In a series of interviews, The Drum's guest editor Trevor Beattie meets a fascinating group of bold, troublesome, fearless, provocative and influential individuals he thinks will blow your mind.
Elsa Bleda is both visionary and vision. When she’s not photographically portraying her dark, evocative, dreamlike midnight world, she’s drifting through it, a fleeting apparition from station to station on a train, or Ophelia-like under water. Elsa is a singular talent. Impossible to categorise. Impossible to ignore...
TB: Let’s begin with rapid fire. Answer the following in three words or less...
TB: Who are you?
Elsa Bleda (EB): Elsa.
TB: What are you?
EB: A curious mind.
TB: Why are you?
EB: World fascinates me.
TB: You appear to be nothing short of a Renaissance Woman: photographer/writer/model/movie aficionado/designer/film maker/ surrealist/political activist... I could go on. Are you ALL of the above, or is there one discipline you feel most at home with?
EB: Photography has always been a big part of me. It taught me a lot over the years. As what I want to achieve has become clearer in the past couple of years, I’ve realised that I’ve started using photography as a training tool for my true passion; cinema. My interests vary but as they all have been about self-exploration and self-discoveries, they are all connected to each other in the big picture.
TB: You seem to have an unusual (or maybe even lack of) sense of home. South Africa, France, Turkey? Where and what is home to Elsa?
EB: I grew up travelling with an artist mother, being influenced by different cultures. I’m really happy about this. There are different places I feel happy being at but it’s true that I don’t have a true sense of ‘home’. It appears to be that being a stranger, observing as an outsider, is the fuel of my creativity. However, South Africa has a different place in my heart. South Africans are unique, creative and warm people. And certainly this country has a deep effect on my vision and personality. I feel honoured to be accepted in this country’s industry.
TB: You display a huge range of influences in your work. Who or what has been your biggest influence?
EB: I can say that my biggest influence is Japanese art director and designer Eiko Ishioka. Her work and how she managed to work in different fields for decades, keeping the quality of her work constant, are magnificent. I love reading science fiction and Russian literature and I’m a big fan of East Asian cinema. I get inspirations from the works of artists from different fields such as David Lynch, Park Chan-wook, Brassaï, Todd Hido, Gregory Crewdson, Pina Bausch, Diane Arbus, Wong Kar-wai, Wing Shya. The way they manage to portray human experiences and the mysteries of it moves me greatly.
TB: Are your influences as important to you as they seem?
EB: I’m not entirely sure ‘how’ important they are to me, but I know that everything that touches us leaves a mark.
TB: What is it with you and flying whales?
EB: I always admired the power of these majestic creatures. They make me think of freedom and the ocean, yet they are so gentle. I like imagining flying whales as this surreal action immensely inspires me because of its aesthetics. To be honest, I envy them. View Flying Whales by Emilie Nicolas here
TB: What is it with you and trains?
EB: Travelling by train and photographing the journey are fascinating things for me. It’s like a scene in a movie. A getaway from the outside reality and greatly nostalgic. And I’m an observer so it’s really the perfect location for me.
TB: What’s with the underwater capers?
EB: Floating. Strangely familiar. Under the water one experiences freedom in a completely different reality. It gives new limitations while it eliminates the usual ones. It’s almost like being in space, I guess.
TB: Night seems to hold a fascination for you. City nights in particular. What are you telling us?
EB: Night series are my most personal works. I’m drawn to mystery and Johannesburg is an especially interesting place because it becomes an empty city at night with a feeling of isolation, and even people who live in Joburg are not familiar with with its nights at inner city. It truly becomes a strange, gothic land. But I find it honest. Shooting late at night somewhere like this is like being between a dream state and wakefulness. I feel like I step into an alternate reality. It also makes me feel powerful in a way.
TB: I think you would make the perfect role model for someone trying to make it in UK advertising. What advice would you offer someone starting out in the creative arts?
EB: Thank you. I think I’m still too young to give advice. But if I could, I would tell them to be honest and brave. First of all, they should explore life and the beauty in human beings, travel and ask questions, train themselves in different fields for self-understanding. They’ll have to learn to question everything that’s been taught to them. Hold on to what you love and to your humanity and you will succeed. This would be my advice.
TB: Do you have a view on UK creativity/have you ever wanted to work in the UK?
EB: The UK is an interesting place for me and has been on my radar. I have never worked there but lately most of my positive feedback is coming from the UK scene. I’m still trying to understand this, trying to figure out why. It’s interesting and quite exciting. And many artists I’m following are in the UK. All this seems like a sign for me, so yes, I’ve been thinking about working in the UK.
TB: You seem both darkly confident and conspicuously elusive. Are you prepared for the fame your work will bring?
EB: Well actually, I find myself quite shy and reserved. It’s true that fame brings different types of responsibilities and certain limitations as well. And I’m aware that fame is in the nature of what we do. But I don’t get sidetracked by things. My focus is always on creating. Whatever happens outside is not my primary focus. I’m interested in my audience’s opinion – it’s rather fascinating to hear from them – but it does not truly affect my work.
TB: If I gave you a (return) ticket to space, would you go? And if so, where to...?
EB: Yes. Without thinking twice. I have a strange obsession with Saturn’s moon, Earth’s evil twin Titan, so would love to see it and just watch its methane rainfalls and giant shifting dunes. Seas on Titan are named after mythical sea monsters, its mountains are named after mountains in the works of JRR Tolkien and some places are named after the planets from Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ novels. It must be such a bizarrely beautiful place. Just having a peek at these from far far away would be enough. A girl can dream, right? The heavens are waiting silently.
TB: What does 2016 hold for @elsableda?
EB: 2016 means new beginnings for me. A new chapter.
This piece was first published in The Drum's 20 April issue, guest-edited by BMB founder Trevor Beattie.
The main photograph of Elsa underwater is from a series by Ilse Moore (@IlseMoore). For each of his interviewees, Trevor selected an appropriate quote from a David Bowie lyric. For Elsa, this is “Such is the stuff from where dreams are woven,” from Station To Station.