Our newest Renli Su Girl is photographer Ellen Rogers, who's work we were mesmerised by in a recent shoot she produced of our Autumn Winter collection. Her work resonates ethereal myths, folklore, and historical literature, which is then shot, developed and hand-printed by herself. We speak to her about her process of developing these beautifully skilled images and how she stays focused on her vision of her work in a world full of digital imagery.
I have a military background with both parents meeting on barracks, both also coming from a long line of military workers. My father had a darkroom at home and was a keen amateur photographer and some of my fondest childhood memories were going out on evening shoots to learn how to take long exposure photos. My mother and aunt grew up in Hong Kong on an American airbase, so they had many fond stories of their time in Asia to tell me. I genuinely never had to think hard about what I was going to be, it was always this way really.
I’m really fascinated with the way similar myths and strange happenings seem to crop up in various cultures, for example the strange phenomenon of 'The Old Hag’ in sleep paralysis. Albeit slightly unnerving I feel comforted by the fact that so many differing cultures and times have this same presence. I was talking about it with friends lately and so many had experienced it without really knowing anything of its history. There is something like this that runs through time and art, some force that binds and seduced us, it’s so compelling isn’t it!?
I can! My best friend got married and she had many flowers left over from the wedding day. When we got back to hers, she didn’t want to throw them away, so I said that I had an idea for their second life. I had a vague idea for what I wanted to do for this shoot and I was talking to my supervisor (I’m doing a PhD in fashion photography at Central Saint Martins) and he mentioned a film called Flaming Creatures from 1963 that belongs to the Avant Garde queer movement of the time, its was completely wild, unpredictable and gorgeous so I was inspired by the set for that — crinkled white sheets and soft mid-tones! The finishing touches were on the walls of your studio when I went to pick up dresses. The white shades that jumped out to me in the black and white images of nymphs and gentles wrists. All these floating ideas created the shoot.
I have a few different cameras, but I tend to work in medium format, I like the quality and I like to have a lot of room for error. I like to know I can degrade the image rather than start with a degraded image if that makes sense. So, my negatives are fairly sharp and clear but it’s in the darkroom that I add a certain type of finish to them.
I was always drawn to analogue photography without thinking much about it, mostly because I just carried on working the way I always had. But as I got older the opportunity to switch to digital kept presenting itself, but I never went down that path, not even in my commercial work. I lost a lot of work because of it, one time a well-known broadcasting company asked me to shoot a campaign but in digital for a period drama, I didn’t, alas!
I think I stuck with analogue photography as it presented an opportunity to reflect something in the culture that wanted the presence of a certain type of nostalgic image. Not that I promote nostalgia, I’m actually opposed to it, but I do think for me it was a way of making a representation of a past not everyone had access too — perhaps a less conservative one.
I think my inspiration comes for directly from film. On my darkroom and studio walls I have mostly film-stills, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Possession, Persona, these are a few film-stills that jump to mind that live on my walls. Films that carry a certain female hauntedness, a certain loss but a loss that can be answered for.
That’s a really nice question, thank you! I did after the 10-year mark feel a bit lost with where my work was going. I noticed too that I (or photographers like me) had also started to inspire a generation a decade younger. And I wasn’t entirely convinced this type nostalgia was all that healthy. So, this year I started doing a PhD in the presence of melancholy in fashion photography. So, I could understand how to makes these images ethically, if they are actually a cathartic and important part of our fashion culture (which I think they are) or if they are something that need more sociological context. What I do notice is, that this type of imagery is more popular during financial recessions and that's really something that I want to know more about.
I'm thinking a lot about the UK landscape, what it means for us on this island with its political turbulence and its many new changes, what it means to be here during these huge changes. What it is to be a minority in the UK. I want to capture this difficult time with a poetry that people in the future can try and take themselves too. To understand what it's like for us now.
Renli Su Girl – Ellen Rogers
Artist: Ellen Rogers
Article by Nina Scott-Smith