As far as I’m concerned Ellie Davies is a photographic magician. A veritable wood nymph. She strikes a chord with me as I have spent much of my spare time in forests, running, walking and emptying the mind of chatter. The peace and tranquility I get from my favourite cathedral of trees trumps any luxury spa or deserted island.
The peace and tranquility that descend upon me as I enter this forest – an enormous cathedral of majestic beech trees - is better than any luxury spa or deserted island for me. It feeds the soul and Ellie understands exactly what that means for her chosen subject matter is the forest. Forests in all their glory, dark and dense, light and welcoming, illuminated under a canopy of stars or warmed by shafts of sun piercing through the trees. There’s no doubting the ethereal quality of Ellie’s forest shots. Where the magic comes in is with her knack of turning reality into hyper-reality and she works in her studio, the forest, creating visual props so realistic that the viewer could be forgiven for thinking they are digitally enhanced. For example, low floating clouds dance wistfully through a clearing, creating a chain of white fluffy plumes. Ellie will spend hours and hours hand-making or painting her effects, painstakingly attaching them to the trees, before capturing the perfect shot. This hyper reality is the ‘real thing’ and Ellie’s love for the forest has compelled her to delve deep into the canvas of nature and reveal the mysteries hidden within. In creating effects with materials such as paint and wool, Ellie helps the viewer to think about man’s relationship with nature and to explore our cultural perceptions of forests in popular culture, be that folklore, literature or film. She also challenges our perceptions and illustrates perfectly the transition to digital
I am curious to find about more about her fascination with forests and I asked her what a day in the life of Ellie Davies is like and how a London College of Communication Graduate became obsessed with capturing the beauty of the forest in her work.
I grew up in the New Forest in the South of England. I spent a huge amount of my childhood running, playing, making dens and foraging with my sister and family, so for me these ancient places are part of who I am. Having moved away from this part of the country to live in London, I have missed these places and I think that has driven me to want to rekindle this bond. There is also something very freeing about being in a forest where you’re alone without any distractions. In my forest work I usually insert different objects that will shift the perspective of that place. I am merely adding an element that highlights something new that we would not normally see or imagine with the naked eye, whether that is flour, wool or smoke. I like the idea of playing with the notion of what does and doesn’t belong in a forest, but at the same time it is vital to respect my surroundings.
Each series will start with walking, sketching and note-making. Walking allows me to familiarise myself with different areas of the forest and select places that suit each image I am hoping to create. I carry a light-weight kit and I usually sit for a while to get used to the space before starting work, listening to the birds and seeing how it feels to be there. You start to hear the leaves falling and the trees creaking.
My work explores the way different cultures perceive the forest too – for some the forest represents a haven of peace while for others it’s foreboding and steeped in mythical associations. My aim is to allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions from the image rather than to make them believe the forest is how I perceive it.
I usually create my work in overcast or wet weather. There are times when I may push myself to the limit of just how comfortable I feel but this is also part of the process of making the work. I make each piece within a day although there have been exceptions such as the Dwellings series because the shelters took a lot of time to build. I was very much pushed to my physical limit during those projects, particularly as I was pregnant during most of that series!
You don’t use much post-production do you?
I'lI make minimal darkroom-type changes such as adjusting colour balance, contrast, saturation and tidying up. However, in my series Stars, 2015 I adopted a new approach and used large star-scapes taken by the Hubble Telescope and interposed them in the forests I photographed.
Where would you love to photograph still?
There are so many forests! I would love to work in Japan, Russia, Oregon in the US, and Norway. However, my dream forest is the one I work in, the New Forest. I always find something new to explore and it’s a part of who I am so I will never tire of the subject.
Ellie gained an MA in Photography from London College of Communication in 2008 and has worked in the forests and woods of the UK for 8 years. Her works have been showcased in solo and group exhibitions across the UK and the world, from Crane Kalman Brighton Gallery and London Art Fairs to The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Ukraine, the US and Singapore. Her recent solo exhibitions include ‘Into the Woods’ at The Richard Young Gallery in London, Come with Me at The Print House Gallery in London, Smoke and Mirrors at 10GS London, and Ellie Davies New Landscape at Bruce Collections, Kiev in Ukraine.
Ellie was recently placed in the Top 50 in the Barcelona International Photography Festival, and won First Place in the 2014 Kontinent Awards in the Fine Art Projects Category, First Place in the 2014 Art Gemini Awards, and she received two Honourable Mentions in the Moscow International Photography Awards for 2014. Her work is held in private collections in the UK, the US, Central and Eastern Europe, South Korea, Hong Kong, Russia and The United Arab Emirates. If you wish to explore her works up close and personal there are plenty of gorgeous available cataloguing her works, namely ‘WUD: Four Fictional Walks in the Woods’, which has been added to the collections of the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museumin London, The Library Project Bookshop, Dublin, The Glasgow School of Art Library, and is stocked in Foyles London.
She has also produced a self published large format photo book entitled Into the Woods, which is available from the Bob Books website.
She is currently on show at:
Aesthetica Art Prize 2016 Exhibition from 13th April until the 29th of May at York St Mary's in York, UK
Ellie’s next solo exhibition takes place this summer at Crane Kalman Gallery in Knightsbridge, London from 22nd July to 20th August 2016.