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Ellis O‘Connor

Today we’re talking to Ellis O’Connor, our first interviewee in a series of daily interviews this week for the relaunch of our magazine Of The Land & Us, formerly Eyes Forward Magazine. Ellis is a wonderful artist who mixes traditional pencil and paint mediums with photography to beautiful results. We were immediately taken in by her awe-inspiring dark landscape photography and had to know more.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Ellis O’Connor, I’m based in Dundee Scotland and I am currently studying my Masters Degree in Art and Humanities specialising in photography, printmaking and drawing.When I have finished my studies in September, I intend to just keep travelling, being a full-time artist, exhibiting my work and taking part in various artist in residence programmes around the world.

How did you get into photography?

I got into photography three years ago. I’m very interested in overwhelming and remote landscapes so I found that by working with photography I was able to capture the intense and sublime atmosphere found in these places through my camera and then transport this emotion that I felt within that specific place to the viewer.

You describe yourself as working with printmaking, photography and painting/drawing – do you combine all these different mediums in your work?

Yes I find it very easy to work in all three disciplines. Photography, printmaking and painting/ drawing are all away of me expressing my ideas towards the landscape and they all flow together complimenting one another along the way. I tire very easily of working in just one medium so by working within all three and honing my skills within them, I find it a great way of putting across the same idea but in various forms of visual representation to the viewers.

What is it that draws you to ​capturing landscapes and nature?

For me, I am drawn to the landscape and nature as I feel more connected to these places, I find them more important, more atmospheric and more real because of the lack of modern man’s touch. It is here where I am overwhelmed and can feel the true power of the ‘sublime’ because of the beauty, tranquility and powerful presence of the land.

Do you have a favourite kind of landscape?

Yes my favourite kinds of landscape are ‘dark and looming mountains’, in my work I don’t want people to look at it and think of a beautiful place, I want them to the overwhelmed and almost threatened by the visual imagery. I am attracted to places that are inhospitable, raw, remote and have a sense of being on the ‘edge’ it is here where I find that all emotions and the atmosphere is heightened because the landscape is untouched it is a true mark of the infinite against everything else.

Your project ‘​Landmass’ really caught my eye – what is the story/concept behind this?

The concept behind my ‘Landmass’ series was an exploration of the most remote parts of the Scottish Islands. Last summer I ventured out to tinyIslands in Shetland, Orkney and some parts on the North West coast of Skye. Islands on the edge you could call it.

There I found a true sense of being out in the midst of the wild, basalt columns, worn away barren rocks that broke off into the ocean only to be eroded by the unforgiving North Sea.

Through this visual documentation it was a way of capturing this feeling of being on the edge, the insignificant self of us small humans against the oppressive presence of the ‘landmass’ a true reflection of land that is strong and powerful against all odds.

You also recently took part in a residency.

Yes, last summer I took part in the Clipperton’s Project expedition around the Northern Isles of Scotland. I was artist in residence on board a boat sailing around tiny remote Islands around the coast of Shetland for four weeks.

I applied for this residency as I had never visited the Northern Isles of Scotland and the thought of being on a boat being able to see tiny Islands that most people never get to see for four whole weeks really excited me! It was here where I really discovered my need to always be out surrounded by wild nature.

Within my four week period, I documented, I wrote, I collaborated with the other artists, I learned to sail up in the wild north sea, I hiked on islands where the populations are declining rapidly due to the harshness of the weather – I produced more work in those four weeks than I think I ever will again!

My residency with the Bothy Project was probably one of my most rewarding and influential residencies. I have been selected to take part in two of the artist residencies with the Bothy Project, one last year January 2014 at the Inshriach Bothy which is located in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park, very secluded set within a forest.

The second one I took part in was the very start of this year January 3rd – 10th 2015 which was located on one of Scotland’s amazing Small Isles, (The Isle of Eigg).

Again both residency experiences were very different because of the surroundings yet both were so inspirational and the fact that they were both off grid, no wifi or service which meant that I was able to truly focus on my time within the place and delve deeper into my practise.

Do you have a favourite image, or project of your own?

My favourite image is my head image on my website, this is titled ‘spirit of the mountains’ this will always be significant to me as it was from the first time I went to Iceland back in 2013 and I was mesmerised by the wildness of the landscape.

My favourite project is ‘Traces of the Land’; a photographic series and this is because I’m very interested in the up close patterns, surface texture and lines of the landscape that sometimes go unnoticed so I aimed to create a series of powerful and earthy images simply from up close studies of rock, lava and geological forms which still continues to inspire me!

Where do you stand in the film vs digital debate?

I use both film and digital so I am on both sides, I find them both equally great to work with, both have pros.

My favourite thing about using film is the intensity of it. You have to have patience, really focus on what kind of shot you want to achieve and then take the time to develop it. The process itself is long but very rewarding .

My favourite thing about working digitally is the reliability of it. I could be out in the wilds of Scotland’s North West coast where the light changes dramatically within seconds, and a digital camera can capture this intense and fluctuating moment.

Where do you find your ​inspiration?

I find my inspiration by travelling. By consistently finding new places of remote beauty and seeking out mountainous areas that are unknown tome that is where I thrive.

Where was your favourite travel trip to, so far?

My favourite travel trip so far has to be to Iceland. Iceland makes you feel alive and as if you are on another planet.

The landscape there is second to none; it is immense, oppressive and overwhelming. It makes you feel very small.

I was selected as artist in residence at Fljotstunga Eco Farm in North West Iceland and spent two weeks situated in the middle of a 1000 year old lava field, surrounded by glaciers and volcanoes. It was unreal, and I will never forget the experience.

Who are some of your favourite artists?

My favourite photographers are Thomas Joshua Cooper and Alex Boyd. My favourite artists are Anselm Keifer, Frances Walker and Ian Hamilton Finlay.

I love Thomas Joshua Cooper’s photographic work as it captures the intensity and dark haunting atmosphere of some of the world’s most remote places.

I also admire Frances Walker’s artistic prints and drawings; she travels to the majority of the Scottish Islands and works on-site capturing the mysterious yet tranquil beauty of these islands. Her etching prints are particularly amazing!

​What’s next?

I currently have three exhibitions coming up. I have been selected among other upcoming Scottish artists to be in the Royal Scottish Academy’s New Contemporaries 2015 show, on from the 14th March – 8th April.

I have a solo exhibition at Wall Projects Space in Montrose Scotland from June 6th – 4th July.

Lastly, I have another solo exhibition titled ‘Edges’ on from 15th August – 12th September in Forfar, Scotland.

You’ve had a lot of ​success with your residencies and a scholarship to Florence – what is your top advice to an aspiring photographer?

Find what it is you are truly passionate about and find your style, then you will stand out.

Get your work out there by contacting galleries, applying for awards and have a good steady online presence. Make the most of your time and just start honing in your skill.

I find my residencies through two websites: Res Artists or Trans Artists, both have an amazing database full of upcoming opportunities and residencies all over the world.

Each residency proposal and application is very different so you have to cater each proposal to each specific residency. You cannot just simply submit the same proposal to every opportunity you see. My advice for being successful in securing a residency is find what ones are actually going to benefit you and apply to them; don’t waste your time applying to every single one as not every single one is going to benefit you.

It will also give you more time to focus on the ones that are important. My work is based on the remote landscapes of the world and so I seek out residencies in Norway, Iceland and Scotland for example, and I know these places will benefit me and inspire a brand new body of work.

Also dedicate a proportion of your time to writing well about your practice, learn to get across the meanings and ideas of your work clearly and to the point.


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