EMULSIVE Interview #223: I am Ellen Rogers and this is why I shoot film (Mildly NSFW)

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Welcome to today’s fresh EMULSIVE interview. We have a bit of a treat this week in the form of polymath Ellen Rogers. Ellen is a photographer, colourist, lecturer, PhD student and fantasist — among other things. I’m so, so glad to be able to welcome her onto these pages!

A couple of the photos are slightly not safe for work, hence the tag above but you should be just fine


Over to your, Ellen.


Hi Ellen, what’s this picture, then?

ER: This image was the first attempt at a series (which I’ll touch on a little later), that really pushed my boundaries as a printer and as a photographer. And I do mean specifically the pairing of being a printer and a photographer. How the two disciplines for me work in tandem and are very much antagonistic to my process.


Ok, so who are you? The short version, please

ER: My name is Ellen Rogers, until relatively recently I was a young photographer and now I’m in that sweet spot where I know enough to know that I know nothing. I have a chance to relearn, but I also know enough to know what mistakes not to make again. My career so far has been focused on being an outsider/oddball in the fashion industry.


When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting today?

ER: Growing up my father had a darkroom and I genuinely found it magical and thought it smelt like salt and vinegar crisps. I suppose you could say I have a formal education in photography. I studied printmaking at degree level and photography at MA level. I’m now doing a PhD, I study melancholy in fashion photography, largely because that’s what I have been shooting for the past decade.

I suppose everyone has a way of articulating and some people just articulate through photographs. I can’t imagine not doing this, because it’s a language in and of itself.


Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?

ER: I think in retrospect I’ve always been a fantasist. That is to say, I make things up to get by. I’ve always felt quite uncomfortable with documenting real things because of all of the problems with representation. The ethical dimensions of representing someone else, (in their real-life) I find very difficult. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy documentary photography, for example, I love it, I just can’t do it. So, for as long as I can remember I have been making up situations and photographing them instead. 


In that situation, you and the person you’re photographing are engaged in a collaborative act. Much like a director and an actor. I promise I am getting to the point here…

Therefore, I can say with some honesty films and comics were my original influences and, in many ways, remain so. In my late teenage years, a number of my heroes were from the comics industry. They were always very approachable and down to earth and some of them taught me how to hand colour from black-and-white. Arthur Ranson was one of them.

My photographic influences are probably very specific, Deborah Tuberville, Sarah Moon, and Paulo Roversi. However, and I hope I’m not assuming too much of them, I think they too are creating fantasy also in conversation with cinema.

I have also recently been reflecting on the time I’d spent with the late and very brilliant printer David Chow. David specialised in platinum printing and he’s the only person who’s ever printed one of my negatives other than me. I asked him to do so for an article I was writing for Lomography at the time. He was extremely generous with his time and taught me so much about the delicacy of printing. I think until I had met him I had been quite heavy-handed with my printing, and what he imparted to me was invaluable. I’m very grateful for the time spent with him in his short life.


Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?

ER: I suppose I am a mixed medium photographer. I mostly shoot on black-and-white film and print everything in the darkroom, sometimes I hand colour those prints. I got my first digital camera last year, in the first lockdown. I bought a Fuji X-pro2 because it was cheap and it felt like one of my Leicas, I.e., it was manual and had all the buttons you can play with.

One of my best friends who has been my long-term model asked me to do a photoshoot for her website. She asked that it be shot on my digital camera. That was my first ever digital photoshoot and it happened between lockdowns last year. I did feel a little bit like I was speaking another language I wasn’t fluent in. I was nowhere near as agile as I would have liked to have been. I’m definitely more articulate in film.


What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?

Exactly six years ago I wanted to really push my darkroom abilities (at Eatser 2015). Bearing in mind that I’ve been using the darkroom now since I was a child. And I was prone to bouts of boredom when it came to printing. I set myself a challenge to make something, I don’t know, operatic?  Something epic… So, I made these, and hand coloured them.

I have by no means mastered this technique; I have not even scratched the surface. But I got fatigue early on and I haven’t really returned to it.


But what I have been doing recently is trying to understand the relationship between my practice and those that came before me. To be more specific I’m really fascinated in why not many photographers print their own work (especially in the mainstream and particularly in the fashion industry).

This annoyed me a little bit when I first realised. It annoyed me for a few reasons, A: I was from a working-class family and had no other option than to do everything myself and B: because I did everything together for so long, both shooting and printing that I couldn’t quite understand how those two processes could be separated.

But I now realise how much effort it takes to be both.

I definitely got burned out by my mid-20s from doing all of that, I now find those photographers were sensible, if privileged. That said, I’d love to speak to the printer of Deborah Tuberville’s work, she seems to be largely unseen and a massive part of the magic, I hope she got paid well. 


Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?

ER: Yes, I suppose my work is in conversation with womanhood. I often think about the work I’ve been making for the past decade as having something to do with leaving darkness and walking into something more hopeful.

Of course, it’s always changed and morphed throughout the years. But I think I’ve always been interested in a kind of phantasmagorical realm that represents a place to work out problems that women face. And the why of that, it is because I find it useful to have this space to work in. And it’s my hope that other femmes find the space useful too.


You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What do you take with you and why?

ER: I suppose the most logical thing to do in a situation like this would be to take a 35mm camera. You could go for a half-frame camera to double up on images, but you half your quality too. So, I think I would compromise on a Nikon F2. It’s been a faithful friend to me throughout the years, the lenses would be the obvious Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 and one wider, Nikkor 35 mm f/2, maybe. They are clean and clear, depending on what ISO the film is there’s every chance you could stabilise it to use it in a darker situation.


You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, where do you go and why?

ER: Do I have unlimited use of cameras too? I know I would definitely take a Hasselblad if I could take just one camera. There’s something about the weight of them that I really love. One place I really long to go to and I can’t for a myriad of reasons is Iran. I’ve developed an obsession with photo books coming out of Iran. It really is beautiful, and I’d go to a place my partner is from in the mountains there.



You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?

ER: To be perfectly honest if it was my last roll film, I would and just expose it. I’d open it up there and then.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?

ER: I’m afraid a lot of the misconceptions are probably half-truths. The reason I bought a digital camera last year was because I was taking all of my daily snapshots on various little point-and-shoot cameras. And this obviously meant using lots of film and that cost lots of money and it’s far from being ecologically friendly.

So instead of trying to set someone straight on an issue like that perhaps I would point them in the direction of people who are using sustainable ways of photographing in an analogue way. People such as Melanie King and her brilliant project.


In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?

ER: I’m speaking here as someone who just went through Brexit, I know it will be harder and harder to get some of the darkroom consumables that we would usually get through in the UK. And I think Brexit just accelerated the process that I’d seen over the last 10 years anyway. Part of me is grateful that Ilford is a UK-based company. I always had a preference for Foma stuff but most of the items I loved have become discontinued over the last five years.

There will always be a market for specialised things like this. You can still make records; you can still record on tape. But it’s likely to become more and more expensive. I think there is a chance that those of us who use it will fight for a more ecological version of what we use, so it doesn’t affect the planet in such a hefty way. I’m talking mostly about people that use C41 chemicals because those really are toxic, and I think there needs to be ways around how we use them.

Largely my prediction would be, things will become more expensive, but people will also become more ingenious in solutions around this. We’ve all seen some quite promising results so far.


Finally, what advice would you give to someone just getting started, or thinking about jumping into film photography?

ER: I’m a photography lecturer so I spend a lot of my time mulling over just this with people jumping into film photography. One of the best things to do is take as much pressure off of yourself as possible. 

Start with point-and-shoot cameras, get used to the process of picking from negatives, get used to the idea of scanning negatives and how to do this effectively. If you start with point-and-shoot cameras you can learn all of those parts without the pressure.


You then have the choice of moving up to 35mm SLRs or medium format. But I think at every stage we still need to make sure there’s no pressure on you. Don’t run into a photoshoot that is very important to you with a film camera that you’re not used to.

I think what is really great is that I’ve seen my students really helping each other out. A lot of young photographers assist each other. And that they go out shooting with each other. I personally find this really inspiring. It certainly helps take off the pressure that I’m speaking about and also helps to build a community around shooting film.

~ Ellen


Ellen is one of those interviewees where I’ve been struggling with what to say for so long, that I’m almost at the point of handing over her socials and website before bidding you adieu. I’m trying really hard not to be “that guy”.

My problem stems from not having found a definitive way of talking about/describing her photography that feels meaningful. It might sound like a cop-out but I’m struggling not to use the word “powerhouse” here. You can feel it too, right?

I don’t think it’s just me. Ellens seems to have an ability to express many styles, ideas, concepts, and languages, mixed forms of execution and results within just a single photograph — and then repeats different combinations and strengths in a second, third, fourth piece.

I’ve found myself coming back to several of the photos you see here over the past few weeks in an attempt to better organise this word soup. I find myself utterly unable to do anything other than find more things to focus on with each viewing — it’s not always details, mind you, but “stuff”. See? I can’t even describe it. Come back to the images under “When did you start…”, “2 minutes…” and “unlimited supply…” in a few hours/days and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m going to stop working my brain in a blender and just accept that I have neither the vocabulary nor eloquence to describe how Ellen’s photography makes me think about what I’m seeing and just accept that it does, well, something. Check back in a couple of years to see if I’ve gotten anywhere with that.


Please, please do check out Ellen’s website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (she has another account dedicated to colour work on IG here). Honestly fantastic stuff and you should also 100% buy a print.

I’ll be back with another interviewee next week and if it all works out, it’ll be an old-ish face some of you might recall from a triptych-y ‘5 Frames’ a while back. Until then, keep shooting, folks.

~ EM

Your turn

The community needs you. If you’d like to take part in this series of film photographer interviews, please drop us a line or get in touch in the comments. We’re featuring to photographers young and old; famous and obscure, so get in touch and let’s talk.


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I'm EM, founder, overlord and editor-in-chief here at EMULSIVE.org, as well as all-round benevolent gestalt entity. Contrary to popular belief, I am not an AI.

4 thoughts on “EMULSIVE Interview #223: I am Ellen Rogers and this is why I shoot film (Mildly NSFW)”

  1. This is a wonderful article, one of the best interviews yet, thank you for making me aware of her fantastic work.

    Reply
  2. Dorothea Tanning art, drawing and painting would be well worth a visit. Also deeply involved with photographic revolutions with Max Ernst

    Reply

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