In Conversation with Elena Cremona
Your vastness terrifies me,
Your elements bring me
to my knees.
I roam your land in an endless plea
To once again
Drown myself in the unknown
And be free.
Interview by Hattie Turner
I was really drawn in by your nature photography which is why I started following you but I’ve loved seeing you and your practice evolve, especially in recent months. What are you photographing at the moment that gives you joy?
First of all, thank you very much for your words, I really appreciate them. I don’t think there’s a certain thing I can pinpoint... to be honest, anything and everything that portrays truth, I photograph. I’m definitely photographing myself more than ever, to learn more about myself, to become closer to my truths and in doing so, learning to internalise the love I had (externally) for nature and reciprocate for myself.
You mentioned in an Instagram post back in January that you felt disconnected from the environmental work you were previously doing, are you feeling more connected with your photography now and if so what has encouraged that?
I feel more connected now that I’m photographing myself. What I meant by that post was that I had previously identified with being a landscape and environmental photographer and that I had come to realise that although nature is inspiration, it’s not self expression anymore. Photographing nature wasn’t translating the growth or transformation I was feeling as a person and as an artist. So yes, I feel more connected now that I have made that distinction and am more aware of myself.
I’d love it if you could explain The Earth Issue a little bit and how that is progressing since your personal change in subject focus?
The Earth Issue is a collective of artists and creative professionals working at the intersection of fine art and environmentalism.
In common, we share a dedication to raising awareness for the beauty of nature, using art and image culture as a driving force for environmental activism. The collaborators of The Earth Issue aim to highlight a growing interest amongst young artists to awaken society’s complacent consciousness towards our planet; to inspire and harness the power of social change.
To be honest, I like to keep The Earth Issue and my personal work separate - one doesn’t really affect the other. Yes, being more aware of myself translates into every aspect of my life, but with The Earth Issue I am part of a team and we stay true to our mission statement.
I saw that you recently travelled solo around New Zealand, what took you there and what did you discover about your practice whilst on your travels?
What took me there was a need to prove to myself that I could be alone and be ok with it (was a calling of solitude and silence in order for my thoughts and feelings to be heard with no distractions.) The thought of doing something solo had previously always scared me, and I had gone through a bit of a ‘being dependent on someone else’ phase in the last 2 years which I was trying to rid myself of. I had to get as far away as physically possible from an idea I had attached to myself, and projected on to myself, and see what it would be like to have only myself to ask questions to.
Before I went out, the only thing I had planned was getting a car and sleeping in it. No other plan, and honestly, it really scared me. Part being alone, part just not knowing what was gonna happen. But as soon as I got there, I realised that it’s silly to project these fears on to the future and the unknown because you just adapt and figure it out along the way, and being alone is really not that scary. I actually enjoyed it a lot.
Regarding my artistic practice, I learnt that you have to work just a little harder to get the images you want by yourself, especially in the realm of Self-Portraiture. In the early days of my travels I got very frustrated with my work and my process because I just couldn’t get it right... until I figured out that I could get a mirror and carry it everywhere with me (I definitely battled with the idea that ‘everyone must think I’m a huge narcissist carrying a mirror with me everywhere’ - which is just me fighting my need for approval or external validation.)
When you’re experiencing feelings of frustration within your work how do you keep pushing forward?
Well, my thought process is usually; ‘is this frustration going to keep you from doing what you’re meant to do?’, to which the answer is always no, so I have to keep pushing forward and figuring it out. Otherwise I get stuck in a loop or move backwards, and there’s no progression there. There would be days in NZ where I only took one portrait, which frustrated me, especially if the previous day I felt more inspired and aware and took 4-5. But at the end of the day, even if it’s one good image I take, then I’m doing something progressive, and I’ll take that over nothing. But it’s also important to remember that on days where nothing happens at all, it’s ok too.
What are you hoping is communicated to those who view your photography?
My work is just a reflection of who I am and what I’m going through at that moment. It’s usually rooted in being able to portray vulnerability and honesty. I guess that’s what I’d like people to take away from it, anyone to relate to the feelings I’m trying to show.
What’s your favourite location that you’ve worked in?
I loved shooting in Iceland due to its landscape, NZ due to the transformation I underwent in my work and my mental state, but my favourite location was probably California last year (the work I produced there is predominately still unpublished as I’m still trying to figure out the right words for it).
How do you view Instagram in relation to your photography – do you enjoy the process of posting your images there and do you think it has any effect on what you photograph?
Ahhh Instagram. A love-hate relationship. I love it for the opportunities, exposure and connections I’ve made on there - it’s definitely a great community for artists to come together and there’s a lot of inspiration to be found on there. I hate it for how restricting it is in terms of being able to show your true self (I mean having to blur out naked images…) I mean we’re in 2019 and Instagram and its community still finds the naked body offensive? It blows my mind honestly. I guess equality hasn’t caught up with Instagram yet because it’s perfectly fine to post an image of a male nipple but the same doesn’t apply to a female one. I’ve had my work taken down several times due to the fact that someone felt offended by what they saw, to which I just have to raise the question ‘are you offended by what you see in the mirror?’ It’s a conversation that should be had because an artist’s expression shouldn’t be restricted like that.
So yeah, in that way, it does have an effect on what I can and cannot post on there, but I wouldn’t say it changes the way I photograph. I just don’t post some images on there as I know they will get taken down.
Do people get in touch to purchase your work after seeing it on Instagram?
Ohhh I wish! It’s only ever happened 3 times over the course of 5 years? To be honest, I could be doing more in advertising my work for sale, but yeah, it’s RARE that people get in touch with me to buy prints.
I’m so inspired by your practice and I’ve definitely looked to you to encourage my own recent foray into the medium. Do you have any beginner film camera recommendations for the budding photographer out there?
Again, thank you so much! That means a lot to me. Hard to think of myself as inspiration to anyone, but definitely nice to hear.
The way I started getting into film was by buying disposable cameras, then moving to a point and shoot (there’s some nice Olympus point and shoots out there) - they’re easy to manage, and if you don’t understand how aperture and shutter speed, etc. works, it does it all for you.
I shoot on a yashica fx-d for my 35mm work, which has been passed down to me by my father, and it’s been with me for many, many years.
Where do you see your next project taking you?
Closer to myself.
Just to finish, I felt really moved when you spoke, in that same Instagram post in January, about “being able to hold up a camera to someone and for them to just allow yourself to be exactly who you are: no pretending, no justifying, no nothing - just being, it’s freeing and rare.” Who is that person for you, how have they enabled you to truly be yourself outside of your work and how has that effected your photography?
That person to me is Ram, an artist himself (I just recently published a video piece with him called ‘tête-à-tête’, in which you see us throwing a fire ball to each other... there’s way much more to it, but I recommend everyone see it for themselves.) He’s also the subject in the work I spoke about from California (which is still unpublished), and generally just someone I turn to for everything.
He’s enabled me to be myself by accepting me - and it’s not as easy as ‘I accept you’, because we go through our individual & shared battles which reflect our relationship. At the end of the day, he allows me to be who I am and express myself in a way that I find hard with anyone else.
I think my work has shifted completely since I met Ram, or maybe it’s just come more into focus. He’s allowed my photography and work to be as free as I am with him.