Elisa Miller

2021 Non-Professional People Photographer Of the Year

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background!

I live in London, UK, but I was born and raised in Paris, France. In my everyday life, I am an art director and graphic designer. I fell into this field after having been a model for seven years back in the days when I was still living in France. I had grown a passion for images, composition, colors and rhythm. I turned into the career of graphic design because I was already familiar with photoshop and managing websites, which I used to work on my self-promotion as a model over the years. At that time, photography was not in my mind yet.

Q: How did you realize that you enjoy photography and capturing pictures?

At a very young age actually! When I was a teenager, I dreamed of being a photographer. However, I had a hard childhood and my mother couldn’t afford photo gear for me. I used to take photos with a disposable film camera – you could only get 24 photos to take back to the shop and get prints in a 10×15 cm format. I had no control of the process apart from framing. Anyway I was having fun with it! My favourite was to photograph cemeteries in Paris. Then I started working so I had less time for photos. I was interested in other forms of art like painting and modelling.

When I arrived in London 5 years ago, I started exactly where I left it: rummaging around Victorian cemeteries. Now in a different city, with my first camera, I looked for interesting graves to photograph.

Q: Do you ever have trouble getting inspired? What do you do when moments like this arise?

So far, not really. I always have several ideas for projects at once. They are there in the back of my mind and I let them evolve on their own. I get back on some of those ideas later and develop them further. Sometimes, the overall mood changes and doesn’t have much to do with how it started. Other times, a few ideas merge together and become one bigger project. I let the inspiration carry me. This can sometimes be a long process. However, my mind is always busy with different ideas.

Q: Which aspect of photography would you say was the hardest thing that you had to learn or get used to?

Paradoxically it was to shoot people! I was very nervous to start because I was putting a lot of pressure on myself about the result. I am an introvert, which doesn’t help, and I was afraid to not be fully in control of my images any longer. But after a certain time, I got more confident and I started to take total lead in the art direction. With each shoot, I feel more and more comfortable directing my models.

For each series, I took a few weeks of preparation to find and purchase the right outfits and props, the location, and the right casting too. They all play an equally important part in the outcome of my work. Everything is indeed well prepared and thought of in advance. I work with storyboards and I know exactly the images I want to achieve before I start shooting, although I still leave some space for improvisation on set!

Q: You have been chosen Non-Professional People Photographer of the Year for your work “Contact,” a self-portrait taken during the lockdowns. How did this concept come to mind?

The lockdowns have had different impacts on different artists. As I couldn’t meet with people to photograph, I had to start working with self-portraits. I did what I could create right there in my living room. I started playing with still life scenes too. The absence of humans in these images reflected the isolation we were all experimenting with. I believe in the power of still life scenes to tell a human story beyond the objects themselves.

The only “Contact” with the outside world I had was the telephone, which I ironically hate. I never pick up my phone or call anyone. I say ironically because I do love the object itself and have a collection of vintage telephones, this is an element that comes back often in my photography.

I actually enjoyed working on self-portraits a lot. Building sets, taking the time to move things around and experimenting with composition alone without seeing what I am photographing was a great experience. I have done that again with another set present in my Silencio series, called “Eyes without a face”.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about how you shot the picture?

I built the set in my living room after shopping online for the elements I needed a couple of weeks before. (So thankful that the postal service was still operating during the lockdowns). I imagined the different shots I wanted to create for this story, and started working with still life scenes for the first time. Then one afternoon I closed down the shutters, set up my flashes and a tripod, and started shooting using a remote. It was definitely a lot of fun.

Q: Why did you decide on entering this particular photo into the IPA?

I am definitely a people photographer, that’s the style I shoot the most, what inspires me. When I saw that a self-portrait category existed, I thought instantly about this portrait because of how personal it is and how well it represents my work and universe. During the lockdowns, I didn’t struggle much with being socially isolated, but I did feel restless for not being able to shoot anymore. That despair and feeling of being lost is represented in this photo, the worry and almost loss of identity, which was my experience as an artist. I wanted to share this with the world. This photo is powerful for me, which I thought was a good enough reason to submit it.

Q: What does winning this competition mean to you?

A lot! This is such an honour! I entered the competition and then completely forgot about it. I was even more surprised when I discovered that I won a prize! I hope this award will help to open some doors for me to work more on my photography in the future, to give me more professional opportunities.

Q: If you could do anything or go anywhere, what would your dream photography project be?

I haven’t really thought of that yet, but that will probably be the USA. My main visual influence comes from cinema, films from the 40s to the 90s. Mostly American cinema, even though I am totally open to more genres. A very long time ago I worked at a video rental store, where I would watch movies all day long, absorbing their visual influences as much as I could. I also have a general interest in vintage aesthetics, not only cinema but also fashion and design etc, this has definitely given me a retro universe, which I explore in a personal way. Being that you still can find amazing 1950s locations in America, that would suit perfectly my line of work. America can be timeless and plays a big part in pop culture.

Q: What good advice would you give to a photographer who is just starting to experiment with photography?

That’s a tough question! What works for me may not be working for someone else. I need to have full control over what I am doing, so I need a lot of preparation ahead. I visualize the photos I want to have, and I carry on working on what I can do to make them better. But some photographers are better with spontaneity.

I can say that I don’t capture the moment, I create the moment.

However, something that could work for anyone would be being curious. I take inspiration from everything. Music plays a big part in it, design, fashion, and any kind of art. I often visit all types of exhibitions. Because inspiration not only comes from a visual element, it can be just a mood, a feeling. Just follow your ideas and shoot a lot! Experiment a lot, I am very much on learning with trial and error.

Q: What is next for you, are you working on anything right now?

I just have completed my “Silencio” series, where I have staged photographs with specific female characters inspired by the films that had an impact on me.

At the moment, I am starting to focus on the promotion of this series. I didn’t want to let these characters go. I wanted to continue seeing them living, evolving in the same aesthetic environment, but without the limitation of the scenario that was originally given to them. My idea was to showcase them when the camera is off, like if they existed for real. That’s one of the reasons why I have also started to work with video. Still, images weren’t enough, I wanted to see them alive, moving.

At the same time, I am working on some new ideas for my next series, still in a cinematic mood. I plan on developing ideas this winter and maybe start shooting in Spring. In the meantime, all my work is visible on my website for those who want to discover a bit more about my work.

Thank you so much for the interview!

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