Interview with Elizabeth Gordon

I contacted Elizabeth shortly after she was announced the winner of Picture This, Channel 4’s very popular photographic competition. She seemed quite surprised that ‘people’ wanted to talk to her and quite taken aback at my request for an interview. However when she got over the shock of realising that she was now ‘slightly famous’, she kindly agreed to talk to me and we arranged to meet near her home town of Chesham in Bucks.

The first thing that I can say about Elizabeth is that she is extremely nice. I was uncharacteristically late for our meeting thanks to One railways and the London underground, however she was more than happy to wait patiently for me and seemed genuinely pleased to see me when I eventually arrived!

We settled down with a coffee and a sandwich and I began to find out more about her, her work and her future plans. I asked her first if the press had inundated her since winning the competition. She said that a tabloid and a daily paper had asked her for an interview which she had refused, realising that they would only want to concentrate on her past, not on her photography.

Other magazines had asked her for some images, but none of them had wanted to meet her. This surprised me because it’s only when you meet the person that you really begin to understand the work, now on show and in print.

To start with, Elizabeth told me little of her background, spending ten difficult years trying to make a career as an actor, having to give up as the work was too inconsistent. Elizabeth told me about her initial surprise at being short-listed for Picture This via a series of photo tests and interviews in London. I get the impression she was pretty scared at the thought of ‘competing’ and having her worked shown and possibly pulled to pieces, who wouldn’t be!

She enjoyed the process of Picture This, being thrown in to different situations, the portrait with Germaine Greer, and the Housing Estate project. Pushing her own boundaries both in photographic techniques and in the way she had to relate to her subjects. She also found the advice and comments from her mentors and the judges extremely useful. Although trying to take on board what they said and putting it into practise wasn’t easy. We didn’t really talk about the other contestants competing in Picture This, but she thought that Jay Mawson had real talent.

She used her own Canon 300D and SB gun most of the time, borrowing a Hasselblad 503 and a Nikon 200, (which she really liked), for other parts of the programme. Elizabeth gets quite animated when we talked about the technical side of photography and we agreed that some people spend too much time looking at their cameras instead of through them!

I wanted to talk about the final project in Picture This, where Elizabeth took a series of self-portraits depicting her past addiction to alcohol. To me, and a few of my colleagues, this looked quite a painful thing to do, to recreate what must have been a difficult time of her life. Elizabeth was surprisingly frank about her images, saying that it was a long time ago and she really enjoyed the challenge of setting up and shooting the pictures. It was this series that won the final of the competition, competing against Lucinda Chua whose series of technically strong images taken in a library failed to meet the initial brief, in the eyes of the judges.

The prizes of course were an exhibition and a book, entitled Dying to Drink Born to Recover showing many images from the programme Picture This.

For those of you in the North, you can now see Elizabeth’s pictures at the Baltic in Newcastle (see below for details). The exhibition also features new work, a series of images depicting the feet of reformed alcoholics the idea being that they are now on a new road to recovery.  Elizabeth has let us show some of those new images, together with some of the winning images from the competition.

We also talked about future plans and I asked Elizabeth what next? She is completing an HND photographic course this spring and although she would like to continue shooting more artistic projects she has bills to pay. There may be a possibility of some photographic teaching work, or working in forensic photography, an area which also interests her, but of course she doesn’t really know what will happen. She told me about her notebook stuffed with the thoughts and ideas she would to explore photographically and it will be a pity if those ideas were to stay in her book. Many of them will involve her and her friends dressing up and acting out various themes, no real surprise there.

Talking of acting, her favourite photographers are David LaChapelle and Greg Crewdson, both well known for their very different theatrical styles of image making. Lachapelle’s completely over the top fashion and celebrity stuff, Crewdon exploring much darker themes, especially in his Twilight series. Elizabeth also admires Cindy Sherman, a photographer who often uses herself as model.

Having met Elizabeth I can see the real drive and enthusiasm she has to try to carve out a career in photography. It’s not going to be easy, but winning Picture This has moved her forward though perhaps a little quicker than she may have wanted.  There is perhaps some expectation of her to automatically succeed in what still remains an uncertain profession.

I think that Elizabeth is a very articulate and intelligent woman who seems very grounded and will be determined to continue to make interesting images. Whether this will be on a small scale, as before or if she will be able to attract large clients who like her style of work, we will have to watch and wait. At the age of only 33, she still has many years left to be creative force in photography.

I’m pleased to say that Elizabeth has also agreed to be one of our future judges in our ongoing series of photo competitions.

Elizabeth Gordon’s Solo Exhibition can be seen on Level 5 of the Baltic, details as follows:
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art Gateshead Quays South Shore Road Gateshead NE8 3BA UK Tel: +44 (0) 191 478 1810 Fax: +44 (0) 191 478 1922 Text phone: +44(0) 191 440 4944

You can see more of Elizabeth's work on her website

Steve Aves