I really love Ellie Davies' work, the art photographer literally goes into the woods at night on her own (quite terrifying) and as a result captures the most ethereal yet haunting images. They are images that transport, that capture not so much modern life as an entirely parallel world, one replete with recognisable symbols yet slightly other, one where the threat of danger is never far off. Here Davies reviews her own process….
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from the woods, from walking and looking.
The New Forest, where I grew up and make most of my work is a very diverse area ranging from ancient mature broadleaf trees to dense softwood Forestry Commission farming and huge areas of bog and heathland. It is my favorite place to work and I can’t imagine ever running out of excitement and new ideas for work there.
My parents were both very inspiring as I was growing up. My dad got me interested in photography from a young age, and we had a small darkroom in the house throughout my childhood. My mum is a landscape painter, and she would take my sister and I out painting. We started with flowers and animals and later progressed to more ambitious landscapes in oil and watercolour. I painted a huge Scottish landscape on the wall of my bedroom, aged about 14. I was never great at painting but I loved it. Photography has replaced painting in the last 15 years, but I still draw and sketch my ideas and plans. One day I hope to return to some form of painting.
Do you have a particular process?
I tend to work in quite a structured way. I make lots of notes and sketches, nailing down the concept for the series before starting to shoot. This means I have quite a clear idea of what I want from each image which allows me to work more quickly and in a more focused way. I find my location by searching for places that hold some resonance with the theme often based on formal elements such as colour and shape within the frame. I usually make or build something within the woods so I will arrive with all the tools and materials necessary, unless I’m using solely gathered natural materials. Each piece is entirely made, photographed and removed by the end of the day – I have a ‘leave no trace’ approach.
You often go into the woods at night does this not scare you?
Not really. I arrive before dark to set up and get familiar with the location. I always have my camper van nearby!
Some of your images are quite haunting, what exactly is it you hope they evoke?
I try to capture the sensation of being in the woods, and all the different sensations that this can bring. Sometimes the woods feel gentle and welcoming, sometimes wild and sinister, filled with potential.
What has been the hardest moment thus far in your career and how did you overcome it?
The periods between bodies of work are probably the hardest. The times when one series is finished and I haven’t established the next project or I feel like no new ideas will ever come, but I just wait because something always bubbles to the surface eventually.
Who is your favourite artist and why?
I’m not really very good at deciding on favorites because time and new experiences always change them, but I love Jem Southam’s ‘The Shape of Time: Rockfalls, Rivermouths and Ponds (2000).
What is your favourite book and why?
I am a rock climber so I love books about mountaineering and adventure. My favorite is probably The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer, which details the history of attempts to climb The Eiger, and his own successful ascent. I’ve also had hours of enjoyment readying climbing accounts by Andy Kirkpatrick, Jon Krakauer, Steve House, Joe Simpson and Andy Cave.
Your favourite product and why..?
That’s a hard one, probably my Shutterbug – it allows me to fire my camera from an app on my phone, so that I can take photographs and be in front of the camera at the same time. It makes me self sufficient, I don’t have to use an assistant which is great because I prefer to make my work alone.
What do you wish someone had told you about becoming an artist?
Keep chipping away, it’s a war of attrition. Believe in yourself, and don’t do it unless you really love it, you’ll know if it’s not right.
What is your best piece of advice for those starting out?
The most important thing is to love making your work and to keep at it until you are sure it is strong enough. Don’t leave a weak image in a series, however much you like it, each image must stand alone.
Stay strong throughout all those college crits and find your own voice. A certain amount of self belief shows in the work and allows you to create your own style. Confidence grows slowly, it comes from being sure of your work and knowing you followed it to where it should be. As your body of work builds slowly over the years this brings a feeling of continuity and solidity too.
What is your life philosophy?
Do what makes you happy, life is too short for anything else.