On Representation: Eleanor Hardwick, the Multidisciplinary Artist

On Representation: Eleanor Hardwick, the Multidisciplinary Artist

As part of the ‘Representation Issue’, XXY wants to give this generation of young creatives a voice to speak for themselves about their work. We begin with Eleanor Hardwick; a multidisciplinary artist currently based in London. Hardwick’s work focuses on telling political and philosophical stories of transitional and dual states, represented through the mediums of cameras and sound. We spoke to her about the issue of representation. 

What does the word ‘representation’ mean to you?

Representation to me is inherently linked to both control and truth. It means having control over your own voice so that a fair portrayal of reality can be expressed. The world certainly could do with un-skewing its bias towards prioritising only the most privileged of voices.

What informs your work the most?

Mostly a gut feeling to materialise conflicting thought processes into a visual form in order to make sense of them. A lot of these thoughts are about duality and how to deconstruct binaries into characters and places that are much more complex than simply good and evil or right and wrong. Whether that’s in regards to my gender, moral conflicts between nature and technology, or the realisation of growing up and growing old. I take reference from a myriad of sources – places I see, music I hear, art I encounter, people I meet.

When you create, do you have an end goal/vision in mind beyond the creation itself?

When that work is part of a wider series, yes. Otherwise it really is just a need to get an idea out before discarding it and making mental room for the next one. Although, I guess it is important to consider your potential influence in the wider context of where you are placing your work: is my voice necessary in this discussion? Is it my own voice? – and if not – do I need to consider that perhaps it may be better said by someone else – who, for example, is more marginalised and needs to represent this story themselves? My generation lead such overstimulated lives with so many demands and needs that I think it’s important to consider the weight of what you create in advance. I work hard on everything I make, and I juggle a lot of different projects and mediums – and although many of the platforms on which work is now presented are somewhat more disposable than they used to be – it’s important not to treat every idea as such. You need to remember the importance of self-editing your work before you even execute the idea, or else you may be wasting precious energy and time on work that is not always necessary.

How important is representation in photography?

Incredibly important! I think we have made more progress recently where photographers and subjects have more control over their voice. When I started taking photos, it felt like young women were constantly the subjects of photographic work but rarely behind the camera, and I think that has changed in the last decade. But we do have to be careful – because a lot of this seeming progress is presented in a very clickbait form. It’s definitely obvious that feminism and representation are considered cool and hot topics at the moment – but we need to make sure that it’s understood that it’s not a trend – it’s a real problem that needs to be steadily resolved and still has a long way to go. It’s important to do that by doing small things, like making the effort to work with teams that aren’t only made up of middle class, cis, het, white men – or as I said before, knowing when it’s not your place to be telling a certain story, and by supporting artists who are less fairly represented. I know a lot of people think of the industry as quite competitive, but I’ve found it so much more fulfilling when me and my friends and other photographers all support one another – we pass over opportunities to each other, share contacts, do each other favours. Photography is an expensive art form, and there’s more people who want to do it than there are jobs. I’ve found it much more progressive to create strong communities and networks where we support one another rather than compete.

What is most important to you generally within your photography?

It probably sounds cheesy and maybe a bit self-indulgent, but photography to me is a releasing of ideas that is its own form of therapy. So what’s most important to me is simply to capture and explore these things that fill my brain and materialise them if I can. I love collaborating with fascinating people I meet – especially artists and musicians – and working very closely with them to represent who they are through my lens. Recently, I tend to formulate my ideas inspired by my subject – rather than fabricating an idea and then casting someone to play the role within it. If I ever do the latter, then I tend to simply cast myself for those ideas, as it feels most appropriate to the autobiographical and insular nature of those ideas.

What do you think your industry could be doing to be more representative?

The fashion industry has a long way to go still in terms of casting more diversely and less tokenistically. There has been a lot of progress recently with more street casting – but it still repeatedly exoticises race, typecasts for specific stories and shows itself to be culturally appropriative. Otherwise, as said before – just working with and supporting marginalised voices. And also not always expecting those voices to make work about their own marginalisation either. The industry seems to love fetishising the idea of a woman making work about gender for example  – and putting that into a sickeningly clickbait title about how one can “meet the X person changing preconceptions about X” – and it’s growing old very quickly. A genuine interest in the complex ideas and talents of these underrepresented artists that goes beyond just their gender, race, social class or sexual orientation seems like it may be the next step forward.

Is there a particular issue you feel strongly about highlighting or better representing?

A socialist society that is representative and fulfilling of everyone’s needs no matter who they are – that would be really nice.

Do you have any tips for younger emerging creatives who find it hard to sync their activism with their careers?

Sometimes you don’t have to make work that screams politics. Just explore the ideas that you want to – and the actions that you take in your approach to your work can trickle down into making real political change itself. I think it is much more progressive to turn political desire into genuine action rather than simply images – and that’s by working with and giving platforms to marginalised voices when you have the power to, or by you yourself as a marginalised voice in some form creating the work you want to make, working really hard at it, and thus influencing the landscape within the bigger picture of things. Oh and communities – having a strong community around you is always political. It’s much harder for people in positions of power to ignore the needs of people as a community than as individuals. I think you have to ask yourself as an artist – is sacrificing a little bit of individualism in favour of political change better than the benefits rewarded to you as a more unique individual? I think so.

View Eleanor Hardwick’s website here


Interviewed by Nina Burrell

Fashion Assistant

Visuals not owned by XXY Magazine