Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Conversation with Ellen Rennard

© Ellen Rennard

All of us at Nymphoto love the evocative & timeless work of Ellen Rennard. And I am delighted to present today's conversation with Ellen -- a fellow horsewoman who inspires me with her photography, writing and spirit.

© Ellen Rennard

NP: Tell us a little about yourself.

ER: Born on the island of Guam, I was raised in small town Wisconsin and suburban Chicago. I earned a BA in Independent Studies from Princeton University and an MA in English from Middlebury. Now I live outside of Boston, where I teach at Groton School. In an earlier incarnation I published some nonfiction and poetry, but I’ve focused on photography for over a decade now. In 2003 I started a project about The Downs at Albuquerque, a racetrack in New Mexico, close to where I was living at the time. Then I had to put it on hold for a few years. When I returned to photograph in the summer of 2007, the work began to take off, and now it’s shaping up as a book.

© Ellen Rennard

NP: How did you discover photography?

ER: My father was an enthusiastic advanced amateur photographer, and as an intelligence officer in the Navy, part of his work was to document former Japanese munitions sites in the South Pacific. He also photographed me with his Rolleiflex, lights – a whole studio set-up – until I was about 5 -- so from that experience, portrait photography became second nature to me. I made my first serious photograph with a Brownie camera when I was 9 -- my friend Mary in her white communion dress standing on the sidewalk. In college when I was writing my thesis on images of Native Americans, I became friends with a student of Emmet Gowin’s, photographer/filmmaker Victor Masayesva, who encouraged me to get a Yashica MAT124, but I didn’t identify myself as a photographer for another twenty years. Then in 1998 I took a workshop called The Camera and the Pen. On the first day, the teacher sent us out to photograph something the size of a truck or smaller. I decided to find a horse, but after a couple hours of fruitless searching, I just about gave up. Then I stopped at a store, saw an old farm truck parked in front, and thought, well, a truck will have to do. Within a dozen frames, I started to see. It just blew my mind, and I’ve been passionately committed to photography ever since. Of course, I eventually discovered plenty of horses to photograph at the racetrack.

© Ellen Rennard

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

ER: I find inspiration in art – especially music, painting, photography, and literature. Pentthi Sammallahti, Frida Kahlo, Helen Levitt, Sherwood Anderson, Rumi, the Rolling Stones, etc. In nature – light falling on green pond scum, a bear lumbering across my yard, the smell of rain in the desert. And traveling. I mean, how can you not be inspired when you see a man in Tanzania riding a bicycle with three loveseats balanced on the back? Or a brown cow and a string of balloons in front of a taqueria in Mexico? Most of all, I’ve been inspired by my teachers, especially Shelby Lee Adams, Douglas Kent Hall, Craig Stevens, and Eugene Richards, and by friends who are also devoted to photography, including, among others, Suzanne Révy, Paula Tognarelli, Jordan Kessler, David Bram, Keith Johnson, Cara Phillips, and Amy Elkins. For their support I am most grateful.

© Ellen Rennard

NP: How do your projects come about?

ER: I start with an idea that usually comes from something I see that seems worth exploring in a number of realms – visually, psychologically, and culturally, for instance. I photograph a little, look at the proofs, maybe revisit the subject, photograph more. If the situation holds my interest, if it resonates, I just enter into it and stay open to whatever emerges. I photograph, I listen, I write, I read, I hang out. At the racetrack, I took my time getting to know people, gaining access, and at a certain point, I just made a decision to stick with it. Or perhaps more accurately, the project wouldn’t leave me alone, so I decided to pay attention to what it was saying. Then different doors started to swing open, so I kept returning through this past August, when I knew I was finished photographing there.

© Ellen Rennard

NP: What's next?

ER: Over the next year I’ll be writing the text for the racetrack book as well as re-editing and sequencing the images to include the new work. I’ll be preparing for a solo exhibition of the project on The Downs at Albuquerque for January 13 – February 28 at the Griffin Museum of Photography’s Atelier Gallery at the Stoneham Theater in Stoneham, Massachusetts. Next summer I’ll start to explore a new long-term project, possibly in color. I have a wildlife photographer friend who has invited me to stay at her cabin in – let’s just say far away -- and I’m planning to take a long drive with my Australian Shepherd, Tommy, and to spend some time visiting there. It’s nowhere I’ve ever been, I wasn’t expecting to go, and I don’t know what I’ll encounter along the way. But I’ve always wanted to work on a road trip project with text and images – so perhaps that’s what will evolve from next summer’s travels. Lately I’ve been seeing some possibilities closer to home as well. I’ll have to wait and see what I see.

© Ellen Rennard

NP: Thank you so much!

To see (& read) more of Ellen's work please visit: and her excellent blog: Quintessence.
Ellen is represented by Kevin Longino at


Aline said...

Ellen brings a curiosity, dignity, and intelligence to her work that makes it truly special. Bravo Ellen!

Fraction Magazine said...

Every modern photographer, male or female, can learn from Ellen. She brings insight and thoughtfulness to every thing she does.

Unknown said...

Lovely work. I sense a dual show coming on: Equine Dreams : Nina & Ellen!!!!

nina corvallo said...

Ha! Susana you are so kind!

Michael Van der Tol said...

Ellen, great interview. Can't wait to see what you see in your next project.

Ellen Rennard said...

Thank you all so much!