Interview: Ellie McDowell

Ellie McDowell.jpg

Ellie is an aspiring fashion photographer. She is currently working on her film photography, as showcased throughout her Instagram. I was lucky enough to have a little interview with Ellie about her photography and career plans.

Hello Ellie! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?

Hi Rhiannon, I'm doing well.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Well I'm from a small town in North Carolina, and started taking photos just for fun with a cereal box film camera I got when I was 4. Eventually the interest just kept growing to a point where I thought my silly photos were good enough to share.

Describe your style in three words.

Sporadic vintage experience, ha!

I adore your work. What inspired you to start taking photographs?

Well I've always loved film photography. I think to this day I can count the number of photos I've taken on a digital camera, so I'm an old fashioned purist! I am so inspired by William Eggleston's portraiture, the polaroids of Andy Warhol, and the street photography of Vivian Maier. There's just something so real in their art, they completely capture human emotions, and they lived in my favorite time periods, where the cars, fashion, and lifestyle was so extravagant.

Have you always been into photography?

Yes I have been. That camera I got when I was 4 resulted in my near death after I fell down a flight of brick stairs trying to take a picture of my mother. And ever since then I've been beyond interested in collecting old cameras, developing my own film, and taking photos that are outside of the traditional digital shots & heavy editing.

How has your creative process changed since the start?

I think my creative process has changed a lot since I started. I like to think I've become more professional, and with that the way I plan my photos has changed. I used to draw inspiration from old movies, and try to recreate the aesthetic from them, and now I have broken away from that process and allowed myself to be more original; and to create my own inspiration.

What equipment do you use for your work?

I work mainly with two 35mm cameras, and one Polaroid. My go-to camera is my Canon AE1 Program, which was one of my first more professional film cameras. I also tend to use a Nikon EM because I've found it's easier to just snap photos as I'm going, and my trusty Polaroid SX-70, both of which were gifted to me from my boyfriend! I'm currently experimenting with a Nikkormat FT. I wish I had something exciting to say about the kind of film I use, but I tend to just use Fujifilm, since it's sold widely at drugstores where I live.

What equipment could you not live without?

I definitely couldn't live without my Canon. That camera has been with me for ages, and before that, my mom shot on it way before I was even born. I also probably couldn't live without my SX-70. Instant photography is so different from 35mm, but I love both.

When did you start getting into film photography?

I started seriously getting into film photography about four years ago, I would get all my photos developed at CVS before they stopped developing and it would cost so much that I would be very limited to how many rolls I could take at a time (being a 14 year old,) and I think that taught me that every exposure is important.

How do you develop your film photographs?

I develop color using a C-41 Powder Kit, and B&W with Adox Rodinal. I've found it's easiest to use a tent darkroom to put the film into the developing tank. I've also experimented with developing film using coffee and vitamin C.

How do you go about taking your film photography?

Typically I plan out my shoots ahead of time if I'm shooting portraits, and I try to picture one of my friends in the photos, and then I plan the rest around that one idea.

For your film photography do you think carefully about the clothing, setting and models?

I do! For portraits I try to plan everything ahead. If I'm shooting for a deadline or a publication I try to have everything planned. Photos that I'm taking just for fun are less planned out, and sometimes I like those better. I'm currently really interested in styling, and I've been trying to incorporate that interest into my photos, without them becoming solely fashion photographs. The setting for my photos is a little different where I live, it's a small town so if I'm limited in the places I can shoot, but I've made it work. I also adore taking photos when I'm traveling, and that's what I've been doing recently.

What equipment would you recommend for someone who wants to get into photography?

I would recommend getting a simple to use 35mm camera! Canon has made a lot of good beginner cameras, and all of theirs are really sturdy. I would also recommend getting a good flash, because I started without a flash, and some of my photos were just too dark. I don't really mess around with professional lighting, but depending on what kind of photography you're interested in, they are worth the investment. Just know film photography isn't cheap if you don't develop it yourself. I went into it not knowing that and wasted a lot of money on rolls of film that just didn't turn out well.

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?

I only really use two social media platforms, Instagram and Facebook, and they have both been so important in giving my art an audience. Over the years my followers on Instagram have put up with my obsessive posting and I've met so many other up and coming photographers on Instagram!

Who inspires your work?

I talked a little about this earlier, but William Eggleston has, hands down, been my biggest influence. I am completely enamored by his work, and I'm always seeing photos of his that I've never seen before. In terms of modern day artists, I adore the work of Dana Trippe (@trippydana) on Instagram, and Phoebe Jane Barrett, (@softestmorning.)

Why is photography important?

Photography is important because it can be anything you want it to be. It's an art form that's completely in the hands of the artist. You could solely take photos of mountain goats, pot pies, or mountains, and it's still an interesting art form. The thing that makes film important is that it's a dying art form, and it's easy to manipulate, meaning the finished piece can be in any form.

What makes a good photograph?

I don't think there's one thing that makes a photograph good, I think it's in the eye of the beholder, any photo can be viewed as art, there are no rules, and that's what makes it so good!

Do you have any favourite pieces of photography that you adore at the moment?

Right now I love basically anything that Phoebe Jane Barrett has been putting out, she is an amazing instant photographer and all her shots capture these solemn emotions that are perfect for instant film. I'm also really digging all the portraits that Ryan Coyle (@ryanfromdreamland) has been taking. His photos are out of this world, the colors are amazing, especially one he took of a girl and her roller skates, that's probably my favorite photo right now.

What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Facebook page?

Probably a lot of traveling photos! I'm currently taking a gap year before college and my plan is to take as many photos as possible as I travel around, both in the United States, and internationally. I have some secret work lined up with a couple of clothing lines, which I'm really excited for! But my typical shots of my girlfriends in my clothes will continue to be posted, it seems like those are the ones people like the best.

Do you have any career plans?

I think so! I'm going to be attending School of the Art Institute of Chicago next year, and I hope to study film photography there, and maybe go on to become a photojournalist! I also have always had a passion for English and writing, so who knows what I'll end up doing. As long as I've got my camera and some books, I'll be content.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to set up their own Facebook page?

I would say just go for it! I'm more active on Instagram as a photographer. I would say not to take it too seriously, and if you're wanting to have a page solely for your work, make a separate personal account. It's fun to post silly photos every once in a while. And don't worry about how many followers/friends/likes you have. As long as you like the content that you're putting out, you shouldn't worry about how popular your page is.

Do you have any advice for photographers?

Keep film alive! If you shoot only digital, maybe try film out every once in a while. And for film photographers, try developing it yourself or incorporating mixed media into your art. I've been really into watercolors on film prints but the options are limitless!

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into film photography?

Go out and buy a film camera and a roll of cheap film and just take photos. Film cameras can be found anywhere, from online to cheap thrift stores, and more times than not, they still work. If you're starting out with no knowledge at all, just experiment! That's the best way to learn.

What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?

This sounds cheesy but to not give up. When I first started instant photography, and even now, I would get so frustrated that my photos were too light, too dark, or not focused. Alex always told me not to give up and that it just takes time and practice to get better. And I think that applies to all kinds of photography.

If you would like to follow updates, please take a look at her wonderful Instagram ‘”. Ellie is constantly posting updates of her fashion photography and using film cameras. 

Rhiannon BrittenComment