May 25, 2013

Spotlight: Sophie Elliott

Sophie Elliott is a photographer, curator two awesome zines,
 and basically a real life wonder woman.

If wonder woman were a photographer, she'd probably set out to change the way women are represented in society and help people realize that feminism is cool. Badass indeed! Sophie Elliott, a photographer based in Norwich, England and today's girl spotlight, is a real life wonder woman who first got into photography in high school. Having a mother who's a feminist, Sophie was exposed to feminism early on and has recently made it an important theme in her work. Her experience as a fashion and portrait photographer has helped her take on new projects, most recently two zines Femme Sole and Boundaries, both of which we've fallen in love with. We were super excited to have the opportunity to talk with Sophie about photography, feminism, zines, and the future:

THE LE SIGH: We absolutely love your photography. When did you get started?

Sophie Elliott: Thank you so much! I started taking photos when I took GCSE art, which was 6 years ago now. I loved being creative but I wasn't great at drawing, so I started using the school's cameras before buying my own and then gradually upgrading. I didn't start playing around with 35mm or instant photography until I got to university, though.

TLS: You're very involved with fashion photography specifically. How did you get involved with Norwich Fashion week and what was that experience like?

SE: I got in contact with the fashion director at a local newspaper about work experience and she was incredibly supportive, and managed to arrange it so that I photographed some of the events, the pictures of which were then published online and in the newspaper. The previous year I'd taken photos of the same events out of my own choice, and also taken part in Graduate Fashion Week, so I think that really helped. It was so much fun and I really enjoyed being involved with the journalism side of it. I really liked being able to photograph local talent and be a part of the creative community in Norwich.

TLS: Feminism is a consistent theme in all of your work. Why do you think that is?

SE: Yes, my mum is a feminist and works as a journalist and blogger, but I didn't really start educating myself on the subject until quite recently. I've always had opinions on the matter but researching feminist art for university projects led me to question the way I was working, which was typical fashion work, and look into independent publishing. This led to me finding out about riot grrrl, and zines, which are now the main focus of my work. For the past year I've been working solely within feminist themes.

TLS: On your website you state that your work "explores the representation of women" – ideally, how do you think women should be represented?

SE: At the moment, fashion editorials and advertising photographs are very predictable – they usually feature a young, white woman with a photoshopped figure, who is posed in either sexually objectifying or degrading ways. As well as this, female-identifying people, such as people that are transgender, are often left out of the equation altogether. The first thing that needs to stop is photoshopping and manipulating photographs, as it creates an unreal expectation for women and young girls to aim for, and convinces people that there is only one acceptable body size. As well as this, agents need to be more inclusive when selecting models, whether that refers to race, sexuality, or size, and the media need to be more aware of the language they use and the ideals they portray in their articles, TV shows and films. The biggest and most important thing that needs to change, though, is the visual imagery that has been used for years and is considered acceptable and necessary because, after all, 'sex sells'. In fashion and advertising, women are constantly sexually objectified. They are depicted as nothing more than separate body parts, lifeless corpses, robots, or playthings for the male models (of which there are usually big groups surrounding one semi-clothed woman), and the worst thing is that while advertising and fashion are seem as glamorous, the actual female body is often seen as unnatural or ugly because of small details like hairs, stretch marks, extra weight, or anything else that shows a woman to be more than just a pretty, delicate, submissive thing.

TLS: You've curated quiet a few zines. Can you share the inspiration behind each?

SE: The most recent zines I've made are Femme Sole and Boundaries. Femme Sole was my response to the realisation that I didn't have to do fashion photography the same way everyone else did, that I didn't have to do exactly what my university tutors told me to do, and that I wanted to be able to showcase the work of female artists as well. So, I collaborated with an online artist Midge (Modern Girl Blitz) and created an editorial on the concept of Grrrl Scouts, then made a blog for the zine that advertised the call for submissions. I had a really great response but at that time had no money, so I made it available to download as a PDF for free. The most recent zine is called Boundaries, and is meant to explore the limits of society and myself as a photographer. I photographed parts of my body, or objects that resembled body parts, close-up and in black and white, and made an A4 zine with full bleed pages. The point of the zine is for the audience to think about why, when you are surrounded by this same sexual and intimate imagery every day on a large scale basis, does it make you uncomfortable or awkward to see these images of a real-life body? Both of the zines are gonna be for sale on my online webstore really soon and I'm also taking them to the Alternative Press Spring Fair on the 1st of June as well.

TLS: I know that ultimately you want to go into journalism. Why have you chosen to pursue that instead of a career as a professional photographer?

SE: I'm really interested in being able to investigate and expose problems in society, with a particular focus on feminism. I never want my work to be bland or meaningless. I'm mainly looking into photojournalism, where I can produce the images and words for the article or editorial, but I'm still going to stick with portraiture and documentary photography as well. This is another reason zines appeal to me: you can create what you want, whether that is completely abstract fine art or an investigative article about rape culture, but in the end they are completely personal. You aren't being forced to create work you're not interested in, or that you don't agree with. Eventually, though, my goal is to be able to travel the world and photograph/interview women from all over the world, whether they are badass rebels or are being oppressed in a way that's being avoided by the mainstream media.

TLS: What projects are you currently working on?

SE: I've just finished Boundaries, so I'm working on promoting that and getting it out to zine fairs, but other than that I'm just experimenting with some new ideas. I've had an idea for a short film I'd like to produce, which would be investigating representation and objectification, and also have a new set of self-portraits I would like to shoot. I also want to look at gender equality, and was thinking of doing some portraits of younger – maybe teenage – girls that are rebelling against their gender roles, inspired by a particular memory from my younger years where I remember spending the discos at my primary school sticking fake tattoos all up my arm instead of dancing with everyone else.

TLS: You just graduated (so did we) – congratulations! I know this question probably gets old but what's next for you?

SE: Thank you! Well, at the moment I'm just looking around for work experience I can apply for and competitions I can enter. I'm starting a new waitressing job in a week, so I'll have more money for printing and travelling. I'm also going to be collaborating with my boyfriend Luke on a zine over the summer that will be an illustrated story based on a post-apocalyptic society. Mostly though, I'm just going to keep experimenting with my style!

For more on Sophie Elliott's work visit her portfolio.

Written by Diana Cirullo