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 Interview with Elena Ray

When I first took a look at your website, I was honestly and truly knocked out - by the simple "mystical keyshape "of the layout (before I even saw the images!) the way you have used the complementary wording - and those images of such great power. Not knowing anything about you - I feel intuitively that you are a very strong woman. I must even confess to a strong feeling of jealousy when I experienced your journey - the images being what I would have badly wanted to have done, if I could have been somebody else.

I want to jump right in and ask you - about the images of the figure in the desert, with the black bird, seductively - yet menacingly, stalking ? There is a hint that the bird is your "shadow". Can you explain your meaning of "shadow"? is it your "shadow side" or "dark side? " A part of yourself? Or is it to do with fear?

Can you say something about your self - where you are from, ( what desert?) where you are going, how you came to photography and how you view photography. How do you feel about the use of digital manipulation in making images?

The raven/shadow is definitely stalking the suited androgynous figure. Our shadows, both literally and figuratively, stalk us. Shadow, for me, entails those self truths which we deny, fear, and ignore. We become superficial, neurotic, etc, when we avoid the shadow issues of life. Shadow deepens life-ask any painter! The driving concept behind "Immigrant" is the recognition and integration of both the shadow element and the androgynous element(s) . Libertina, the main character in "Immigrant" is played by one actress. She is a man wearing the Zoot Suit, a woman in red, and a repressed shadow figure beneath a black veil. The black veil hides her and also flies, a metaphor for Raven. The images all relate to each other in this way.

Most of the poetry that goes with Immigrant is quite abstract...written for the evocative linguistic sounds and aural textures which I hope stimulate feelings and mental images in the reader/listener.

I've been a bit insecure (shadow anyone?) about proclaiming digital as my medium. It is perplexing to me, how photography, which is probably the freest most flexible visual medium known to man, has this purity aesthetic centered around "traditional" technology. Part of me wonders if it isn't reactionary to the long struggle photography has had being accepted by the mainstream arts community as a valid art. I consciously chose to go digital because I document the poetics of the psyche. Analog tools were just too cumbersome for what I do. I try to imagine some of my heros, what would they do with this new technology? Try to imagine a reborn Man Ray with a scanner! Probably in 30 years they'll implant chips into the brain to record the "image'.... then people with wonderful imaginations, but potentially no "skills" could become the great artists. The mind and heart are the most valuable tools of the artist, and always will be, no matter what the medium is.

My back ground. Well, I'm just one big nobody with a long history of insignificant success's and failures. I come straight out of the trenches of the photography business.I did the gamut of camera stores, labs, free lance assisting, and ultimately ended up, of all places,in Las Vegas shooting advertising campaigns. That was a hoot and the money was okay...but it wasn't my calling. So the last two years I've been a house wife artist and it's been great! Currently we're living in southern Arizona."Immigrant" though was produced in the Mojave desert, near Death Valley.

Thanks for that Elena.When you are talking about your photographic background - you put yourself down! I think your experience sounds interesting and will have given you much insight into what goes on in commercial situations. As for advertising campaigns in Las Vegas! - well - I envy you that. It is good to have another knowledge of how other people work with photography. You can really appreciate the situation you have now, better for that...perhaps.

Did I ever learn...but labs smell, camera store hours are long, assisting is legalized slavery, and ad agencies are mad houses!

Somehow I must have known - it was the Mojave Desert. That is a place I have a particular fascination for.

Death Valley is fascinating...and Shoshone, the little town where we lived, is in such a unique environment; harsh desert surrounded by lava rock mountains with an underground river bubbling up springs all about. I was lucky to live there.

You have explained the figure as being androgynous. (How important is that?)

It was tantamount to me, to describe the inner masculine, who in my case is not a kindly form. I discovered that I was terrified of men. In the line, where the Zoot character "says": should I spit out my teeth before our kiss, or you afraid that you'll be missed...and you see him sitting in the desert surrounding by her red clothes. He devoured her. So yes, I think I have a repressed masculine/yang part of my personality...he keeps escaping though. Help!

When I described the person in that series of images I wish I had used that word because the ambiguity of the figure gives such impact - apart from the raven. Again, more wonderful ambiguity - in the 4 Abstract Studies. That really is description! (I realise "ambiguity" and "description" dont usually go together)

I like that...ambiguity description.....

It was fun shooting those raven rorshachs! I like to do that with my shadow stuff, flip it around, see it shape shift. You can have dozens of manifestations from the same material; the same problem... or possibility.

The shapes of the black objects - backflip, cat, porpoise and black bird are magical in their reality/unreality. Find them joyful images. Can you comment on that?

In the multimedia sequence - you talk about being "embraced by fate" therefore "search for nothing". Is that how you feel?

It was how I felt...But then she is "fed to the breath". This is the surrender, the release, the death, the potential rebirth.

 I loved your comment about people having chip implants in to the brain! Something I've always thought is that our eye is the camera, the brain is the processor and the output is the word.

Yeah, when you think like that it allows you to surrender your efforts to the true process. I find that if I stop, and just givemyself time to actually see what my mental concept looks like, I suddenly know exactly what lens to choose.



photo interview art photographers The combination of words and music alongside your images is a total experience of the senses.

Collaborative effort is sooooo much fun! I am heading in this direction Carol, I think it is the future of the web.I also hope that pretty soon somebody is going to produce a home player that you frame to match your decor, hang on the wall, and it displays a continuum of images. Then visual artists will have the same play that musicians now enjoy. So when I'm in the mood for mythical and astrocosmological inspiration, I can play all day a CD by Carol Tipping while listening to music of the same genre.

We all have the female side and the male side of our personality. (Venus and Mars in astrology. )To integrate the two is the ideal, tho not always easy because for a woman, the tendency is to repress the male side. Vice versa for male. There are usually difficult aspects to the integration of these two sides of the personality. I'm thinking that this is one of the reasons why these images are so strong. Would you describe yourself as a well integrated person? You have a strong spiritual reality - Are you at peace with yourself/your philosophy?

I am so excited about life every day, and with the new project I'm working on. I moved from Los Angeles to the Mojave desert because I was soul sick. I developed "Immigrant" as a sort of healing story for myself. Now I live out in the sticks in the Sonoran desert and I garden! This morning I drank my coffee under a tree full of yellow birds! Also, I'm married. For me, marriage was a leap into the fire. It is the external integration of the yin yang powers.

Who is Libertina?

Libertina is the woman who enters the fire. With this act she is liberated from the oppressive shadow complex. I think many people experience this moment, a no turning back time. After "Immigrant" was finished I later created a photograph of a woman rising from ashes. This is the next phase, the Phoenix.

Astrologically speaking, I would venture that you have undergone a Pluto transit - Transformation. Represented by the phoenix, rising from the ashes.I'm looking at the pictures you enclosed of the eagle(?) bird with the woman - in the nest. She is the offspring of the mighty phoenix. That is you? Re-born.

Awesome interpretation! funny, the word transformative has been a favorite of mine lately. I think I just learned something about myself... That hawk image is from the new project I'm working on. It's a story about waking the sleeping kingdom within. Yes, reborn, awakening...

Can I ask you about the techniques that you use to create your pictures. The birds - do you photograph them in the wild, using a big lens?

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For Immigrant, yes, I photographed wild Ravens ( well, as wild as Ravens are around Furnace Creek and it's constant potato chip throwing tourists) with a telephoto. They were fairly simple to mask, since they were shot against sky and were put back into sky. I enjoy the masking process, it's slow, I listen to music, daydream, advance my carpel tunnel syndrome. For this new work though, we are actually handling the birds.

Do you have regular models for your work and are they as they seem - the Shaman is so realistically represented that it would be difficult to believe that you did not come across this particular ritual and secretly photograph the mystical event

Ha ha! Maybe I did! I always hope to work with my models on a continuing basis, but they usually are satisfied with their one experience. They are "real" people and they quickly discover that it's much work to play act. Sometimes I'm lucky though, and come across someone who really has a desire to create. Then I can start writing a larger work.

How much is "set up " in the pose and how much is digitally or otherwise manipulated? I know it looks like I am after your trade secrets here! I just think that people will really want to know these answers.

Nobody can have Mama's secret recipe! No really, I have no secrets. 80% of the work I do is in camera. Many images I make have the majority of the effect in camera and then it's polished in post. For instance, Libertina going into the fire was actually shot with that fire built out on the dry lake. However, the fire was not as grandiose as I hoped for, plus she couldn't actually take that final step in. So I worked with Alien Skin's fire filter. It's a very illustrative looking flame though, so there is much additional smudging, twirling, blurring, cloning etc. going on to get the flames to have a more literal expression. Her figure had to be completely masked during this process.It was a difficult mask to cut because I had her motion blurred in camera at 1/15th of a second...On the other hand, in another of the "Immigrant" images, I have a coyote howling in the shot...he's stuffed.

Oh yes - did you design your own website?

Oh no! That was the concept and work of Win Brookhouse. He has an interesting new site up, and is looking for artists of all types to work with.The site is based on that collaborative idea I mentioned before. Check it out:(plug!)

We have come to a form of completion - in that the images speak - and you have spoken of their origins. The idea of the "Immigrant" is interesting to me - the beginning of the transformation process. It will be really interesting to watch your space - to observe the growth of the egg - of the phoenix.

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Thanks Carol, it's been a real pleasure talking with you. And thanks to you - who've read this interview.



Ciro Antinzzio

Fred Leavitt

Scarlet James

Tantra Bensko



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