Eleanor Hardwick’s career started on the Internet at the age of fourteen, and since then she has grown up, evolved and changed; and so has her art. When she began uploading her pictures at twelve, the Internet was a place where one could be whoever they wanted to. Now, it has turned the complete opposite, and people are more than willing to put their name, face and privacy out there for the world to see.
She seems to navigate our current, face-paced and ever-changing times with ease, and years after her work first exploded online she now is a photographer, director, curator, music producer, DJ and performer, and she is more and more compromised with sharing messages through her work that matter and strive for a positive change.
You are an all-round creative person. You create in a lot of different mediums, has that always been like this?
Yeah, I definitely kind of did everything always. When you are a kid you don’t specialise in anything, you just do what you feel like.
You are mostly known for your photography, how did you get started on that?
I started around the age of twelve, and photography almost felt like a surprise. Before that I was always known for drawing or writing stories (and by known I mean my family and my classmates). But it just so happened that I got into drawing in the computer, then I got into building websites to put those drawings on, and that evolved into joining websites like DevianArt and Flickr.
I was at this age when you start using the Internet with less and less parental observation, and a friend and I also just started making videos with our webcams and all those things that kids did at that age, and photography was just an extension of being a kid and doing all this stuff. I guess I just got more and more into it and it became this thing that I predominantly did, and after being on Flickr for two years I decided to submit my work to Dazed and Confused magazine, and that’s how they found my work. After that it just became bigger and bigger, the press started to get involved, and then I realized it wasn’t just this thing that I did and only my friends saw anymore.
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So you got all this recognition already at fourteen! You were really young…
Yeah, but I think usually people completely underestimate what teenagers can and want to do.
Do you see a change on the industry in that regard since when you first started out? Maybe in part instigated by publications of the likes of Rookie Mag, to which whom you’ve been a contributor, and also the online presence of more and more young female creators every day?
Definitely. When I started, really young girls were the subjects of the work but never the creators. It’s only been in the last seven or eight years that big clients and magazines – and all of this respectful industry – put trust in young women. When I started taking pictures, pretty much all the photographers seemed to be predominantly male and there didn’t seem to be anyone young. It was when Rookie began that adults started realizing that teenagers are capable of a lot more than they think.
You must also have changed a great deal since then. You’ve gone from being a curious child to adolescence to adulthood, all while creating and having your work on the Internet. Growing up implies a lot of changes, and almost inevitably your work will reflect your evolution as a person as well. How would you say your work is different now than when you first started?
Definitely! Regarding my work, obviously when I started I was really young so I was less interested in sexualized imagery. But now I feel a lot more safe, free and interested in making work that maybe does have a sexualized side without feeling like it’s someone else enforcing it, and instead it’s a lot more something that you are saying. I don’t think that’s only changed in me growing up but also it has changed in photography and in the industry as a whole, as we were discussing earlier.
I’ve also changed a lot as a person, and I owe a lot to photography. Before, I spent a lot of time during school not knowing how to have a conversation. When talking was functional it was fine, but beyond that I was always observing my peers looking for the key of when a conversation actually becomes productive. Through doing this I eventually discovered a few things. Number one: like life, you realise you don’t need to justify it to enjoy it. Secondly, I instead learned to talk better through images. And number three, by falling into the world of image-making at a young age, I was thrown to new social situations constantly, which meant that I had to communicate with new people every day and I had to stop thinking about whether the conversation was necessary or not.
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How was it for you to be exposed and gain recognition when being so young?
To be discovered at a young age and to be able to do the things you love as soon as you leave school is a blessing in many ways because people have already known about it for a while. At the same time, though, I think that when you are a teenager you really experiment so much when working out who you want to be that it’s quite strange to have something you’ve done in a frozen moment put in public. Because then people expect that that’s what you still do, and I’ve been feeling more confident and sure of what I do during the past few years; but you know, the work I was making when I was fourteen and first getting interviewed is something I wouldn’t want to show anyone now, but it’s all over the Internet, which is kind of hilarious.
So your photography career kind of started out on Flickr. I know back in the day there was more of a feeling of a community in that website, can you tell me a little bit more about it?
It was this group of young people, some of them I had vaguely met on MySpace before, and we all got into photography around the same time. We all started at the same place, and now most of them are doing great things in their field. Back in the early days of Flickr we could always expect comments on each other’s work, and we were very supportive from one another, even though we were all from different parts of the world.
That’s one of the great things about the Internet. In it it’s easier to find and connect with people with similar interests, even if they are on the other side of the world!
Yeah, I mean really those people on Flickr were pretty much my best friends at the time. I really did not connect with anyone in my school, I grew up in a village were the number of people who went to my school was around four hundred, and I didn’t really have common interests with anyone.
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I guess that’s normal. You can’t choose the people you are with and if you are the one that’s a bit different or has a wish for something more, specially being from a smaller town.
Yeah, I think it was this desire and hope that there was a lot more open mindedness somewhere else, and that there was still a lot to take in and that things didn’t have to be the same every day
Another thing that has changed and evolved a lot in the past few years, and which to what you’ve been a permanent testimony, is the Internet. In which ways do you see it has changed?
Yes, the Internet has changed so much as well during this time. We really started using the Internet like it was this second life where you could almost act as someone completely different from real life. In school, I didn’t understand how to make a conversation, or I didn’t see the point of talking to people about stuff that wasn’t necessary. And so the person that I became online was incredibly different than the person I was in real life. Which is quite different to how things are now, because when the Internet started our parents were so much like: “don’t put your real name on there, don’t post any pictures of yourself,” etc., and now it’s literally gone to the other extreme.
Since the last few years, everyone is expected to have Facebook, and you have to have your real name in it, and everyone is constantly posting pictures of himself or herself. It’s quite interesting to me to see how I started making work to be someone else, and that doesn’t quite happen anymore. But I think that because this is the way I started, I have now so many facets and do all the things that I do because it’s really fun to not necessarily be just one person. The person that I am when I’m deejaying or running events with Siren is very different from the person that makes music or performs as Moonbow. And again, these two are very different from when I’m working as a photographer or as a director.
You were just mentioning Siren and Moonbow, which are two of your musical projects. Let’s talk a little bit about that now. Was music something you were also always into when you were little?
I was always obsessed with music. It was all I wanted to talk about with my friends, I constantly made mix tapes, but the way it was taught in school just wasn’t in line with how my brain wanted to do music. When I was a teenager, cheap music software wasn’t as accessible and people weren’t making music in their computers as much as they do now. In school, the instruments you learnt to play – even if they weren’t classical – were still drums or guitar; there was nothing on production, or electronics, or anything like that. And even back then, all the music that I always listened to was electronic stuff.
Some time later I became friends with this guy at college, and I started sampling and playing around with music with him. Also around that time I passed my driving test, which is relevant to the story because driving alone in my car was the only place where I really felt like nobody could hear me sing, so I was more relaxed. A friend of mine gave me a lot of Kate Bush CDs to which I would sing to, and that also influenced my way of singing. All this things came together and then a friend of mine asked me to perform in a party that she was organizing, but by then I had only been literally mocking around with music in my bedroom and I didn’t even have a finished song yet. But I developed a few songs with the help of a friend so that I could perform them and it sort of began from there. It just grew very organically to the point where I’m now, producing on my own, since I’ve learned a lot more. I’m just really glad that I did learn how to do it and it’s not one of those things that, when looking back, I might think, “I wish I did music… but I didn’t”.
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Tell me a little bit about how Siren collective came to be.
It was around autumn of 2015, and I had been performing a lot with a friend that was moving away at the time, and was realizing that I would start making music completely on my own. I was chatting to a friend about this and about how I was feeling as a female making music in a male dominated industry, and she told me that this girl called Charlotte made a post exactly about that on Facebook and that there was a group of women and non-binary people who were discussing this and thinking about how to change it.
I started chatting with them, and Siren collective basically formed with all these mutual feelings shared online with people who wanted to change things. Last year we started throwing parties, running a zine, and we got a radio show and all these things. And that has not only done so much for the women and the non-binary people that we want to support, but also I think it’s been positive for me as a producer. Now I even DJ (which I didn’t think would really happen either). Just being in such a strong community of people who believe in the same things has really helped me become more confident in everything I do.
How have the interests and topics that you approach in your work changed during the years? Would you say your work is more political now?
In some ways a lot of my early pieces, specially the kind of fashion imagery that I made when I was quite young, came from desiring and wanting to see more feminine but not sexualized work. So it’s not that the work itself was intended to be political, but I think that the desire for change was already there. Now I try to be more politically conscious, and I think that as you get older you naturally become more interested in politics, since you gain experiences and you are not shielded by your parents and school, who usually whitewash a lot of it. Once you become more aware of these situations, they have to influence what you do.
But I’m more interested in a work that is not necessarily outrightly political but with which you do everything in your capacity to change something, rather than one that covers a political problem without solving it. It’s important to be aware of who you are photographing, who you are booking to play, and who you are working with, and giving underrepresented people those opportunities. I’m not always in this position, but in many ways I often have the privilege to choose not to work with people who are unethical. Although it’s pretty hard to boycott unethical brands when your sole income depends on them when working in photography, with projects like Siren we can reject a brand that doesn’t have our same values even though it wants to sponsor us, because another opportunity will hopefully come around. If we didn’t, that would taint what we are doing. You have to be aware of whether the money you are being offered is really worth it, not just for your reputation and your ethical views but also because you have to think of the real impact and consequences it can have for other people.
Currently, people like Tavi Gevinson – working at Rookie – have made more people become involved and aware of feminism and other important issues. I feel like now there’s loads of girls I know who are younger than me who seem much more politically aware than I was at their age, and I’m not sure whether that’s because of this wave or just because maybe I was unfortunately not exposed to this kind of stuff that much.
Do you maybe feel you can be more political or express your message better in other new mediums that you’ve been exploring besides photography?
Yes, and that’s maybe part of the reason why I’m making more and more music, working with Siren, putting on events, directing, and all these other things. What I found with music and video is that I have that variable of time to tell a message, to tell a story that is longer than a photographic frame, so it gives me a little bit more scope to be political in many different multi-layered ways. It gives me a space to think about these themes and to create these dystopian political stories. Right now I’m writing my album, and I’m thinking about doing a fictional future of our planet in which we are stuck in this system. It also deals a lot with the conflict of nature versus technology, and how both are good but also how they struggle to coexist. I won’t go into it too much because it would spoil the surprise, but it’s a very complex narrative that is also going to be a graphic novel.
On the other hand, photography is almost a space to capture things in real life that I actually enjoy. More recently I’ve been less interested in doing fashion stories with models that I don’t know and dress them as someone who they are not. I really like meeting people who I find interesting and ask them if they want to do some pictures, and then doing a portrait of them and their personality. Another one of the reasons I like working with different mediums is because you can tell different kinds of stories. And to limit yourself to one thing almost limits your message. Human’s lives are long and we do all these different actions in many different ways, and I think that if you have lots of different ideas it would be a shame not to find the right medium to express them.
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