhibited at The Photographers Gallery in London and Bargehouse OXO London in October 2017.

'Seascapes' is exhibited online with the Crane Kalman Brighton Gallery and we spoke to Ellie about launching a body of work in this new way and how lockdown has made her engage with nature more than ever before.

CRANE KALMAN BRIGHTON GALLERY, 2020

So first of all, how are you? Are you managing to take photographs in lockdown and if so, what have been your subjects?

I'm fine. I've been homeschooling my son who is eight and I live with my husband. It's just been about adjusting to this new way of life- having Oscar at home all the time and keeping him busy and occupied. So there hasn't been a great deal of head space for making a new series but I have begun testing different ideas in Wareham forest and the local area.

The Crane Kalman Brighton Gallery were going to launch my Seascapes Series at Photo London in May. So the viewing room online was a way to do that instead and it's proved to be really popular. It's been wonderful. When we went into lockdown, I initially thought people were going to have too much on their minds to think about art.

But as time has gone on, and particularly with the launch of that series, I've managed to get back into a bit more of a creative mindset. And I've started to think about a new series. Because I'm out in the woods a lot with my son, cycling and walking, we've been talking about wildlife and how animals move around the forest, and he's really interested in insects and butterflies. I've started thinking about a new series around the idea of animal tracks and flight paths of birds. I’m always looking for new ways to look at woodland.

Each time I begin a new series it allows me to look with fresh eyes. When I come to the end of a series, it's usually because I'd had enough of looking in that particular way. I'm looking for something new. It's exciting to start thinking about some new work and we've been taking the camera out on our adventures. I have my camera on my back and we cycle around and stop and take pictures. And he helps me out. But actually I usually prefer to shoot in overcast or really cloudy weather or rain. I really like that lovely richness of colours that you get from overcast weather and when it rains.  It saturates the foliage and the trunks with water and it gives everything a real contrast. It gives a more subtle light because when its sunny you get shards of light onto the forest floor, everything's very fragmented and it creates a totally different mood, so I very rarely take pictures in sunny weather. I'm always waiting for clouds in the woods.

ELLIE DAVIES, SEASCAPE 1, 2020

How has domesticity fit around your work? Have you learned anything about yourself in quarantine?

I know that I'm a better parent when I'm not trying to do too many things at once. I just try to give in to where we are now and just be patient because my work requires me to be quite selfish. It's time consuming being in the woods and then it's time consuming editing and then there's the retouching stage, which isn't excessive, but it's still time on the computer. My son is just at an age where he needs lots of interaction. I think the more I try and force my own agenda into this situation, the more complicated things are likely to get.

I'm exploring. I'm experimenting. Since I’ve just released a body of work, I would expect there to be a period of time when I'm note making and brainstorming and walking in the woods a lot. And that always brings new ideas. There are always a few months or so between the end of a body of work and really getting my teeth into a new one. I almost need that separation. Although sometimes I'll have several going on at once and there are no real rules to it, but I'm just happy at the moment trying to simplify life rather than trying to cram too much in.

ELLIE DAVIES, SEASCAPE 7, 2020

It’s very enterprising (and the way a lot of museums and galleries will move towards)- Seascapes is available through a online viewing gallery. How did that idea manifest?

It's something that Crane Kalman Brighton Gallery have been working on for a while now and developing as part of their website. And I think it's something that galleries have been moving towards. So it was just part of their ongoing approach to new technology. For them it was a natural progression and when we couldn't launch the series at Photo London, Richard Kalman suggested launching it in this way alongside a short film interview.

There's nothing quite like looking at big exhibition prints, but for an introduction to the work, I think it works really well.  And then obviously there are lots of art fairs that have gone online this year.  I’m represented in Paris by A. Galerie and they have recently taken my work to the new virtual Paris Photo.  The show was called ‘Nature and Environment Photography’ with work by a selection of their gallery artists.  The fair allowed you to browse each stand interactively and travel through a virtual building visiting each stand in detail, it was really amazing.

And Crane Kalman Brighton Gallery have also just shown my work at Photo LA from 27-28th June.

ELLIE DAVIES, SEASCAPE 2, 2020

Seascapes explores rising sea levels and a ‘loss of control’ with regards to nature. Can you just talk a bit more about your message here?

I'd been wanting to do a series about climate change in some way for quite a long time, but I kept thinking about different ideas and sketching out possibilities and nothing really developed in a way that I liked. And then this winter, there was really extensive flooding across a lot of the south and the south west of England. Water just lying in sheets on the ground for weeks on end. I've never seen the river so flooded here in town, I live in Dorset, and the flood plain was covered in water for months. You get the odd day when it's like that in the winter, usually, but it went on and on and on.

I started working on this series of images where I took photographs of the surfaces of different bodies of water, the sparking and glimmering that bounces off the surface of water and then laying that through Woodland scenes. So I was taking light from the sea and putting it into a place where it should never be. And it was a reflection of my thoughts about that ingress. It also changed during the process of making the series into thinking a lot about my relationship with the woods and my sister.

I was juxtaposing those two elements. I also want it to be a hopeful series of work because it's really about considering the damage and destruction that comes if we don't make big changes, and an enduring hope that we will.  I think during lockdown, more than any other time, we’ve had nature taken away from us because we couldn’t go out. We've really all had to consider how that feels. So when it's been limited like that, I think it really gives us a heightened sense of what we stand to lose and how much work we must do to preserve it.

Absolutely. In the coming months, are there changes that you imagine making, as an artist, in the way you think about promoting exhibiting your work?

Galleries probably will reopen at some point and there'll be a different system for people to move around. Coming back to books though, this is another way of showing your work to people. The reason I initially, years ago now, published my first Bob books was because I wanted to have a way of making my work more accessible to a wider range of people, because it seemed unfair that only people who are willing to pay a fairly hefty sum for a large exhibition print would have access to my work.

It was never a money-making exercise. It was always about making my work more accessible in a variety of different formats. So I have a large format book and I have a more affordable A4 edition too.

I think it introduces the work at some different price points and makes it more accessible. And it means I can send it to people. I use it sometimes as a portfolio and it's possible that books are going to have a real resurgence now because it's something that people can bring into their own homes, relatively inexpensively. I would like to look at making another book in a similar format, probably following roughly the same lay out that I developed for my Into the Woods publication. That must be 10 years old now. I've made quite a few more bodies of work since then so it would be really nice to do something similar with them and put them out there in a book format.

ELLIE DAVIES, SEASCAPE 5, 2020

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers or even professional photographers in terms of finding inspiration right now- even if that's just around the home or in their garden?

Well, weird times get your brain going, don't they? They get your thought processes turning. I imagine that I don't need to inspire people, to be honest. I always get inspiration from walking in the woods because that's the place I make my work and I'm always finding new things and ideas come when I'm in that setting. I guess just trying new things. I know that this has been a time where lots of people have tried to do things that they had always wanted to, and perhaps never had the time. So maybe now is the time to explore different elements of photography or buy a new lens and experiment with a different perspective on things. For me, it always comes back to inspiration, comes from firstly being in the woods and secondly, writing and drawing. I sketch out little diagrams and that helps me develop a narrative in my head, almost like a storyboard.

I've been thinking about this animal tracks idea and then I've been thinking about prisms. It varies wildly from one thing to another, within the book and I often go back and look at my old books and I'm surprised to see how many of the ideas actually end up filtering down into the work that I do make. It's definitely a really useful process and I'd recommend that to anybody who is feeling a bit stuck.

Also looking at other people's work. Now more than ever, there's so much photography online and there's so many interesting online exhibitions. I would say, look what other people are doing. Just follow photographers that you like on Instagram, see how they're being inspired. Inspiration is not one of those things you can prescribe to somebody else. Everybody has their own sources and mine are probably entirely different than somebody else's.

Just lastly, in terms of the long term impact of this period on the art and photography world, can you think of any silver linings or something hopeful?

I hope it makes us more considerate and I hope, in a way, it's given us all a sense of our own vulnerabilities, societally. We really have to address the way that we are doing things. I think it's only when things get really serious that people start actually sitting up. We've seen that happen with COVID, but we've got to see it happening with the environment because it's going to be too late once things got really bad. I hope a change is what comes out of this.

You can view 'Seascapes' until the 17th July 2020 at the Crane Kalman Brighton Gallery's online viewing room.

View more of Ellie's work at her site www.elliedavies.co.uk  or follow her on instagram at www.instagram.com/elliedaviesphotography