Q&A with London Photographer Elayne Barre
Posted on 16 April 2016
Photos capturing the isolation, quiet emotion, and hazy, tungsten palette of the Midwest always get me. As a Kansas native, there's a nostalgia and longing tied up in seeing images of 'home,' and I got all those nostalgias and feelings when I first saw Elayne Barre's landscape photos of the Midwest. I looked into her work more, saw her incredible interior work, seeing that's how she makes her living, and remained attracted to the lightness and sharpness of her images.
She's busy freelancing all around London, but she was sweet enough to sit down and answer a few questions for me. Our conversation is below...
So you graduated from art school in 2005. Were you already on your way to a career focused largely on interiors? Or did you find your way to that work after school? I’m sure you’ve been shooting for a very long time, so I’m curious how your subject interests have changed over the years…
Well, it was all a bit accidental getting into interiors. I actually specialized in fashion at college. But in my final year we were all allocated photographers in the industry to assist for a week, and I got placed with a guy called Ed Reeve who is an amazing interiors photographer. He was exactly what my ‘whet behind the ears’ self needed at the time and in that short week I really learned loads.
At the same time, [a friend I was] living with in my final year was already working as an interior designer and asked me to do some photography for her company. By the time I graduated, I had a small pool of interiors clients that had found me through my friends interior design work. So I sort of jumped straight into freelancing.
Looking back, I sometimes wish I'd assisted for a while after graduating just based on how much Ed had taught me, but largely speaking I wouldn't change a thing. That was his final advice to me actually - If you can do it, don’t assist, just do it.How do you balance paid/commission work with personal work? Why is it important for you to do both? The landscape photos are so different (while still maintaining your style) - what attracted you to that project?
Like most photographers probably, I don't balance very well. Or as well as I'd like at least...it's weird, people assume that because I'm freelance, I can flit off anytime to get some love projects done, but truth be told, it's easier if you are a staff photographer. You have allocated holiday time, and you sit in your studio and plan being off somewhere. And of course you can normally go away exactly when you need to. Being a freelancer there's a million things to do, and you are always ‘off’ so it moves to the back of your mind and you relish being home. I mean, it's not that bad, you learn to recognize your clients' schedules, but there's always something to distract you.
There are so many reasons to keep your toes dipped in personal work while you do your commercial side. Proper reasons like clients love seeing your personality, it can lead to you working commercially in what you love, but in all honesty, if you don’t you’ll burn out. You just have to keep in touch with why you wanted to be a photographer in the first place.
My love of landscapes started for me with a road trip I took with some friends after college. I had my camera with me and was taking the groups photos...in an effort to keep anyone at home more entertained with our endless holiday snaps we decided to hide one of us in each shot in a 'Where’s Waldo' game. The trip started in LA, San Fran, Vegas, big cities, but when we reached the openness of the Midwest, it got harder to keep our little theme going. But we’d find these places and I got absorbed in the atmosphere; looking at the empty, sometimes abandoned towns, I thought they were beautiful. Who lived here? What did they look like? How did they live their lives? So when you see my images, I am hoping that this is what you are asking yourself as well, which is why I never have people in my images. People are interesting photographic subjects, don’t get me wrong, I just want the viewer to get there on their own.
I am fascinated with big open space, and towns with really low populations. Living in London, and in a small country like England, we don’t get much of that over here. I’m not done with America by any means, but I’d like to take a big long Russia trip soon.
What was your process like with the landscape project? Did you set out hoping to find these sort of images? Or did you stumble upon them and then realize you had a cohesive collection after the fact?
Each time I go away now I have a minimal plan laid out. I can't come home without anything, so I'll research a little bit and have that in the back of my mind. But in practice, I hate what I shoot [when] I've researched [too much]. I don’t know if its because I have built something up in my head and when I see it, its not the same. Or actually because I know it can be researched so its already out there.
It's the surprises that get me excited. I see them and I start thinking of what this place looked like in its heyday. I think this is what links my images together.As I look at your photos, I’m struck by the “lightness.” They’re all very engaging, clean, polished. How did you find this style? What are your major considerations when composing an image - really nice, clean, balanced light seems to be important for your style.
It's hard to say where that comes from. When I find something I want to shoot its just the only way I see it looking in the end. I never shoot multiple angles and decide afterwards or anything.
Not to sound too cheesy, but the lightness and cleanliness of them reminds me of just how small we all are. I’ve had location researchers for films contact me asking where the images were taken, so if they see something cinematic in my images that makes me really happy.What do you shoot with? If you could only leave home with one camera and lens, what would they be?
I don't always shoot with what I'd like to. I travel solo to get my images now after that first trip, and I'm sometimes not in the safest areas to be flashing equipment around, or just don’t need the attention that attracts. People’s reactions to my presence varies from cross or confused and so on. It’s just too much attention and equipment adds to that.
But, if I had it my way, I'd be shooting old school large format film. I love film, and I really miss the darkroom. At the very least though, a very good tripod and a shutter cable, I’m lost without them.
When you’re not shooting, what are you doing? What’re your other interests, things that inspire you?
I love movies and travel, which is probably hardly a surprise, and I love movies that focus on rural landscape as its backdrop too, it’s the best character in the script.
My boyfriend and I have just bought a flat, so at the moment I am really getting into upholstery and general upcycling. We are those weird people who pick up your abandoned G Plan and Victorian metal clothes rail that you dump outside your house. We’ve made it really beautiful though, whoever you are!
But since moving and gaining a lot more wall space, I am thinking about my next trip. Not that I ever hang my own work, but bare walls just don’t sit right with me.
See more of her work on her website.