Taking cues from their natural surroundings, this photography trio are examining the female form and how we interconnect with the earth, moon, and stars
It can be argued that we’re more disconnected from our surroundings than ever. Despite the undoubtable positive impact of the internet in terms of providing an equal platform for marginalised artists and communities, the constant scroll of social media can leave the most tech-savvy amongst us with heavy eyelids.
With artistic value increasingly measured by Instagram likes and follows, it’s hardly surprising that most of us feel burnt out. But unlike most of us, artists Eleanor Hardwick, Rachel Hardwick and Chrissie White decided to do something about it. Embarking on an eight state long road trip across America, the trip signifies the first IRL collaboration between the sister duo and White. The result is Celestial Bodies, a limited edition photo book designed by Jamie Allan Shaw, and a physical documentation of three artists exploration into rediscovering their natural surroundings. Below we caught up with the trio to discuss working harmoniously, “social media self torture” and our bodies relationship with the moon...
When did you first decide that a byproduct of your American road trip would be producing this photo book?
Chrissie White: I came up with the idea of creating a book along with one of my best friend's Elvia because we simply wanted a reason to travel. I had been driving all over the west coast a lot that year, and noticed that on my trips I never came back with a substantial amount of photographs that documented the journey in a meaningful way. As an artist this troubled me because I had these feelings in the back of my mind that I was wasting my time and efforts.
Originally the book was going to be a raw documentation of life on the road from the perspective of young women, but during the time right before we went on our trip Elvia and I were making a lot of conceptual images that explored the ideas of the human spirit awakening within nature. So, although we love documenting moments during travel, we wanted to dig a little bit deeper.
Eleanor Hardwick: After the trip, when we looked through the images, we found that the images dictated to us that the book should go in quite a different direction. It felt right to present them in a much more conceptual way, and I think bringing Jamie Shaw on board to design it then directed it that way for the better. So the idea was constantly evolving and reevaluating as we worked out how to be sensitive to the best way of showing the photographs.
“Hopefully we are opening up the idea of the female body being an essential part of nature, and not as something to be sexualised or objectified, but as an extraordinary, almost alien phenomenon.”– Rachel Hardwick
You’ve all taken a joint photo credit for all the images in this book. How did the collaborative element work? Who did what?
Rachel Hardwick: Personally I work much better in a collaborative setting, and the fact that I greatly respect and admire the work of the other girls really reinforced that. There was no ‘she does this, I do that’ kind of thing, it was more of a fluid combination of who happened to be holding the camera, who ended up getting in front of it, and who felt like art directing or assisting at the time. I think all of the images in the book somehow have each of our mark on it, regardless of who actually pressed the shutter. The book really is an amalgamation of all our creative energy.
Eleanor Hardwick: We left our egos behind on claiming any ownership for particular photographs as a whole. For example, one of us would see a landscape, strip off their clothes, and clamber into it feeling like it could make a strong image. Another of us might have pressed the shutter, another directing it, and then one of us retouching it. For example, when we were shooting the night time images, all of us literally painted the scene with torches – and to me that feels as if all our fingerprints are on them.
Why do you think Celestial Bodies is an appropriate term to describe the female body?
Eleanor Hardwick: There is a narrative as you go through the book – which isn’t immediately obvious – but it’s a visual interpretation of our relationship to the moon’s cycles. Celestial Bodies is a term used to describe bodies outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, such as planets, stars, moons and asteroids– and the term felt very in sync with our own bodies seeming celestial too.
A lot of the places we went felt almost as if they were not from this earth, and in many of the photographs, our bodies also seem quite alien. It’s funny, we all have these bodies under our clothes, and in the grand scheme of things, the human race’s bodies are all so similar. We all have a body, yet the first time you see someone naked, it can feel very revealing, personal, mystical. That’s what makes a body celestial.
Chrissie White: One of my favorite quotes by Neil Shubin explains our connection to the cosmos in a fantastic way: “each galaxy, star, or person is the temporary owner of particles that have passed through the births and deaths of entities across vast reaches of time and space. The particles that make us have traveled billions of years across the universe; long after we and our planet are gone, they will be a part of other worlds.” We are connected in a very intimate way with not only the earth, but the other planets and the stars as well.
Rachel Hardwick: The term ‘celestial’ has such dual meaning in that it describes something so pure, natural and essentially quite familiar, yet also something mysterious, faraway and other worldly. Similarly, I think the female nude also holds these connotations – while being something so inherently natural and part of our environment, it is often depicted as enigmatic or even confusing. We all have bodies, but how often do we stop to really think about our own, or the others around us, in more than a trivial sense? Hopefully we are opening up the idea of the female body being an essential part of nature, and not as something to be sexualised or objectified, but as an extraordinary, almost alien phenomenon.
“There is such a fearful atmosphere about our politics and environment, and we’re escaping back to natural instincts and ideas that are centuries old”– Eleanor Hardwick
As well as creating collaboratively on this project, you all also produce work using different outputs besides photography. How did other mediums inform Celestial Bodies?
Eleanor Hardwick: There are several pages of hand painted words written and painted by me, and it felt really good for me to find suitable a project to express that side of myself. The first thing I remember aspiring to do with my life when I was a child was that I wanted to be a writer/illustrator, and writing phrases, poetry and streams of consciousness has been something I have always done but never publicised.
Many of the images feel very timeless, but the words interpret those images in a way that is relevant for now – I did put in some subtle digs about climate change and the refugee crisis for example! I really wanted these fragments of text to feel like when you borrow a book from a library, and some unknown person’s love letter – used as a bookmark and forgotten about – just falls out. And when you read it, you have to draw your own conclusions from it, because they are so fragmental.
Chrissie White: I grew up backpacking, so spending time outdoors was a big part of my life when I was younger. But as I grew older and my obligations changed I stopped going outside. The year we created this book I had finally gotten back into hiking almost every week and doing a lot of overnight trips to new landscapes.
I’d been rather depressed over the years but noticed a profound change in my attitude once I started to spend more time in the wilderness away from social obligations. I felt alive and aware for the first time in years. I firmly believe now that it is important for human beings to leave the city once in awhile and take the time to go back to nature for personal and spiritual growth – after all without the trees we wouldn't even be alive. The book is reminder to me of these things. I now gain my most intense inspiration for writing and photography while i'm camping in the wilderness.
You say the book is a comment on the relationship between our bodies and nature. In a time in which we are arguably more disassociated from the earth than ever, what do you want the images to say?
Rachel Hardwick: I want the images to allow people to take a step back and realise how fucking incredible the universe is and genuinely start questioning existence. That sounds really overly deep but just remembering how small we are in the world and how extraordinary a phenomenon life is, even for a few seconds, is so important in this day and age when we get so consumed and bogged down with the little things. Space is amazing, science is amazing, the human body is amazing, the earth in all its natural beauty is amazing – and they're all linked.
Eleanor Hardwick: I was pretty depressed for a long period before we went on this trip because I was falling out of love with London as a city whilst simultaneously falling into an unhealthy bout of obsessively scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. Looking at pictures of other people I felt alienated by how busy and curated their lives seemed. It was like social media self torture. And it was funny, because I didn’t want to go to the parties that I was envying… what I really wanted was to be in nature, making some personal work that I could really love and be motivated by. The photos we took on this trip became the first photographs I was proud of making in so long, and it felt so good to spend a month without a computer. Don’t get me wrong, I owe so much to the internet, and I don’t hate it. But I think that in order to stay sane, many of us need to slow down the pace of always trying to be relevant and up to date.
And I think this is quite a universal feeling right now – there is such a fearful atmosphere about our politics and environment, and we’re escaping back to the natural instincts and ideas that are centuries old. So what do I want the images to say? Probably that things are going to be ok, and that perhaps we know that there are patterns in nature that we can nearly always rely on for comfort and beauty. You can’t be happy or busy or whatever all the time: things wax and wane, and we as humans are cyclical, like nature.
Celestial Bodies launches 27 January, 2016 at MOTH club, more info here