Elizabeth Ellenwood is one of merit award winners of the 2019 Denis Roussel Award. We are pleased to feature her work here on Rfotofolio.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in Daytona Beach, FL and Waterford, CT. I consider myself a hybrid of both places; my love of the ocean definitely originated from FL while my creative energy was formed by my family in CT. I lived in Boston for seven years before moving to Connecticut to pursue graduate school in 2017. I am currently in my final year at the University of Connecticut, which has been instrumental to my current work.
Where did you get your photographic training?
My undergraduate degree is from the New Hampshire Institute of Art. This program and my mentors and peers within it inspired and challenged me. My technical knowledge of photography really grew during this time and prepared me for the jobs I had after school. After NHIA I moved to Boston and worked at Panopticon Imaging, a photography lab, while also assisting Peter Vanderwarker (an architectural photographer). Both of these jobs continued to teach me about the medium and how to fine tune my technique.
Additionally, I have been going to Penland School of Craft in North Carolina for the past seven years. This is an amazing place full of artistic discovery that has helped me learn other processes as well as connect with artists from all over the world.
Why do you create?
Creating has been second nature to me since I was young. Growing up we were always making things. We were taught at a really young age how to throw on the wheel and make ceramics and while I was not the best at three dimensional objects, the experience stuck with me.
Creating is something that brings me joy and challenges me. Since I started making conservation driven work, I feel that my artwork has a job to do: to bring an awareness to the ocean pollution crisis we are facing today. So now I create not only because it is second nature to me, I also feel the importance of using my work to help the oceans.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
This is a tough question because so many people have influenced my process throughout the years! I would say most recently my friend and fellow photographer Mercedes Jelinek. While at Penland School of Craft this summer, I was hesitant to start a new project and when I bounced my ideas off of her, she listened, and then encouraged me to get in the darkroom and at least try it. It was the perfect reminder of what process is and that if you don’t try your ideas you never really know the potential of what they could turn into or what you could learn from them. Since then I am happy to say I am still working on the project, and the more I make, the more it evolves!
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
A few years ago, I saw one of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s architecture prints in person. I had always loved his work from seeing it online and in books but when I actually saw the physical print I was struck with the intensity of the image. It was calming and powerful all at the same time. It also was amazing to see his photograph at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, the whole environment really stuck with me. I learned about Hiroshi’s work from a mentor at NHIA and have been following his work ever since.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Two summers ago, I attended a wet plate workshop taught by Dan Estabrook – it was amazing! I spent the time working on a series that was very personal to me, I was photographing my phone showing my text message exchanges with my uncle who had just passed away. At the end of the workshop I packaged my glass plates for to travel home. Unfortunately, I dropped the package and broke three of the glass plates. I now give myself enough time to package things and take better care in transporting them. I have kept them broken and taped the pieces back together.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
A good day is either in the darkroom, music playing and with no concept of time, or having the time to simply wander and explore. I use photography as a way to stay curious about my surroundings, so sometimes a walk with my dog and camera is all I need to feel good.
Please tell us about the work you submitted for the Denis Roussel Award.
This is work I have been pursuing this past year in graduate school. It began from going on beach walks and picking up washed up debris – something I’ve done since I was young. In the past I would properly dispose of the collected items and be on my way, but while in graduate school, I’ve challenged myself to incorporate these materials in my work. I brought the trash to my studio and made cyanotype photograms with the items. I wanted people to see the individuality of the problem, so each piece of trash was made into its own print, even if it was a small microplastic.
After taking a wet plate workshop I decided to try the photograms with the medium. I collected scrap glass and decided to repurpose it into using it for my wet plate images, embracing the different sizes, shapes, and colors. Since then I have also been exploring microplastics in a digital approach.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
Anna Atkins! I would love to hear more about her algae collection and her approach to merging science and art. I saw her exhibition at the New York Public Library and it was amazing to see her prints from the 1840s still in beautiful condition.
How important is the photographic community to you?
Having a photographic community is extremely important for support, encouragement, and to just bounce ideas off of. I’ve met some of my closest friends through photography and I am forever grateful to have them in my life.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
Time. With my recent work I have not been using much “equipment” per se, but finding the time and space to be creative is crucial.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
Underwater photography! Since spending a lot of my time on beaches and thinking about the many layers of the ocean, I would love the opportunity to explore more under the waves.
Whats on the horizon?
This next year is busy with my final year at UConn. I will exhibit my thesis work with my cohort at The Benton Museum in Storrs, CT as well as in New York City. I am collaborating with the marine science department at UConn and will hopefully have the opportunity to exhibit the work at the Avery Point Campus.
I am continuing to seek out collaborations with scientists and researchers who are studying marine debris and our oceans. I am also taking an animation class this semester and am excited to try a new medium.