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Chelsea Rooke

Today we’re talking to photographer Chelsea Rooke as one of our last interviews for our re-launch week.

Chelsea is a photography student from the United Kingdom who is just about to graduate, and we spotted her beautiful work online. Her landscapes are awe-inspiring and really do demonstrate the meaning of ‘sublime’.

Have a look below to see more images and read her interview.

First of all, please introduce yourself.

My name is Chelsea Rooke and I’m a Bristol-based photographer in the UK. I’m currently a full-time student studying towards a Masters in photography at the University of the West of England.

How did you get into photography?

I’ve always been interested in photography, but for me the key moment was on a holiday to Cuba, where I visited Havana. I became totally submerged in the place, and all I wanted to do was document what was going on around me with my camera. This was when I really realised that photography was more than just taking photographs, that it was a way of capturing what was going on around you. That’s when I caught the photography bug.

Tell us about your current project Llanberris.

So the project Llanberris came about as a result of an attraction that I have to quarries. I don’t know exactly what it was that first drew me to these spaces, but over the summer I visited a few derelict quarries and for me it was something about walking into those spaces and being completely overwhelmed by the vastness and scale of the site that changed my perspective.

I remember being in Asham quarry and walking round for hours amazed by the scale and size, and then when I chose a different route back, I turned a corner and stumbled across another vast pit that I had no idea was there. All of sudden I was peering down a sheer drop! It was terrifying and exhilarating the same time, and from there I just wanted to go to capture those emotions through landscape.

By trying to do so the idea of the sublime became a heavy influence in my images, but I felt that I was never really saying what I wanted to with my images, and the more I looked at the landscape the more apparent the idea of destruction became. There were constant reminders of the way that humans had shaped and evolved theses spaces, and as I continued with this project, this idea became more potent.

The places that I visited all bore scars of the impact of the post-industrial era, and this soon became the subject of my work.I explore the working relationship between people and the landscape, and this one-sided exchange of how we have plundered the resources from these landscapes to satisfy our own needs and demand. Then, when we no longer have a purpose for these landscapes, we abandon them as spaces.

It intrigued me how despite this obvious destruction, these spaces still has elements of beauty and the sublime and how the land as an entropy – a closed system – fought back and out of the rubble and decay, and out of these sites emerged new life.

How is the project progressing, or have you finished it already? 

The particular focus on the Llanberis Quarry is finished for now, but I feel that this impact of man on the landscape is still unresolved within my work. There is still so much more I want to say and there is definitely the possibility of development and a continuous project related to the same concept.


By the way, what equipment did you use to shoot the project? The detail in the images is amazing.

For this particular project I used a 5×4 field camera with Kodak Ektar colour film. It was actually the first time I had shot a project fully on film, let alone large format! The results were a complete game-changer; two years ago I would never have dreamt of using anything but digital for a shoot, and now I rarely take a digital along with me when I shoot. The detail is definitely down to using large format, paired with my digital process.

What digital process is that? Can you explain a little?

I like to keep the image as true as possible so I try to avoid over-manipulating the image. The difficulty with film and its sensitivity to light means that on occasions a lot of time has to be devoted to colour and image correction, and also because of how fragile the negatives are, time has to be spent retouching the images to remove blemishes from the scans.

What is it that draws you to photographing landscapes?

I see landscapes as so much more than just pastoral rolling hills. I like to think that in some way I am taking portraits of the landscapes. They are so evolved as spaces, and there is so much going on within a frame that it’s hard to try and capture all of the detail and context through a single photograph.

It’s not just what meets the eye, either, but the evolution of the space as well: how it has come to be what it is now, the geological structure, the folktale. For me, it’s a case of exploring a space through a series of image in order to understand it at a deeper level, and capture more than what meets the eye.

Where do you find your inspiration?

My main inspiration comes from meeting people, having the chance to listen to them talk and discuss their work and passion. I found out recently that I thrive on the energy of other people. Having the chance to see work by other creatives and discuss my ideas gives me the inspiration and energy that I need to pour back in to my work.

Do you have a favourite image or a favourite project from your own work?

My favourite images come from one of my older projects, The Paths We Walk, although visually it’s not my strongest work.

The meaning and context of the project gave me the passion for photography that I had been lacking, and whenever I feel that I’m struggling with my work I think back to that project and what I was able to achieve through photography. It gives me the encouragement I need to move forward.

Do you have anything that you’d like to recommend?

A book that has heavily influenced my thinking on landscape photography is ‘Perspective On Place’ a book by Jesse A. P. Alexander. His book is not just about landscape photography and how to engage with it, but how visual approaches have been adopted by photographers to facilitate the communication of ideas and theme. It offers a deeper level of engagement with landscape photography and thinking within the practice.

Where do you stand in the film versus digital debate? Do you prefer to use one more than the other?

Film, every time. I rarely use digital now, and the reason for this is that I feel that you can’t get the detail in digital that you’re able to capture on large format cameras, for example. I’ve tried replicating it digitally, but in my opinion there’s no comparison. I also prefer shooting on film because of the way I approach the subject; the whole process is so slowed down that I spend a lot more time engaging with the landscape and understanding it.

So what’s next? What projects do you have planned for the future?

I have an ever-growing list of projects that I wish to complete. Currently I am creating a visual documentation of landscapes, looking at the geological structure of the landscape, the history and evolution of the environment and surrounding areas.

As a final year student about to graduate, what advice would you give to a photography student just beginning their degree?

Be passionate and create work that inspires yet challenges you as a photographer. I’m always very critical of my work because it’s to good push yourself to be the best that you can be. There is always room for development and improvement; be ambitious!


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