Photographer Ellis O'Connor has an eye for the dramatic - soaring peaks dotted with snow, valleys that appear endless, gunmetal seas and a grey scale you can't help but adore. So it's rather fitting that she frequently makes dark and dramatic Scotland her subject. We had a chat to Ellis about her work, Hebridean focus and love of travel.
Can you tell me a little about your training and artistic background?
I am a Fine Art graduate with an honours degree from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. I am currently studying my Masters Degree in Art and Humanities based in Dundee, Scotland, where I grew up. I am a visual artist and specialise in photography, painting and drawing. I have exhibited widely and have recently undertaken artist residencies in the Northern Isles of Scotland, Iceland and was selected for the RSA Scholarship to Florence last year.
How would you define your style?
My style is based on the aesthetics of remote landscapes. It deals with different elements based on the land; the spirit of place, traces of the land and the sublime. All explored through a series of prints, photographs and paintings.
Within certain remote places there is a powerful atmosphere and through my work I invite the viewer to feel the [landscapes] presence ... and the textures and marks that we do not necessarily notice. My process of mark making, the washes and layers explored through my work are a direct way of showing how the unforgiving elements wear away the land. It all ties together to highlight the underlying meaning of the landscape and elements these vast places are exposed to. I also would say that my style is very bold in terms of capturing the overwhelming presence of the landscape and sublime mountains.
What inspires your photographs?
My photographs are inspired by travelling, mountains and remote lands. As long as I am travelling and venturing out to places that are unknown to me and far away from cities, then I will constantly be inspired. The intricate detail of the land, the atmosphere of the remote places and the feeling of being surrounded by nature and the wild environment is the main motivator that fuels and enriches my work.
What do you love about your job?
I love being able to go out to new places and capture them. It is a great thing being able to connect new people to a place just by the visual imagery that I put across in my work.
There is a certain drama to your work - is this intentional and where does this come from?
Is this intentional? Yes and no. I aim to capture the drama found within overwhelming landscapes, being out there surrounded by the mountains I feel a sense of heightened intensity and powerful atmosphere so I aim to put this across to the viewer. Also because these places are so staggeringly beautiful and present, it happens naturally that the photos end up with such drama; the place overall determines the outcome of the photograph.
Does travel influence your work in any way?
Travel is the only thing that influences my work. Without travel I cannot capture. As my studio is in the city, I find that every now and then I go on a road trip of Scotland here and there, to get new images, a new perspective free from the constant stimulation of being connected in a city and create new work! The wonderful thing about Scotland is that most of it is still very much untamed land up North, you don't need to travel far to get away from a city or even civilisation.
You've shot quite a lot of work around Scotland - is there something special about the scenery here?
Yes there is definitely something special about the scenery here. I was lucky enough to grow up in Scotland and with it's dramatic peaks and mountain ranges, layers of dramatic history embedded within the places and the magnificent lochs and valleys, it is simply stunning. I travel a lot to other countries and parts of the world and find a lot of inspiration to make work there but I am very much connected to Scotland.
Has there been a project (past, present or future) that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
I've been involved in a lot of amazing and inspiring projects but one of the best projects I've enjoyed recently being a part of was working on the Isle of Eigg (one of Scotland's remote small Isles) as Artist in residence with The Bothy Project at the very start of January. You can read my article and find out more about the Bothy Project on the blog here.
I found this very engaging and an amazing place to work. I was located in a beautiful bothy right on the North tip of the Island surrounded by cliffs and looking out to the magnificent peaks of Rum, I made a lot of new work there and most of my new photographs have come from being within that place. The thing I found most important was being off grid. As I had no distractions, it gave me the chance to just fully explore and connect with the island and make a brand new body of work. Also as it was right at the very start of this year, right in the middle of Scotland's winter, the weather was wild and there was not much light so it really pushed me out of my comfort zone in engaging with a place. Simply stunning.
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
My advise for aspiring photographers is to find your niche. Find what it really is you are passionate and inspired by and create a new voice for that. Capture what it important to you and find your own style so people will be able to recognise the work. It is also very important to have a level of depth and meaning to the work, find what the calling is. I have come to realise that work with a significant meaning connects and resonates more with the viewer. Lastly, never give up on something you are truly passionate about!