There are few things in this life which seize us in quite the same way as beauty. Stumbling onto the sublime can provoke such a visceral reaction, we may feel as if we are being punched in the stomach. Tears well up in our eyes. Our heartbeat quickens. We gasp. With the wind knocked out of us, we sit in stunned silence, completely enchanted, absorbed by the presence before us. We are afraid to move, lest the spell be broken.
It is the ephemeral nature of beauty that makes its hold on us so powerful. As Wallace Stevens said, "Death is the mother of beauty. Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why we are unmoved by artificial flowers.” Yet reality is such that time marches forward, and the scene changes. The setting sun, which has turned the ocean into a bowl of liquid fire, dips quietly behind the horizon. The smile that has enchanted us gives way to the traces of sadness which lie just below the surface. The autumn leaves that set fire to the landscape wane and tumble toward the ground. Artists are compelled by a desire, a need really, to record this beauty before it passes. We seek out the most divine light. We frame the perfect composition. We wait for that decisive moment. We hold our breath and press the shutter, knowing that by the time the image has been registered, everything will have completely changed. We are driven by a need to manifest and memorialize the things that stir our souls. Though we can be touched in profound ways, by things that shock or horrify or sadden us, and in art, there is a place for all of that too, the notion of capturing beauty is something universal that calls to us again and again.
The portfolio of English photographer Rob Ellis reads like an ode to beauty. Thanks to his mastery of light and classic backdrops, there is a painterly quality to his images. This is something that is enhanced by his choice of shooting with Polaroid cameras and instant films. The models he works with are undeniably resplendent, but there is something here that goes beyond their pretty faces. The photos evoke a certain tenderness in the viewer. We are moved the raw vulnerability of the models, by their evident courage, by their approachability, by their realness. Rob portrays them with intelligence and respect and sensitivity. He offers us a glimpse into something authentic and intimate. In human beings as in art, a lack of artifice is the most exquisitely beautiful thing there is.
"We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting."
— Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
Rob tells us, "I took up photography rather late in life, initially as a way to record my daughter's life. She was born very prematurely (863grams ) and with a major congenital heart defect. I photographed her every day up until she was nearly 4 years old and she had finally had enough of her dad pointing a camera at her. I received the famous film star/ paparazzi hand-up-to-the-lens pose. She does now, as a 16-year-old, enjoy looking back at the images, especially as I have turned them into movies.
I did venture into macro photography, landscapes and street photography but settled into mostly model/people photography. I enjoy the interaction and consent, I don’t like the idea of 'stealing' an image, or exploitative photography, I much prefer to work with people who want to be photographed, to the level they want to be photographed at, whether that be fashion, portrait, nude or fetish. I often think I am more of a nature photographer who specializes in photographing consenting humans.
My photography is constantly evolving, or possibly regressing, as I started shooting 100% digital but have, as time has passed, become more and more analog based, so much so that my digital camera now is used more as a light meter and composition tool. I love the controlled randomness that can be achieved with polaroids/film, and the permanence of the media, as opposed to the inherent flexibility and transient nature of the 1’s and 0’s of a digital image. I am a sucker, though, for shallow depth of field shots and often work with the maximum aperture available with my film cameras. With polaroids, though, that as a tool, is mostly taken away.
I love the random artifacts, even those that are introduced, like Newton rings and dust flecks during the scanning process of polaroids. It is the nature of the process, especially if you wish the wider world to see your images.
I have to thank Elegia’s work for initially raising my awareness of Polaroid/analog photography, back when the Impossible Project was building their business. The analog world is full of sharing, warmth, and inspiration.
I joined a rather conservative camera club in my hometown of Cambridge in the UK. The members are of a certain age and mostly grew up with analog photography but are now fully “digitized” and seem obsessed with resolution, pixels, sharpness, and the latest kit. The best kit is between your ears……I like to startle them with double exposures on Polaroid, grainy film and the odd nude. Life is not about Photoshop and Lightroom; it is about vision and living in the moment."
You can see more of Rob Ellis' work on Instagram.
All photos are ©Rob Ellis, 2018, and may not be used without the author's permission. ©Pryme Editions, 2018.