In every bio you will ever read about me, it will always start by saying, “My name is Eliesa and I’m a photographer.” This is a simple statement, yet a strong one. I don’t go on by saying, ” I am an editorial, commercial, wedding and yadda…yadda…yadda…photographer.” Of course, people eventually ask me what I specialize in and I will elaborate then, but to me, this whole thing I do simply comes down to being a photographer. I take pictures.
My favorite subject? People.
No matter what project or job I’m working on, it always revolves around people and ultimately, taking a portrait of them. Whether it’s for an ad campaign or a small feature on a restaurant, designer or even a fashion spread – I always approach it with the mindset of documenting the subject. Some of the ‘greats’ in the photography world have done the same. Take a look at Avedon, Leibovitz, Cartier-Bresson; all of their work begins with portraiture and can be translated for editorial and commercial purposes. Even modern-day-greats, such as Terry Richardson, Ellen Von Unwerth and Mario Testino have the same patterns.
I had a bit of an eye-opening-experience this past fall. While in New York showing my portfolio, I had 32 meetings scheduled with many of my ‘dream’ clients. I had narrowed down my work and brought with me two portfolios; one focused on fashion and the other on portraits. As I began showing the books, the response was, ” So, do you want to shoot fashion or portraits? What do you want to be? Do you want to be a fashion photographer in New York City, like every other person walking in this room? You know, your portraits are nice, but you’re confusing me, what do you want to be?” After about 3 meetings going this way, I went back to my condo, took apart both of my books and laid out all of my prints on the floor. For about 15 minutes, I had an identity crisis as to ‘Who I Was’ as a photographer, and I realized a couple of things.
I didn’t want to be just another ‘fashion photographer’, I wanted to be Eliesa and known for my work and my style and I wanted people to book me based on who I was as my own artist. I didn’t want to pretend to be this ‘glamorous new york fashion photographer’ who would be booked, because I could be general enough to get-the-job-done. So, I decided to totally scrap my fashion portfolio and only show my portrait work. (Side note; I had also brought along my ipad with a bunch of personal work, which were also environmental portraits, mostly shot with film and of my travels.)
The response to my work, once I just showed my portrait work, was a 180 degree turn around. Absolutely amazing. I was able to sell myself better, because I had stories to tell about these people. I also realized this is where most of my paid work was coming from, so they were legitimate jobs, and not just test shoots. I caught myself being incredibly passionate about these images and the body of work as a whole and in these moments, it was very clear in the direction I wanted to go and who I wanted to be as a photographer. I almost died when the art director of Vanity Fair compared my black and white images to “An early Avedon”….DIE. So, now, I’m making a bit of a shift in my work and approaching everything more intentionally from the environmental portraiture standpoint. Does this mean I’m going to stop shooting fashion or food? Absolutely not, but it’s my approach to the work and the body of work to come, as a whole that is going to be on more of a direct path.
I’ve been on the road for the past couple of weeks, taking a bit of an inspiration-vacation. It’s been really great to just take a step back from work and wander the streets of a new world with my camera. My mission was to simply document this time, place and people…wherever my journeys would take me and whatever that meant for my subjects. For me this trip was simple; to eat, drink and document. Here are a few environmental portraits I took while walking the streets of Amalfi, Italy.