Studio Visit with Emily Ellis
Emily Ellis is taking me on a private photography tour of her favourite local scene today. Em discovered this abandoned railway one day while driving her young son around in the car to put him to sleep. That's one of the reasons Emily got more involved in photography and Instagram which eventually earned her the staggering 35, 000 followers she has today (@emandthewildthings)! We wander along the tracks avoiding the tiny yellow thistles and potential dangers (I HATE snakes)... I get to know Emily a little better and ask about her previous careers and how she ended up living in this beautiful rural setting.
How long have you been taking photos? When did photography change into something more than a hobby for you?
My Dad gave me his SLR camera when I was 15. I got out of school (and sport *fist pump*) on a Wednesday afternoon in year 10 to study photography at Hornsby Tafe in Sydney. I went on to do it throughout my senior years at school. After studying Drama at university and not taking many pictures for years my interest was re-ignited when I bought a basic DSLR aged 26 (so, ten years ago.) With the advent of Instagram, the rapid sharing and feedback loop seemed to really spur me on. It’s only really in the last year that I’ve begun to take on paid work. This is my first foray into digital prints and it’s still very much a learning experience for me.
What are your favourite subjects to photograph and why?
I take photos of everything! But my favourite subjects are the Central West landscape, my kids (preferably in the landscape), abandoned early settler’s homes, trees, close-up nature shots (flowers and grasses). Photography gets me outdoors and observing (which is not to be underestimated for mental health and wellbeing). Taking pictures of these things seems to intensify my appreciation for them.
Would you describe your process as spontaneous or thought-out?
Mostly spontaneous. A big part of the joy of photography for me is the adventure that goes along with it. Taking a new road home or looking for some hidden gem of a landscape in the perfect light. It’s hit and miss. For every landscape or grass capture that I’ve gotten successfully there are so many in flat light with no magic. I guess in a sense it is thought-out because I have an aesthetic I’m looking for but it’s never guaranteed.
Where do you find inspiration?
Directly from the landscape always. Paying close attention to colour, light and texture. If it’s people I’m photographing I’m inspired by genuine interaction and the truth of the moment. If I’m feeling stuck a long drive with music always kick starts me. I love the early Australian landscape painters and I often think of McCubbin’s work when I see that golden or pink light through pale green gum leaves or looking at an old shack. I love the connection to history. I try to treat all of life as an inspiration for my photos. Motherhood (the good and hard), poetry, love, the bad days, friendships, relationships it’s all there.
How does living in regional NSW affect your work?
It’s central to my work. I grew up in Sydney so find the seasons here totally amazing. The rich colours of spring and Autumn are so easy to photograph. Even though I find the summer and winter here a bit extreme I love the neutral colour palette. The dead grass catches the light so wonderfully and the winter fogs are so wonderfully romantic.
What is your most essential piece of equipment and why?
My Nikkon D810. I was able to upgrade my camera mid last year and am really still learning all that it’s capable of. It’s a hell of a tool.
Can you explain to our readers the concept behind your exhibition title “Wild and Precious Life”? What does that phrase mean to you?
When Helen and I initially met to discuss a theme all we could see were our differences. She’s a predominantly black and white portrait artist and I’m mostly nature, outside in colour. And yet we talked about the things that are most important to us and realised we have so much in common. A deep and often all-consuming love for our children and a desire to capture and treasure everything precious about their fleeting childhoods. Helen portrays wonderful emotion and feeling in her photographs and I seek that too. It’s all about the mood we just use different subject matter to convey it. I think of our wild landscape, tangled masses of gums and her daughter’s wild hair and I see such similarity. After our first meeting I couldn’t stop thinking about the Mary Oliver Poem “The Summer’s Day”. The poet is speaking to a grasshopper she’s found in the summer grass. It’s full of wonder and love of the simple, everyday things around her. Essentially the insect’s life is short (like ours), but made richer and more meaningful by paying attention to all the things that can be seen, touched, and felt. The last line “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” is said to the grasshopper but I feel it sharply as a mother asking it of my children. I think Helen felt that too. That’s where our title came from.