Photographer and Director Oliver Elliott
We've seen a lot of diverse career evolutions at Creative Mapping, but photographer and director Oliver Elliot's might just be our favourite yet. The British photographer started out as a professional ballet dancer and international racing cyclist before exploring fine art, black and white printing and then stepping behind the camera and rising into the high ranks of the fashion and advertising worlds. Elliott has worked on campaigns for numerous fashion houses and advertising firms, including collaborations with MTV, Song Ericsson, Phillips, Ferrari, Conde Nast and The Sunday Times. Elliott's accomplishments within the creative world are equally high reaching, having exhibited at the Guggenheim and the V&A and the National Portrait Gallery.
With his rich background in the arts of motion from the composure of ballet to the speed of bicycle racing, it is only natural that Elliott's passion for photography is evolving into a career in film, as if coming full circle. A director and cinematographer, Elliott's latest endeavour as Director of Photography on the short film, Indigo, won a "Special Mention" at the Berlin Film Festival.
With a portfolio that ranges from stunning and intimate portraits to playful and graphic, off-beat visual narratives, Elliott's work proves the diversity of his talents and creative DNA, and leaves us to think that this is only the beginning of what is to come.
CM: Did you Study Photography?
I didn’t study in the academic sense but all my knowledge has been acquired through trial and error. I was fortunate to have worked for two brilliant fine art black and white printers where I learnt more about photography in the dark room than any where else.
CM: What made you make such a drastic move from ballet and racing to photography and film?
I can’t actually remember how I went from the ballet to cycling, but I did do the two together initially and ended up riding the bike more. Unfortunately when I was cycling there were so many drugs and corruption in the sport that I didn’t want to be part of it so one day I just packed my bags and got in my old knackered fiat uno and boarded the hovercraft at Calais.
I came back with all my dreams of being a ‘tour’ rider shattered, I was devastated.
When I returned home I couldn’t even get a job as a dustman! Apparently, I was over qualified. Eventually I got a job at Harrods in the linen department. One of my colleagues who worked in the pillow section, ( I was in duvets) used to work as a photographer himself. We chatted about photography and he mentioned an organisation called AFAP in Domingo Street EC1. On the outside of the building there was a notice board advertising ‘photographic assistant jobs’. This was the start.
CM: What Kind of camera do I use?
I have an arsenal of all sorts! I have all formats Pentax 67, Mamiya RZ, A very decrepit Toyo 5x4 and I treat them how an artist would treat their paintbrush. If it’s for my own work or commissioned I use the right tool for the job and that includes lenses. There is nothing mystical about a camera, they all take an image one way or another, however a 10 x 8 or 5 x 4 are truly creative tools if paired up with cracking lenses!
CM: How are photography and directing connected to you?
Like my knee bone is connected to my leg bone!
CM: Is your directing style different on a photoshoot vs when shooting a video/film?
I don’t see much difference between the two when I take a photo I am involved in the whole project, styling, make-up, locations etc. I never understood how a director can have a separate DOP and an entourage of others which in my opinion cannot produce a true vision.
CM: How did you come to exhibit at places like the Guggenheim and National portrait gallery?
They were group shows. Back then I was too flippant and dismissive, and I didn’t fully appreciate the gravity and opportunity of it all.
CM: Do you prefer digital or film?
I don’t value digital as it becomes obsolete so quickly. It seems to be an homogenised mush of looks and stolen ideas which have been preprogrammed into a camera, an app or a skin for photoshop. You push the button and you have instant gratification, I don’t get a sense of achievement from working like that. Don’t get me wrong, I did really embrace it and it should have opened up a new world of creativity, it didn’t, it’s too easy and requires no skill set. What changed my mind was looking at an exhibition of prints from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s of Australian social history. There were portraits, landscapes, city scapes and a plethora of different printing
￼methods, such as Salt prints, cyanotypes and carbon prints. There was a phenomenal array of choices and ways to express yourself through print and you can ’t replicate this tactile quality with a digital Giclee prints and not to mention the 24 x 24 glass plates! Though most of my work today is shot on digital and I am a hypocrite.
"Initially I struggled with a style because good artists don’t necessarily have one they get picked up for something that they’ve done so they replicate that because it sells." Oliver Elliott
CM: What is the common thread in your work? Your signature style?
Initially I struggled with a style because good artists don’t necessarily have one they get picked up for something that they’ve done so they replicate that because it sells. Unfortunately if you choose photography as your medium you become labelled. Working in the darkroom I realised that there is more than one way to express a story as a photographer, I love fine grain , I love course grain, large prints and small prints, polaroid to black and white, colour, sheet film, 35mm etc .I love all aspects of taking/making work. This penalised me because I could express myself in many ways and that in turn meant I didn’t have a particular style, which is expected by the establishment.
I started to notice that a lot of exhibitions were beginning to become very bland. I looked at the great artists as in painters who had amazing ideas and vision, so i then decided that my signature wouldn’t be about style but about narrative and that I’d choose a style or form that fits my ideas.
CM: What inspires you?
A bloody good idea!
CM: Your favourite project to date?
When I undertake one it becomes almost obsessive, I can never realise it to perfection and there fore I have to compromise, either because of financial restraints or just the fact that I have to move on, otherwise I’d be stuck on it for ever. It’s not about the work it’s about me and the work. Death to honour (Ronald) was my nemesis. When I finally finished it then gave me the confidence to push my own boundaries because before that I was fearful of attempting the ideas in my head.
CM: If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
I don’t want to collaborate with any other artist, but I would love to work with a designer, stylist, an architect even, other people who’ve excelled in their chosen field, this could lead to something very special. It’s my vision and my vision only. However if a designer/art director came to me with an amazing collection of clothes and said what could we do with this? What can you bring to the table? That’s how I would like to work. I don’t want to have my ideas diluted by someone else.
The perfect scenario was back in the 1950’s when Vogue collaborated with photographers, a truly unique era. I wouldn’t give my right arm but I’d definitely be up for that.
CM: What are you working on now? What’s next for you?
Who knows. I don’t know, tomorrow is another day and depends who’s on the other end of the phone! I would like to see my work big and I mean BIG!
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