Vision of Self. A Portrait of Ella Manor By Jerry Currier
Artists often look inside themselves in order to ignite the creative flame. The history of art and artists is replete with self portraits. Such personal images have been one of the tools that artists employ for various, often complex and private reasons.
Recently, a young Israeli born, New York-based photographer, Ella Manor, came to the attention of the editors of Double Exposure. Her personal vision is often challenging as it seems to ask the viewer to suspend any preconceived sense of what is reality and to follow the photographer into a world that is sometimes dark, yet always visually and emotionally demanding.
Her self portraits and fine art work can elicit a variety of feelings in the viewer. The images suggest a multifaceted range of conflicting needs and passions that are not completely understood by the artist herself. Ella is also a member of Photoworkshop.com. I recently had the opportunity to interview Ella for Double Exposure.
Jerry Currier: Ella, our readers are always interested in how a photographer comes to develop a personal style and vision. Perhaps you could give us a brief personal artistic history.
Ella Manor: Since I can remember myself, I have always been interested in image-making. I have always been painting and drawing, whether in elementary school, during extra-curricular activities or at home.
I picked up oil painting in my early teens and taught myself to paint. I enrolled in a high school that specializes in art and there I studied painting, drawing, drafting, design, art history (which was always close to my heart) and also photography. I immediately fell in love with the process of photography. I got my first camera at age 16, and carried it everywhere, shooting mostly people.
I believe style to be something one inherently has or doesn’t have; it’s not something one can get. If you have it, it’s a matter of refining it. The process of refining is like a journey that involves getting to know one’s self by simply doing what one loves to do. The best way to do that is by experimentation (with materials, concepts, and approaches). In doing so myself, I try to break all the rules I learned; this way I know I’m not following someone else’s thinking.
JC: Some very interesting points, Ella. Could you elaborate on the last?
EM:In the past, photographers generally were considered more craftsmen then artists. Most imagery shot in the studio came out generic or “the same” and processes were standardized. I consider myself an artist first and foremost. The camera is simply one of the tools I choose to use. The camera doesn’t predetermine the visual result of my imagery, I bend and flex the use of the tool and find fresh ways to create something new. A camera these days is so easy to use and so approachable that anyone can take a technically “good” picture, which is precisely why I try and do everything I can to create something different unique to my spirit. What’s the point of creating if you don’t have a unique voice? If you don’t add something new and innovative into the discussion?
JC: I have seen suggestions that your images are “trendy." I’m not at all sure that is a fair description. In fact I would say that it is superficial. I’m more inclined to feel that your images are taking the current artistic atmosphere and applying your own personal ethos, creating an exciting "edginess." What are your views?
EM: I’m not sure what "trendy” means. If it means contemporary, then, yes, I live and create in the present and, therefore, create contemporary art. Contemporary art in my mind is an accumulation of the influences of past creations, whether infused into the work consciously or subconsciously, and my own inner journey, which is timeless.
JC: Self portraiture seems to be a very important part of your artistic search. Your images are compelling, mysterious and, at times, a bit morbid, even frightening. I’d like to ask if you can share any insights about your motivations and artistic quests that move you to create self portraits?
EM: Self portraiture, to me, is the closest I can get to the process of exploring my own world, namely by simply documenting my being. I feel like my body is the best tool to utilize in these performances in the truest way the moment calls for. Instead of having to direct someone else and hoping that their interpretation of my direction will be close to what I want, I can just act out my feelings and thoughts myself. That way there is no “middle man." I create out of need. That is my outlet, my way of searching for the truth.
JC: Some of your recent self portraits are images of you as a bride. Self portraiture is often used by artists to explore some inner necessity. My next question is probably obvious, "Was there an emotionally defining reason for picturing yourself as a bride?”
EM: I started shooting myself as a bride right before I was about to get married. I was exploring my emotions and thoughts about getting married and those were embodied in the bride images. Getting married stirred up a lot of reactions in me which needed to come out. It was scary, exciting, dreadful, relieving as well as celebratory all at once. To me, a bride symbolizes a beginning and an end, which translates into being born and dying. It is also a sexual exploration, and an exploration of identity and purpose.
JC: Are most of your self portraits planned or are they a result of some spontaneous urge triggered, perhaps, by some personal emotional event or need?
EM: The latter is a true representation of my creative process, although some shoots are planned from one day to the next or even a few days in advance. Usually, though, if I don’t execute an idea quickly, the urge will go away or be replaced with another. This is not the same for my fashion or other commercial work, which by nature is planned more in advance and doesn’t have to be executed quickly.
JC: When one thinks of fashion photography, names like Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz and Robert Farber spring to the fore. I find your fashion images very provocative in that they go beyond the “standard” concepts by challenging the viewer to cast aside preconceived notions. With that in mind, perhaps we can explore some questions about fashion photography.
Let me start by asking, what kind of preparation does a fashion shoot require?
EM: A fashion shoot requires quite a production. First, one needs to get the crew lined up: assistants, wardrobe stylist, makeup artist, hair stylist, models (via modeling agencies), personal groomer, set designer, art director, etc. Then the location has to be decided and booked. Depending on whether the shoot takes place in a studio or on location, the equipment and transportation is determined, and then catering, music etc. There is also the search for imagery to use as inspiration for the shoot, making an inspiration board and/or sketching lighting schemes, color schemes and compositions.
As one of my former photography professors, Didier Dorot, used to ask, and answer (every day, a few times a day ), “What are the two things you need for a successful fashion shoot? A vision and good lighting!”
JC: What criteria determines the lighting?
EM: Each shoot is different. I’ll decide on the lighting scheme based on the requirements of the theme, the fashion, the model, the set up and the mood we are aiming for. Many times the desired effect requires a lighting scheme that combines strobe lights and continuous lights. I shoot a lot in movement, which is why I like to use a strobe for freezing the action in addition to hot lights or daylight to smear and blur the other parts of the composition.
JC: Many of your images lean toward extraordinary and visually challenging use of color. Why is that?
EM: Funny you should ask that. I feel like my color vision has taken a huge twist in the past year or so. It seems that, for me, it took several years to really let loose when it comes to dealing with color and as soon as I did (I wasn’t doing it consciously in the beginning, of course) I just wanted more. More colors, more saturation, more uncommon color combinations. I think that brought me to a point where I was unafraid of color and that meant the sky was the limit. As with every visual challenge that I face, I always try and push the limits, create something new and different as I get bored really fast and need constant new stimulation.
JC: With your need for new stimulation in mind, what do you envision as the next steps in your quest for artistic growth? Image creation, color and image manipulation or …?
EM: I recently started collaborating with a talented filmmaker, Arin Crumley, who is the creator of “Four Eyed Monsters”, a very cool flick.
We have been collaborating often on my fashion shoots. I shoot stills, he shoots video and later edits the footage into fashion clips and eventually will produce a documentary on my work and our work together.
We have been finding new mediums to incorporate into our shoots. For example, we recently projected images on a male model Shawn Ross in one of the shoots and in another the projection was part of the background. In this shoot I also shot in camera multiple exposures, creating a rich, layered and complex visual result. I also collaborate with other artists who create in different mediums: puppet makers, painters, set designers, jewelry designers, animators and mixed media artists and many more, I could go on and on.
JC: You are an up-and-coming photographer whose work seems to be distinct and “ahead of the pack." If a person is seeking to become a fashion photographer, what suggestions would you give them?
EM: The fashion photography industry is a competitive field. Having talent is not enough (although crucial as a starting point).
An aspiring fashion photographer has to have a real hunger for success. Whether success means proving how good you are as a photographer, enjoying your work and not getting bored with it, making money or becoming famous.
You have to be tenacious and adamant about getting what you want. In order to do that, you have to want it enough, but that’s just the beginning. You must have or attain great people skills, promotional skills and patience.
Having an open mind and collaborating with other artists is another great way to make your way in this creative industry. It’s all the about the people you meet along the way, or for some, the people they already know. Even though the competition is ruthless, I believe there is room for all talents. Each individual creates something different (or hopefully they do) and as such, they don’t really compete with anyone else but themselves.
JC: Many of your images would appear to result from creative application of digital manipulation coupled with imaginative image capture in the camera. Do you have a defined final image in mind when you shoot or do you use the moment of image creation to inspire the ultimate result?
EM:I think I definitely know a kind of image that I like. What I would imagine as a good image would reflect my personality and style.
I think this process happens in several different ways. One way it could happen is that I have a certain vision, whether an actual dream or just a daydream that I will try and simulate. This is sometime difficult since what you imagine things to be and how they come out in real life always ends up being so different. Kind of like life in general . We make plans and God laughs! This is where having an open mind really goes a long way. It’s funny, I actually find that the more I have an exact idea of what I want, the harder it is to achieve it. But if I have a more abstract idea or a thread of a fantasy and I just follow it, no questions asked, the result is more lucid and free.
As an example of this process I have created images where I just had an abstract craving and I went for it, sometimes with the help of a friend in the studio and I loved the result. I got exactly the lighting I wanted but couldn’t put into words. Very dramatic and romantic, like Rembrandt.
In terms of what kind of image I find satisfactory, I have noticed, with time, that I am attracted to layered images, or an image within an image; an effect I can get either with a multiple exposure in camera or in Photoshop during post-processing. Most of the time I like an asymmetrical composition and also changes in scale and in blurriness. I love capturing movement in my work. In addition, I have a great love for the abstract. So some or a combination of all of these can make me happy, although it’s not easy for me to be satisfied with images. I get bored fast and if I don’t feel like I’m creating something unique and stunning then I get bummed. It has to take my breath away or get me off in one way or another.
JC: What software do you use for image manipulation?
EM:Easy, Photoshop! Yes, a lot of hours are spent retouching and compositing in Photoshop. For instance, I would say about 70% of my time in 2009. I also use Illustrator and sometimes InDesign for logos, layouts or any graphic design related work I need for promotion purposes. The trick for me in Photoshop is to use a bunch of plug ins, it’s another way for me to keep from getting bored or repeating myself too much. Finding new effects and new ideas via the magic of the digital world.
JC: Finally, Ella, our readers are always interested in the equipment choices a photographer makes. I wonder if you could summarize your choices and perhaps give us a brief look into your reasons for these choices?
EM: For digital capture my main DSLR is a Nikon D90, with a remote control (for self portraits). I have a couple of Canon DSLRs which I usually give out to an assistant to shoot some backstage images. I use those for that purpose or in case something happens to my main camera. I have a Lens Baby for the Nikon that I love. It creates this spot, either in the middle or on the side, which gives more of a view camera effect.
For medium format I have a Mamiya RZ Pro II with three RZ lenses: a 60mm, a 90 mm and a 110mm. I also have two Holgas, which I adore for their magnificent simplicity and crazy effects. Many of my prize-winning works have been shot with a Holga camera. For 35mm I own the Canon EOS-1N which is a wonderful camera and a frogeye for underwater shooting. I use a different combination of these cameras and mediums each time I shoot.
© Copyright by PHOTOWORKSHOP.COM