Story 133: Ellen Stewart

What is your backstory?

I grew up in a small town outside of London. My Nana was a fashion designer and is an incredible painter. I grew up spending hours with her teaching me how to paint, draw and appreciate nature and people as this form of inspiration. I started to first use a camera when studying an art foundation. I always wanted to be a painter yet when I started to learn how a camera can be used in this entirely different approach of taking parts from the world, I became consumed by the subject. I then went onto study photography at art school and progress my practice from there.

What camera gear/editing setup do you use?

I use a mix of Hasselblad, Mamiya RZ and the Toyo 5x4 to shoot. I then contact print the film to work from and print in the darkroom. I don’t tend to edit my work too much as I focus on getting the colours and tones right in the darkroom.

How do you achieve the look of your photographs and could you take us through the process?

I tend to use Kodak T-Max 400 for B/W to get a nice sharpness to the images and Portra 400 for colour as these create my favourite tones especially in natural light. Spending time in the darkroom I feel I tend to make my prints quite rich and contrasty. I print on a warm toned glossy paper which really lends itself to this also. My personal projects are always location based and using natural light, which is my favourite, the light naturally shapes the feel of the images in an innate way which I love to reflect in my photos.

People are always my main subject in a series. I love looking at how different parts of the body react in certain ideas or situations I’m thinking about. Through instinct I’ve found I’m really drawn in cropping into these parts in day-to-day situations to explore a long-term interest I have in the ‘everyday’. I’ve found for myself when shooting a bigger series of work, it’s been important to encompass a mixture of landscape, still life and people, to get a real feel for what you’re exploring. I love letting chance takeover my process too, it lets you understand more about what you’re trying to question in ways you didn’t predict.

Could you tell us the backstory of some of your photographs?

In My Fence Wall was my first long term series and still always feeds into my practice now. The series was triggered by moving away from my childhood home yet always gravitating back to it as a place I feel most inspired. I wanted to use the notion of ‘home’ as a constraint to explore our own associations to our private space. I started to mediate on the concept of playing with imagery that I do understand and pushing it to an extent where it is unfamiliar to me. My work is always underlined with this questioning of private and public space. The idea of home, how our bodies and behaviours can change in reaction to how we perceive the different spaces. More recently I’ve been experimenting shooting up women’s skirts, getting in these close and seemingly intrusive angles with the aim to have a feeling of ownership.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

To not give up and just keep making work that is completely your own. Living in a world with many talented artists it’s so easy to get bog down in comparison and self-doubt. I think it’s so important to just acknowledge everyone is on their own path.


Ellen Stewart


Story 134: Emiliano Zúñiga Hernández


Story 132: Matt Peers