Interview with Eleanor Leonne Bennett

eleanorleonneBennettAn interview by Kelly Chastain in Vol. 11

Eleanor Leonne Bennett’s photography has graced two of Silk Road’s covers (#10 and #11). A 16 year old international award winning photographer, her achievements include first place prizes by National Geographic, The World Photography Organisation, Nature’s Best Photography, Papworth Trust, Mencap, The Woodland Trust and Postal Heritage. Her photography has been published in the Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC News Website and on the cover of books and magazines in the United states and Canada. Her art has exhibited in London, Paris, Indonesia, Scotland,Wales, Ireland, Canada, Spain, Germany, Japan, Australia and the U.S. She was also the only person from the UK to have her work displayed in the National Geographic and Airbus run See The Bigger Picture global exhibition tour with the United Nations International Year Of Biodiversity 2010.

SR: While looking through your online collection I was struck by how many of your images employ high contrast lighting techniques and how doing so helps you achieve otherworldly atmosphere in your images. I was immediately reminded of Pol Úbeda Hervàs, Eliott Erwitt, and Steve McCurry. Whose work and which styles have influenced you most?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett: I am a fan of Steve’s wonderful work. It would be a dream to be in the leagues of the artists you have mentioned. I relate to Erwitt’s work, but I have a far way to go to achieve that effect. I’ve really enjoyed browsing his work this past day. He does create an otherworldly sense but found in this dimension. I enjoy it a lot. Pol Úbeda Hervàs I have heard of recently and found his work striking. I have had connections with shadows in my own work before.

SR: How has your age factored in your success thus far? Has it been an obstacle, or something you have been able to use to your advantage?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett: It has been an obstacle at times and sometimes something I wish to hide. I think despite my many accolades it can put employers off. These days I often let my awards speak for themselves before saying I am young/emerging artist. It is working a lot better for me and it is nice to surprise people. For my services as a cover artist I’ve had nothing but glowing reviews. My age isn’t something I would try to use to my advantage. It is nice to be the youngest published, exhibited, or featured, but I think what matters above all is the power of my message.

SR: What specific artistic challenges do you set for yourself when starting a photography project?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett: I normally can’t put my finger on what it is exactly that I desire from an image but I know when I have it. It has to do with composition and something that shouldn’t be changed in post processing. I may change everything to do with color and contrast but at the heart of the image, and whether it works or not is all to do with composition.

SR: Among your photographs, which one is your favorite?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett: I have private unpublished images which are very heartfelt to me and mean an awful lot. My favourite published images are more intricate and possess more detail. I’m a big fan of creating my own dimension in which the photo is difficult to unravel. I like my ice series of images for that reason.

SR: Color vs. black and white?  Why one over the other, and is the photographic process different for you? Do you handle black and white post production or in camera?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett: I know how to switch my camera to black and white, to color, to every lighting tint imaginable. As a rule though I always shoot in color. Not to say the unedited image is colored as I do like to get a natural composition which is virtually black and white or sepia in itself. I also like to drain color out of things by decreased saturation. I enjoy having the best of both worlds.

SR: Can you walk us through the process that you use to set up a photograph? How much planning goes into your photos?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett: My earlier shoots could take a couple of hours to set up with makeup and clothes, etc. These days I take a more spontaneous approach. That is not to say I won’t revisit portraiture, I’m just in the process of writing down ideas and how to envision them. I have a lot of potential material tying into feminism and modern culture. My biggest obsessions are the society of respect and rights and how people behave when not observed and are free to hurt or help anyone at all. In the future, that is something I can see dedicating whole photography books to. I’m not a saint, but I think too much. It shows in my images. I can take 500 images in a single shoot. If they don’t get to where I want them to be,then they are all useless in my eyes. I do have OCD. It has its downsides, but it has brought me to where I am today. With me things have to be as perfect as possible. It can be a curse, but it becomes a blessing when I consider the good reception my art has received.

SR: How did you get into cover art? Was it something you always wanted to do, or was it something that came your way serendipitously?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett: Ever since I was first published there was a stress within me: “Am I good enough to be the first thing people see? Do I deserve the starring role in this magazine/book?” Becoming a cover artist answered that question. I love doing cover art. You have to step up to your game and realise you are selling this book. Nobody will pick it up unless you catch their eye on the other side of the store. I really love it. I see other book cover art and I don’t think there are many artists like me. If you look at many of my covers they are  used for independent publishing, mainly poetry books. then look at the normal fiction, romance and young adult books. My covers look quite strange among them. I keep true to my style, and it is getting me fans. I see the same photographers on those commercial book covers all the time. Very conventionally pretty, very polished.  That can exclude a lot of audiences that want to see themselves represented more widely. I don’t have the opportunity to work with models, and may not do so for a long while yet, but I will say this: I most enjoy letting objects, abstracts and silhouettes speak for the cover and the person’s story. Those covers capture my admiration more.

SR: Who/What inspires you?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett: I love dynamic art, museums, the latest crazes, vintage items from yesteryear. Pretty much anything can spark the inspiration bug within me. Museums are heaven to me for photography. As I never travel alone, the single most worthy place, in which the most photos can be taken, is a museum. I adore it. For me that is like being a kid in a sweet shoppe. The only problem is when I look back on my photos. This and that angle probably would have looked sweet. When I go to a location with so many memorable potential images to be taken, it is always a case of unfinished business.

SR: Some of your photography awards are from very well established and prestigious organizations such as National Geographic and The World Photography Organization. How does it feel to be recognized by these giants and has it changed the way you view your own work?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett: I feel so blessed. It has taught me one thing: Often, if the very best people regard you of note, it is a wonderful experience. There is always someone in the department who can talk to you, arrange everything, help with directions to whichever location the awards are at. When I see much smaller art magazines with no personal contact information, no staff contact address, no way for feedback to be left, I hate it. They could be excluding some amazing artists that needs a lift or to be discovered. National Geographic has an open submission policy. If you or I had a good idea or a poignant photo story we could just go ahead and submit. Isn’t it wonderful? It makes me happy. I worked with Life Force magazine recently who are fabulous people. They were reviewed by National Geographic to be a modern equivalent of Life Magazine.