Interview by Mia Kingsley
Firstly I would like to say this is my 20th ‘Mia Meets…’ which is amazing!! I’m so happy Ive had the chance to interview and share the work of some of the most incredibly creative young women around. So for my 20th Ive gone all out and featured a super long interview with more questions than ever before! The amazing young lady to take part is no other than Eleanor Hardwick, a truly inspiring creative.
She grew up in Oxfordshire, England and began taking photos when she was 12!! So you can imagine now at the age of 20 she has an extraordinary amount of work under her belt. Collaborating with the likes of Dazed and confused, Meadham Kirchhoff, Rookie magazine, just to name a few 😉 she also recently held a photography exhibition ‘Twenty Thirteen’ featuring 42 female photographers (some of which I interviewed!) Is also in a band and is getting into directing. Basically she is an extraordinary one woman art producing machine, I could tell you more but that would spoil the read. Meet Eleanor Hardwick…
Hey Eleanor, can you give us a little low down about yourself? For the readers who aren’t familiar with your work…
I’m a twenty year old photographer and multidisciplinary artist based in Oxfordshire in England. I work full time as a freelance artist, as well as being a regular staff member at Rookie Magazine, which is a website for teenage girls edited by Tavi Gevinson.
You started taking photos at the ages of 12, what was it about photography that enticed you more so than other mediums? How did you find your teenage years? Was experimenting with art and photography a way of expressing yourself?
I have always made things … non-stop. If you were to rummage through the cupboards of my family home, you would find VHS tapes, scripts and posters for childhood movies that I would plan to make, magazines full of flowcharts and comics that I made with my best friend, flip books, poems, diaries, hand drawn love letters, homemade greetings cards, papier mache masks, and even old school exercise books smothered in the doodles of a young daydreamer. I can never get over the sweetness of my parents towards my love for art as I was growing up. They have kept hold of all their favourite things that I made throughout my childhood. For as long as I can remember, they would stick mine and my sister’s drawings on the kitchen cabinets, curating a mini rotating gallery that would evolve as their children got older and their artwork matured.
I suppose most parents wouldn’t allow a kid much younger than twelve to operate an expensive camera, so it wasn’t until we got our first family digital camera that I started to take photos. This firstly coincided with my parents taking me to a Diane Arbus exhibition at the V&A, which I feel triggered something in my mind and kickstarted my desire to start taking my own photos.
Secondly, as a child growing up in the “internet age,” it’s unsurprising how much time I spent on the computer from age ten. At this time, I spent a lot of my time building my own websites to display my artwork on, and eventually I stumbled upon Flickr and it was the community there that really encouraged me to continue taking photographs. The thing is, from as soon as I could walk and talk, I feel like I would have this necessary desire to make things all the time, in as many ways as possible. It was natural to try out using a camera – but I think the reason this began to stick as my “medium of choice” more than anything else was probably the community online that I found that celebrated it. Unlike all the other mediums I had tried, I began to develop my own taste in photography at a much faster pace than say, my taste in painters or directors etcetera. And I was surrounded by other young people on Flickr who were doing the same thing – an enormous community of teen photographers who grew up online together (as so beautifully described in this recent article [link:http://www.digitalamerica.org/flickr-friends-kenta-murakami/] by Kenta Murakami, another young photographer I know from my days on Flickr.com). A lot of these people now also work for Rookie Magazine, have agency representation, are parts of collectives that cross over one another, or we exhibit together, or when we travel we sleep on each others’ couches by night and take photos together by day. This community, which is also very much female dominated, is so tight and collaborative and caring. It’s a refreshing breather in comparison to the competitive, male dominated industry that preceded our generation… things are changing for the better in that way too.
Would you encourage young girls to express themselves through various mediums of art if they are having trouble in the teenage years, what benefits do you believe being creative can give you?
I think you just need to find what works for you. Like I said, for me, it’s almost like I had no other option but to channel everything I felt into making things. I was really an incredibly lonely child, and the only way I had to deal with it was to escape from thinking too much by creating these alternate worlds. And I am glad, because now I look back, and being an antisocial creative eventually really helped me find other people I connected with on a really special level… and now I am much more social.
But also an important thing to remember is that productivity is not always proof of creativity. I know a lot of people who channel their creativity into observing the world. It is their approach to every day tasks that is artistic and beautiful, and someone who has this mind but no “body of work” is just as valuable an artist as someone with portfolios and portfolios full of visual art. It’s just about finding what gives you peace of mind I think.
When you turned 14 your work got more and more recognition, Dazed and Confused for example took an interest in your work. How did you deal with that sort of reaction at such a young age? Quite a lot of young girls get snapped up by the art and fashion world, how do you think this effects them, from experience do you think its a good thing to get caught up in such a diverse industry at such a young age…
It’s funny, I look back on what I was like at that age and I was really quite naive. I was incredibly shy and I never related particularly well to anyone else in my year at school (which is probably why I found such sanctuary in the like minded artists I discovered online, and I have that to thank for initiating my passion for photography that could then develop into a career). Despite this, at that time, I really believed I could do anything. If I wanted to work with someone, I would do all I could to try and make it happen. Which in some ways is probably why I’ve done well – because my age meant that I lacked inhibition or caution.
In other ways, I feel like I have always had this incredibly impatient approach to life, and I would just run into everything headfirst, maybe even a bit too quickly. I worry that some people I met back then still think I’m the same person now… but people need to remember that I’m still growing up. That means – as much as I will always be me (I mean my work is consistent, it doesn’t schizophrenically change, it’s more a slowly maturing style) – but I am still experimenting, and I get more and more confident with each new thing that I do. I hope people don’t judge me too much on what I was like back then. I don’t know. I think the only downside to young artists getting noticed so young is that the industry’s pace moves on faster than you grow up. It’s so easy to be chewed up and spat out. Which is why it’s important to be constantly persistent. But I feel, at least for me, it’s impossible not to be. Sometimes I wonder if I’m trying to live my whole life out before I hit 21. If I’m working on a video and I’m waiting for it to render for only ten minutes, I can’t sit there and watch the screen. I HAVE to do something else productive in the meantime. If my bandmate is loading up samples for band practice, I can’t wait those two minutes, I have to start drawing or keeping my mind occupied. It doesn’t matter what the medium is, but it’s almost like I have to be creating something all the time as much as I need to breathe or eat – even if it’s creating an idea in my head.
Another thing to remember though is, the industry isn’t as harsh as it’s made out to be either – it really is changing. I think more and more clients, art buyers and art audiences are interested in seeing young women’s fashion and viewpoints through the eyes of a young woman herself. That voice is so different to previous generations of artists. I think there is probably no better time than now to be a young, emerging artist as the industry has become so much more democratic.
Your work has been heavily involved in documenting the life of your teenage self, a diary, an insight into the growth and development of a young woman’s being, why do you think this subject is popular? Looking at images of how it feels to be a girl, what we get up to…
It’s just what I know best. I don’t want to tell anyone else’s story because to me that just seems wrong. My whole life I have been growing up, trying to find my place in this world whilst simultaneously creating my own worlds too. I like the work to be a combination of that. The reality and the unreality, combined like a real teenage diary; real events merged with the emotions, dreams and experiences. I think a teenage photo diary doesn’t have to be done in a very literal sense of capturing candid moments.
You say your main goal in photography is to allow people to see things they see in everyday life but in the beauty that they saw it at first glance. Do you think its important for us realise and appreciate the beauty in the everyday happenings of our lives?
I think that’s what creativity is though – taking the mundane or confusing things in life, and making sense of it – or not. I love that feeling of something being familiar and nostalgic, but also being seen for the first time all over again – like coming home after a long holiday and seeing the beauty of the place all over again. There’s this beautiful line in a song by one of my favourite bands, Broadcast, where Trish Keenan sings, “I remember your excitement choosing pictures for your walls/And now you’ve seen them all so often you hardly see them anymore” – and I think the same goes for everything in life. I strive to create in my work an immunity to familiarity – that’s why I love traveling and exploring so much, because you see things so differently when you see them for the first time. That’s the magic of art. Everything has been seen and done a thousand times over by now, but it’s about how each individual interprets it and creates a new story with that thing that is special.
You recently had an exhibition ‘Twenty Thirteen’ featuring over 40 young and upcoming female artists, giving them a platform to share their work and express themselves must have been a really wonderful project to do a, great opportunity to give, how did you go about creating the event?
Like a lot of my ideas, it came to me when I was on the train. My twentieth birthday was looming closer and closer – and as someone who had spent their entire artistic career having people recognise them predominantly for being young, I was terrified where my exit of official teenhood would leave me. I had been taking photos since just before I had turned into a teenager … and then the idea of Twenty Thirteen hit me: a little mini retrospective zine of the work I had created from aged thirteen until twenty. I realised that in the history of photography, there have probably been so few people to have photographically documented their entire adolescent life from start to finish, so I wanted to celebrate that. I wanted to finalise that era of my life, and now I feel excited for the next chapter of work. I think my work shines through the concept of my age. Next I will start to create work that is about the new things I’m going to experience, whether that relates to my age, or gender or whatever happens next in life.
Anyway, so I teamed up with my lovely friend Matt Martin, who runs B-RAD Publishing / Doomed Gallery, and we started working on an idea for a duo of zines. The idea then evolved into a desire to put on an event to celebrate the community of other young artists I had grown up alongside, so we decided to curate an exhibition to celebrate the zines’ launch. Although the idea for the project was in the pipeline for a long time, we really pulled both the zines and exhibition together in just over a month or so. We decided to make the event for one night only, and then it was gone, like the fleetingness of youth. I wanted to make an event that took a generation of artists’ work displayed so much online, and put it into tangible format, and for once to slow the pace down. Each artist showed one work as a newsprint poster, and most of the works were sold for £5 so that the art could be accessible to a younger audience too. I didn’t want stuffy glass frames and limited, signed works and the formality of the usual exhibition. I wanted people to be able to get up close to this DIY aesthetic of youth. The thing that made me happiest with how all of it went was just how many young girls were there, and they could buy a work for their bedroom wall, and hopefully if they didn’t have the confidence to follow their artistic dream before visiting, maybe someone might have left feeling they had a little more courage. And that’s all that mattered to me I think.
When choosing artists what did you look for in their work?
It was even difficult whittling the exhibitors down to 42 photographers. There are so many talented young ladies out there at the moment. What we really searched for was firstly this sense of community between the artists. Everyone who showed is all loosely interlinked, having photographed each other or collaborated or whatever. Secondly, we just wanted to display work that really represented female sexuality and the freedom and rebellion of being young. And people who really had a unique voice in doing that. And the works spanned from the candid moments that these girls have in their lives, to interpreting the feelings of adolescence and femininity into something more subtle and fantastical. So it really felt almost like a teenage girl’s scrapbook – spanning from one extreme of a young woman’s experiences to another.
Recently I feel there has been a huge response from young women in the art world, I feel like they are getting a lot of recognition, How does it feel to be part of this movement/ girl gang?
It’s exciting. I don’t know, I don’t mean to get soppy, but I really feel like we all support one another… fighting the battle of representation of youth and feminism all together as one force.
You seem to do a bit of everything Eleanor, how do you find the time and energy to contribute to and create so much!?
I really feel like it’s all or nothing. I would much rather have extremes of emotions, and similarly I would much rather have two solid weeks of working every single waking moment on things so that I barely sleep, then contrasting with a couple of days of doing absolutely nothing. It’s about finding a balance between that zen recluse who secretly wants to live the simple artists dream in a hobbit house in the woods, and then the aspirational, hardworking, goal setting mad workaholic who can’t find enough hours in the day to do all the things she needs to do…
… In such a fast moving modern world, do you think we sometimes miss out on the things that pass us by? Taking photos is almost like a way of preserving moments we would probably lose, what does photography mean to you, why do you take photos?
I think the important thing is to just DO and EXPERIENCE without thinking too much, non-stop, in complete saturation … and then reflect upon it all in the silent aftermath of that. As an artist you definitely need to find time to think and reflect.
I say to a lot of people that there are different kinds of photographers, there’s some that are comparable to journalists, and others to fiction writers, and I would probably predominantly place myself in the latter group. My personal experiences for me are just that, personal experiences, and I don’t really try to taint them with taking those moments out of context and into a photo. I feel like I interfere too much if I try too much to do candid photography. Like what I was saying about watching films, I think you just have to let the confusion of life happen to you, then make sense of it afterwards. And the making sense of it afterwards is the bit where you start creating physical things. So I guess I’ll just say, I don’t know how I find the time to do it. I think I just instinctively HAVE to do it, or I get really really depressed. But you also have to find the balance to have time to think, because that keeps the creative process unclogged. But I think if you are BORN an artist (sorry, that’s so cheesy I know) then you can’t really switch off. Those moments of silence where you are thinking, you are just taking in the world, exploring, learning, experiencing, and that all counts as a kind of research and reference that you will channel into a piece of art later, whether it’s conscious or not.
One your inspirations for your work is film, directors like Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry & Stanley Kubrick, what qualities in a film attract you, how do you translate them into your photography work?
I think I watch so many more films than TV because to me TV is a way to shut off your brain for a bit, to chill out and pass some time… like, if I watch TV, I am watching something really silly, like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace or Mighty Boosh or Flight of the Conchords. For film, it’s really different… like, I was talking to a friend about this recently, and she was saying how if a film doesn’t make sense in the first 30 minutes, then she stops it. And it was funny because I had this realisation that a lot of people also watch films to kill 90 minutes or 2 hours or whatever and then forget about it… whereas this is the complete opposite of what I do. To me doing that is like WASTING time. Me and this friend were talking about Miranda July’s film The Future, and I was saying how first I watched the film, and I tried not to understand it too much, then when it was over I worked out what it meant to me in my head, and then I read some of July’s director’s statements and interviews, then rewatched it again… and again… and again. And with each watch it’s like I would discover another genius layer of her intent for the film, and learn something. I would rather spend 8 hours dissecting and becoming obsessed with the complex creative message of a film, than 2 hours understanding it straight away and moving on and forgetting about it. I think a lot of my favourite films are like that. I remember analysing the opening scene of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind for my film studies class at school, and just being in awe of every tiny detail that Gondry had purposefully placed in there… the premonitions and signs and signifiers to what was to later come. That’s what I love in film. That and really beautiful cinematography – I’m a also a big fan of Soviet experimental films from the 1960s (Sedmikrasky, Color of Pomegrantes, Valerie and her week of wonders). The cinematography is so key in them to get the underlying messages across. They’re so philosophical underneath all the beautiful costumes and set designs.
You have also been experimenting with directing yourself, being a writer and photographer it must be a great way to bring those mediums together, using video to combine the two…
I think the great thing about video is that, as the writer and director, you can create a story, a very intentional story, with a start, middle, end, and hidden meanings within that. With a photograph, the story is said in one image, and I feel like the story is down to the viewer and their own interpretation. A photo says so much yet so little at the same time, and I think so often it can be hard to express a strong idea subtley. Which is why I am finding moving image combined with sound a better way of expressing some of these ideas. Again- It’s just a different medium, more suited to expressing different ideas. There are times when I want to create imagery that is a subtle allusion to something, where the viewer can create their own idea of what is going on, and that is why I love still photography too.
But there are some of these fashion films you see where it’s just a model spinning around in this dress posing… I always feel a bit like, why didn’t you just take a photo? Your choice of having this girl move around is saying nothing more than one photo could… In fact, by making it drag on for a time period, you’re almost taking the magic that would be captured in one photo away. Maybe I am being a bit unfair here, but my point is, if you’re going to make a film, the medium of moving image lends itself to telling a story. I don’t see the point in a film where movement and storyline isn’t used or necessary. Otherwise they should just take a photo or make a gif.
Your all about creating work that allows you to not only see, but hear, feel and experience. Tell us about your band and how you want to create an experience for its followers that doesn’t just involve standing in a pub and looking at a group of musicians
It’s kind of hard to stress to people that when I tell them that I’ve started to make music, the immediate question is so often about whether they can hear my song online or whatever. I really don’t make music so that it can be a play button on the internet that someone can skip through half attentively, listening to it through their laptop speakers. Sorry I didn’t mean to sound so snobby then, but what I’m getting at is my frustration that music so often sits within this box of standards on how you do it. In this era, it feels so disposable, and like you are expected to create and release it in this set way. Whereas I want to approach it simply as another medium of art. Why should a gallery space be a controlled environment, created by the artist, presented in the way that they have chosen, with the correct light and mood and atmosphere … yet music so often stands alone?
For our upcoming gig, I am really passionate that the performance brings down those boundaries, where a small artist has a lack of control of their environment. I want the environment we play in to be sensitive to expressing our intentions, and to do this my aim is to combine the set design, costume, visuals, light, smell, and even the taste and touch, so that the audience experiences the full story within this multimedia, multisensory performance. I want the audience to feel like they have entered the world of the artist, and become part of that world, rather than looking on as a voyeur.
I spent so many years being passionate about listening to music, talking about music, watching music at live venues, and socialising with male friends who made it, but never being a part of it myself. So in the last year I have started pursuing making music more … but what I’m REALLY passionate about is this idea that the girls, or even just the whole audience no matter what their gender, are no longer watching in from the outside. Whether they are performing or not, the environment feels catered for THEM and not just for the band. And I think this leads to a better understanding of the music being played anyway, as the artists’ have control of how the environment is for the presentation of their music (and the audience becomes part of that environment).
This is why I think performers like Throbbing Gristle, Geneva Jacuzzi, or even Kate Bush (during her one Tour Of Life) are so spectacular. Because they give everything they can creatively, and that makes the show immensely memorable and special.
I don’t want to reveal too much about what is going to happen at our next performance – but it’s highly conceptual – possibly more conceptual than my any of my visual art has ever been – and will deal with gender issues, nature and the stars, and also my own very personal experiences – combining them all into a journey through all the senses, but with sound at the forefront of that.
What was the turning point for you, when did you decided this was what you wanted to do with your life, your only 20 and have such a clear path ahead you, most 20 year olds have no idea what they want their future to bring…
I don’t think I ever consciously made a choice about being an artist. As I child, I always jumped from saying “I want to write books when I’m older” then “I want to be a painter” then “I want to be in a band” and actually all those things really are being an artist. And being an artist isn’t a career, it’s just who you are. There is a fabulous quote I read in Grayson Perry’s autobiography, that basically says something about how when he was living in a squat with a bunch of other creatives, up until then he thought being an artist was something that you did, a nine to five job, not something that you WERE. But the people he lived with would “cook their art for breakfast” – even the most mundane of every day tasks was approached as if it were a canvas. They just couldn’t help but be creative. And I think that is so beautiful.
There is also a really lovely Stephen Fry quote I like on this too though. He says:
“Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”
So that is how I try to approach life – as a verb, not a noun. I love that I know what my passion is, but there is still so much of the unknown ahead of me too. Maybe I will do a degree in anthropology when I am thirty? Who knows. What’s exciting about a future where you know exactly what will happen? Nothing.
Do you think your work reflects you as a person?
I would think so! I pour all of myself into my work, it would only be natural that way. Of course, there are still hidden parts of me. No one can ever really know anyone completely. But I think that’s what’s exciting about the future – I’ll discover new mediums that I find express a different part of me. That’s how I felt when I started to pursue music last year. There is a whole different side of me revealed in that work. With photography, the process very much feels like the satisfaction of the finished product at the end. With music, a lot of the time I don’t so much care what the finished thing is like – I just enjoy the physical act of making sounds and playing instruments and approaching something really naively and intuitively. And that satisfies a whole other hunger inside of me.
Describe your style in 5 words…
Colourful, harmonious, feminine, surreal, real.
You take photos, write, make music, direct, style, paint and illustrate, is there anything you don’t do but would love to? Maybe dolphin train or become an astronaut? Just a few suggestions…
I don’t think I could ever be an astronaut! As fascinated as I am by all that stuff, I don’t think I would have the mental stability to stay trapped inside a rocket ship all alone for so long.
I would love to do something like ballet, gymnastics or figure skating. I don’t think I have the flexibility, physical stamina or body coordination to do them though.
Who has given you the most support, what could you not have done it with out?
My parents, who never questioned why I wanted to do these things, and always encouraged me to continue no matter what. And the community of young female photographers at the moment.
What has been your proudest moment?
I couldn’t really say. The thing is, when I initially make my work, I am in love with it. I will nearly always have a moment with myself where I am really proud and relieved with it. I mean, it’s a long, difficult process to translate the thing that was once into your head, finally into a reality. And then you have to let go. And then you hate it. And that’s what strives me to continue; the desire to do better and better with each time that I do it. As far as I come, there is still so much further to go.
What advice would you give to young girls wanting to pursue a career in photography?
Don’t aim to pursue a career. Just do what you love, fight to do it – even struggle for it if you have to because that makes the thing at the end all the more worth fighting for – and it will all fall into place. But if you want people to see your work and notice you – put your work everywhere, as the internet is a tool that you have to use in this day and age even you want to keep up with everyone else – but also keep some things private. Fully revealing absolutely everything you do isn’t necessary. There is some beauty in secrecy.
Whats next for you Elle, anything exciting for us to look forward too?
I am curating a multimedia/multisensory art and music event with my friend and collaborator Alexandra Moon-Age in London (which should be in early March), which my bandmate and I will also be performing at. I am working on a lot more video work at the moment too. Lots of photographic projects too, but I’ll keep them secret until they’re out … otherwise it ruins the magic!
Thank you so much Eleanor!! If you want to check out all of the multitalented Miss Hardwick’s work please check out the links below!
Until next week for more ‘Mia Meets…’ or more Mia Kingsley: