RIP Outtakes: Ellius Grace
Back in November we released a zine called RIP, a more informal affair which was concepted and produced in under a month. My idea behind the zine was that it would be a way for us to air out projects we were still working through and would also allow us to experiment with the format of a printed publication. The project I contributed was a year old at the time, titled Coney.
In the Summer of 2015 I headed off to New York for the very first time. It was three weeks of meeting friends and photography work. I landed in the middle of July, where the heat and smells of New York City are at their highest and most offensive. I have vivid memories of sweat, subways and my very first street hot dogs. During a day off in my second week, I decided to take the recommendation of many of my friends and head out to Coney Island. I had been told many times that this place was like no other: an old-style theme park and boardwalk that attracts its own breed of strange and lovely characters. The hour long journey out on the Q Train ended with the immediate relief of the sea breeze. Cool air blew in over Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs and the public showers alike. I was taken aback by how simultaneously charming and tacky the place was. Men in board shorts walked around with snakes around their necks for tourists to take photos with and groups of laughing teenagers ran into the sea, carefree.
I decided that I should change my approach while photographing this place. Usually I like to talk to people, take portraits close-up, and get a feeling for a place that way, filling in details and environments as I go. Coney Island, however, felt like it didn’t want to be bothered. It was doing its own thing and I should just be a witness to the everyday chaos and calm. The energy in the place was so palpable so I thought the best way to capture it was to remove myself. I decided to shoot with my smallest film camera: a Contax T2 that comes with me everywhere. I wanted to be unobtrusive and capture moments that were not affected by me. I went back to Coney Island about 6 or 7 times during that trip, each time simply walking up and down the boardwalk in the hot sun, occasionally passing through the theme park.
I shot mainly from the hip or at chest level, guessing my composition and letting the camera expose and focus automatically. As a result I have many outtakes that are simply wrong: either pointed too far to one side of my subject or missing it completely in other times. As I was composing in my head, I ultimately had to surrender control of the final image and guide it as best I could.
Shooting on film added another level of difficulty to the photography process, but allowed me to let go of each image after it was gone. I was able to move on to the next photograph rather than pouring over a screen to see what I may or may not have just captured. Editing the scans later became like a lottery. There’s usually a certain amount of anticipation when you scan film photos but this was on another level. Shots I thought were a sure thing were completely off or just not what I thought they were, and others I never gave a second thought became some of my favourites. It was a really interesting way to work and I plan on returning to Coney Island every time I’m in New York to continue shooting images that try to capture the energy and atmosphere of the place.
I have many outtakes of people sitting down, taken as I passed by. Some more successful than others. At the end of the day though they didn't tell enough of the story that I wanted so I had to axe them all to maximise on the little space we were working with in the zine.
These images were real surprises to me. Hail Mary shots that I took and prayed they would work the way I wanted them to. Inevitably they're both very different to what I was imagining at the time but sometimes it's the things you never see that are the best. Again though due to the tight real estate in the zine they had to go too to save room for the more integral images.
There was a whole section of the project that I shot at night and in the evening. My thinking is that if I ever finish shooting this project and put together some sort of publication, I might create a narrative that moves from daytime to nighttime. Again though, there was not enough space in the zine to do that so I stuck to day images.
And then there are the times that I plain missed my shot completely. For this image, I was walking on the jetty back towards the boardwalk and spotted a macho guy in front of me on the phone. He had a tattoo that said "Mom" in a love heart and I quickened my pace to catch him. It was such a lovely contradiction of character. A simple photographic joke that hopefully revealed this man's kind heart. I got the scans back and looked for my amazing image, and this is what I got. I guess if he had caught me taking a photo of him my situation would have been a bit worse. Who knows.
Below, I've included a number of other outtakes that I won't explain. Each one had its own reason to be left out but each also has its merits too. Learning to let go of certain shots to serve the whole story is a tough but important lesson that I've learnt in the last number of years.
Editing this project was an interesting experience. Usually I am so aware of what I have shot and how I might use it. Returning to such an erratic body of work, more than a year after shooting, made for an interesting process. I think it is valuable to be able to distance yourself from your work, especially from the emotion felt while shooting it. These emotions and memories aren't necessarily the same in the viewer so re-assessing your work with an objective eye is key. For RIP the decisions were easier because there wasn't any pressure to present a finished work, but a work in progress. I'm looking forward to seeing where this story takes me. It's like nothing else that I shoot and that is precisely why it is important to pursue further.
You can pick up a copy of RIP at our store. It's limited edition and over half of the copies have already sold out.