Kidnapped © Ellen Cantor
Kidnapped © Ellen Cantor

Rfotofolio is pleased to share the work of Ellen Cantor.  She show us how one art form can honor another in her series Prior Pleasures.

Ellen please tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Chicago, IL, but have lived most of my adult life in Southern California.  I graduated from the University of Illinois and UCLA Environmental and Design Program.  After a career as an Interior Designer, I shifted my focus into fine art photography in 2000.  I am married, have two daughters and four grandchildren.

How did you get started in Photography?

It was almost by accident.  My husband used to take most of the photographs and I was the director.  I realized that if I wanted to get the shot I saw, I would have to take the photographs myself.  I knew that I needed to learn to use the SLR and took some classes.  Immediately, I found a way to express myself.

Which photographers and other artists do you admire?

I have eclectic taste in art leaning toward modern and conceptual.  One of the first photographers I loved was Eliot Porter because of his use of color.  I also admire Uta Barth, Joann Callis, and Robert Heinecken, all conceptual photographers.  I recently saw an exhibit of Dubuffet and discovered his abstract works that were unknown to me.

Do you have a mentor?

Aline Smithson, photographer and blogger at Lenscratch has been very influential in helping me grow as a photographer.

Would you share an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time?

Growing up in Chicago, I loved to go to the Art Institute.  Two of my favorite, non-photo images, are Caillebotte’s Paris Street Rainy Day and Seurat’s La Grande Jatte.  I have many photo books and enjoy choosing a new favorite every-time I revisit a book.

If you could spend the day with another photographer living or passed who would it be?

Ernst Haas for his pioneering work in color, selective focus, and capturing moving objects.

Your images seem to be based on objects, that in turn convey a memory.  Would you tell us about the series Prior Pleasures.

Prior Pleasures is deeply influenced by my love of literature.  This series explores memory and preservation of the past while ensuring the creation of a visual legacy for the next generation.  The books photographed for this series are the ones I have carried with me since childhood.  My mother read them to me and, in turn, I read them to my children, carrying on a tradition of the written and spoken word.

Rediscovering these books led me to realize the power and value of the hands-on-experience of reading.  As I documented each volume, I was transported to a time and place that allowed for imagination and fantasy.  With this series, I examine what it is that we remember and how we honor objects that inspired our early creative thinking.  Ultimately, Prior Pleasures is meant to remind us that books can excite and enrich our lives.

Heidi © Ellen Cantor
Heidi © Ellen Cantor
Haji Baba © Ellen Cantor
Haji Baba © Ellen Cantor
Nancy Drew © Ellen Cantor
Nancy Drew © Ellen Cantor

If no one saw your work, would you still create it?

Yes. Being creative is a part of my life, like brushing my teeth.

Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day is for you.

I work at home in a studio created from two extra bedrooms.  For several years, I have been doing still life.  I like to take objects of memory that I have saved or received when my mother passed away and create images from them.  I look to make photographs that go beyond what is in the viewfinder—finding the unseen in the seen.

I set up my still life on a table using natural light or a soft box with off camera lighting—very simple.  For Prior Pleasures, I used multiple images in camera.

My perfect day would be time to photograph, take a walk on the beach, go out for a nice dinner with family, and relax in the evening with my husband.

What challenges do you face as an artist?

I think working alone is the most difficult part of being an artist.  The other difficulty is finding ways to get my work out into the world and keeping up with technology.

What is next?

I am looking at ways of creating photographs that are off the paper or on different materials.

Thank you Ellen for sharing your work and words with us.

To learn more about the work of Ellen Cantor please visit her site at, Ellen Cantor Photographs.

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