Elise on making photo-sculptures

Elise on making photo-sculptures

By Amar Patel 08/10/14

Photographer Elise builds and shoots 3D installations for big name clients such as John Lewis, Nokia and Vogue. She talks Amar Patel through her technique…

Which came first: the sculpture or the photography?  

I’ve always been interested in the intersection of sculpture, installation and photography. When I took a photograph in art school it would often end up being cut into a 2D drawing. I became fascinated by that final photograph – my record of a 2D or 3D artwork. This was quite an important moment, because it introduced a way of working that has engaged me creatively ever since.


Image © Elise


Is your definitive act making the sculpture or taking the photo? 

I make large-scale, 3D installations that I then photograph; each part of this process is equally important to me. So for example, if I'm making a sculptural object, I'll be thinking at the same time about how to light it; and when I create my installations, I build them from the position of the camera lens, so every aspect of the work is brought into this photographic space early on. Although my work begins as a three-dimensional installation, the act of photography takes it into the flattened two-dimensional space of the digital image. And that raises interesting conceptual questions.


Image © Elise


How do you usually approach a brief? 

I'm lucky to receive quite open briefs, which offer me freedom to develop my ideas. So the first stage of any project begins with a drawn proposal of what the finished image might look like. I tend to produce an initial sketch, and then I'll develop this into a more detailed, scaled drawing on my Mac. Building an image is like putting together a jigsaw and this drawing is my guide.

I normally have a strong, instinctive idea of what materials, colours and composition I’d like to use, but I'll spend some time researching and sourcing particular elements at that point, so that I'm fully prepared for the next stage, which is production. Here I use a lot of machines to cut and shape 3D elements precisely.

 Image © Elise


What are your favourite materials and where do you source them? 

I'm very much a “pop artist” in the subject matter, materials and colours I use. I connect with the everyday objects that surround us and the things we throw away – their vibrant surfaces and exaggerated shapes. Strange and useless coloured objects from pound shops seem to perfectly symbolise the fetishism of our consumer culture. Alongside found objects, I also work with versatile, highly adaptable materials such as paper, polystyrene, plastics and all sorts of paints. 

What equipment do you use and how to you like to shoot?

That varies hugely depending on the scale and materials. I deliberately try to use different construction set-ups to challenge myself. I think this keeps the work fresh and interesting. In terms of shooting, my Hasselblad is pretty essential. I use a tethered set-up so I can view the images on my Mac straight out of the camera. Lighting is also an integral part of the process. My photographs are as dramatic or subtle as the lighting that shapes them.

 Image © Elise


Do you do much post-production? 

I prefer to keep it to a minimum, so I handle this myself. Although I like to play with artificial materials and graphic shapes, I don't want to add artificiality to the images. I even try to retain the dust and scratches in the shots – these natural imperfections are vital in viewing the work as photographs of real, tangible spaces. I suspend a lot of my installations using transparent wire, and removing this wire is the only post-production editing I tend to do. 

Who or what are your biggest influences?

Eduardo Paolozzi: his work crosses so many disciplines, scales and contexts, always revealing new things. I'm also hugely inspired by the British sculptors who first came to prominence in the mid-60s such as Phillip King and Tim Scott. I really enjoy their playful use of ambiguous forms and materials. I also watch a lot of film, and certain cinematic experiences have been incredibly influential such as the explosion sequence in Antonioni's Zabriskie Point and Jacques Tati's extraordinary vision, Playtime.


Image © Elise



In Focus: Working for Sony Playstation [pictured below] 

For this particular image I wanted to create a complex world that could be perceived simultaneously as a machine and a vast futuristic cityscape, shot from above. I made an initial drawing of the installation, which helped me to determine the composition, as well the scale, materials and lighting. 

Production involves a lot of printing, cutting, constructing and sourcing individual elements. This Sony Playstation installation was made from hundreds of bits of retro machines, mirrors and spherical lights, among other things. 

I then set up for the shoot, working between camera and installation – or set – to make sure the image matched the drawing I had created beforehand. For this commission I took a number of images of the illuminated skyline from different perspectives, rather than one single shot. I wanted the space to appear constantly moving, like a city, and the scale and subject to be hard to read. Lighting was crucial here.

I like to cram as much visual information into my images as possible, so that they teeter between familiarity and abstraction. The end goal was for this image to look like it had been captured in a single frozen moment, with objects tumbling through the air.


Image © Elise


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All images © Elise

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