It is 2am and I have just finished chatting with Ellie Munro of Glasgow. Ellie's work is both visually striking and often thought provoking. One can view her work with new eyes each time. The reason for this is simple, she tells a story. The meaning of each photo for each individual viewing to uncover. I have looked at her photo of a girl in the fog many times, and wondered if she ever found where she was going.
The discussion with Ellie lasted a couple of hours and what follows is an illuminating look into the work of a young Photographer, it seems on the way up. Often upfront and honest, Ellie boils her work down into one single important mantra "What can I make with this?".
Good evening Ellie, thank's very much for taking some time out of your busy schedule. What have you been up to?
Well this week I'm shooting an editorial based on the five suicides of the Lisbon sisters in Jeffrey Eugenides's "The Virgin Suicides". A magazine approached me about shooting something for their upcoming issue and since it'll be summer in Australia, when it's released there, they wanted something bright and cheerful, which isn't my usual style.
I decided I could base my mood-board and colour palette on Sofia Coppola's film adaptation to fill their brief, and still maintain my element of melancholy. There will be several nods to the book and each model will represent one of the suicides. I'm shooting three days before it goes to print, so there's a lot of pressure.
Shortly after that I'm shooting a few literary-themed garments designed by a woman from Chicago. The piece I'm most excited about is a long, black and red heavily draped dress based on The Masque of Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe. It's one of my favourite short stories, so I couldn't have been more thrilled by the concept. The gown captures the entire mood of the book, and in itself becomes a character. It's an incredible dress.
I'll be spending a lot of time this month shooting new faces and collaborating with some fresh talent, too. I started this a few days ago and it's already proved to be very rewarding.
The initial response from people wanting to get involved with my work was overwhelming and completely unexpected. Yet wonderful. I normally flit in and out of the creative network and generally prefer to keep to myself unless I'm working. I'm getting old. Sometimes I feel like the dog that goes off to die alone under the porch.
You mentioned the happy sunny style being different for you. Was it weird being out that comfort zone?
The shoot is later this week, and very much out of my comfort zone. I'm not an overtly cheerful person. I'm by no means miserable or dour-faced, but sunny and upbeat is very new to me. We'll see how it goes.
Some of your photos seem to tell a story, the girl in the fog waiting for a car for example. Is this something you think about before a shoot or would you say it's subjective?
All of my photos have a narrative in mind. How ever loose the idea is, I very rarely head out to shoot something without a file of references. I'm quite meticulous when it comes to planning, so photos, mood-boards, scribbles and annotations; it's all in there.
There are still those people who think that all you do is "show up and click a button", so they're always surprised to see how much thought and effort has gone into a shoot before you've even stepped on-set.
That being said, impromptu shoots happen too. The "girl in the fog" photo for example. We had brilliantly dense fog one night and I just ran outside with my tripod and trigger, set it up and snapped for a few minutes. Some cars slowed down, presumably confused to see such an urban hitchhiker, but none stopped. If you look closely you can see that I'm actually wearing gloves. It was so cold.
You meld, very well, aspects of traditional photography but also use digital editing to your advantage. is that your preference overall, or does it depend really on the day?
I do love a bit of Photoshop wizardry, but I prefer to at least start with what I've got, and add to it. Something out of nothing, or not much.
What would you say drives you in your work?
I remember being young, ever so vaguely, and emptying out my box of old toys, beads, bits of string and all manner of junk; essentially the 8 year old's equivalent of the man-drawer.
I'd stare at it and think, "What can I make with this?" - This was something my dad always encouraged. He was throwing out bits of old wood once. I asked him to keep it, and together we built a make-shift kennel. He nailed it together and I painted it yellow and red and drew in the brickwork. We didn't even have a dog. I've just always loved the idea of creating something out of nothing.
For me, shooting is a lot like that as well. Glasgow gets a lot of stick, but people don't look at it properly. I use a lot of local areas and highlight the good parts in my work. One of my most popular scenic photos was shot on a small patch of grass beside a canal, right next to a fly-over. You've just got to see the potential. More importantly; you've got to be willing to.
The area I grew up in wasn't great. It was pretty rough and I've seen how some of my neighbours and classmates turned out. I could be nothing, or not much. But I'd rather be something.
Someone once told me Glasgow looks beautiful if you look up. kind of sticks with you.
The architecture is uniquely stunning. Every time I'm with a client from out of town, that's the first thing they comment on. Tourists and visitors appreciate Glasgow more than most Glaswegians do. It's a pity, but at the same time I quite like feeling like I have it all to myself. It's selfish, really. But it's like the city and I have a secret.
Would you say your dad would be a big, instigator, if you like, of the early work?
My dad is definitely my primary source of inspiration; for most things in life. He shot film when he was seventeen too, and this led to me doing what I do now. When he was my age, he made and sold a calendar full of self-processed black and white photographs of Glasgow; what I'd give to see that thing now.
Having long since left photography behind, his interest piqued again in later years alongside mine, and I've been teaching him to use digital for a while now. I bought him a Canon DSLR for Christmas as a surprise. You should have seen his face. I owe him so much. I owe him everything, really.
Thank you very much, Ellie Any final thoughts you want to share?
A few years ago I suffered from some pretty serious and crippling social anxiety. I could barely speak to anyone, and took deliberate measures to avoid any and all interactions. Even with friends. This worsened over time, and it would always frustrate me when I saw someone interesting in the street, that I wanted to photograph. I didn't have the courage or charisma to approach them and I missed out on countless opportunities.
Then in an attempt to overcome this, I had mini business cards printed that read, "Have I just taken a photo of you? If not, would you mind if I did?" - If/when I was feeling too nervous, I'd hand them to people in town and a conversation would start from there.
Some of them let me take a portrait, and some of them cared about my story. And that was all I needed.
I still carry the cards around today but more out of habit than necessity. A small familiar comfort; and a reminder of where I am, compared to where I was.
My work has allowed me to connect with people in a way I'd lost the ability to - if I ever really could. I suppose what I'm trying to say is, this was never just about taking pictures for me.
To see more of Ellie's stunning photography visit: www.elliemunro.co.uk
Interview by Brendan Doig