Inspirational Woman Wednesday: Elly Lucas

Elly Lucas' shots have been catching my attention a fair bit recently - OK, so her work features on the covers and inlays of most of my listening material of late so it's been hard to ignore, but I've been attracted to her style. I'm not a visual beast and I know very, very little about photography, but there's something about her shots which seem elegant and old-school without looking like they're trying too hard. Colours are muted and models are pale and interesting, locations are often wild or ageing. I was intrigued and I hoped that Elly wouldn't mind my visual ignorance when I asked her a few questions...

So, firstly, your photography – when did you start taking photos? Are you self-taught or did you study at an institution? What kind of photographers and photographs caught your eye when you were learning?

I suppose I first started taking photos with a more serious mind whilst studying GCSE art. I'd always quite enjoyed taking snaps prior to that, but it was the artistic focus that really sparked off an interest. I was always determined to create my own source material to work from but, as the course went on, it became apparent that there might perhaps have been a few more photos than actual physical artwork... After that, I started taking portraits of friends and local models and absorbed every magazine tutorial I could get my hands on. I guess I've just never stopped since then! I'm self-taught but endlessly inspired by the work of other photographers, especially those similar to my own age (e.g. Lara Jade, Joey L, Cat Lane, Kyle Thompson & Julia Trotti).

I know very little about photography, but your photography is certainly very striking and so obviously yours – whether it’s a fashion shot or a music promo, you can tell it’s captured by you. Is it a case of making a decision early on to emulate or find a particular style? Or is it the equipment you use, or your treatment of your shots afterwards?

Thank you very much! I think I'd say it's mostly down to the kit I use and the treatment given to the images in post-production. I'm always very keen to ensure that the styling is how I want it before photographing too, which I hope shows through.

I know that you’re a musician, too (more on that later), but you seem to have become folk’s first photographer. How did this happen? Were you a folk music fan prior to these commissions?

You know, I'm not really sure, but I'm delighted that it seems that way! I was definitely a folk fan prior to working on the scene, growing up on a musical diet of Wolfstone and Capercaillie (and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but we'll skate over that for now) before finding my own favourites later on. The lovely Lucy Ward was one of my early folk commissions and it's all spiralled on delightfully from there!

There was a time when folk musicians didn’t seem to take their album covers and promo shots very seriously. In fact, there was a time when folk music album covers were pretty awful full stop: awkward-looking people in awkward scenarios. Why do you think there’s been a change in recent years?

I think there's been a gentle but steady change in peoples' attitude towards music in all genres. More than ever, in an internet enabled world where musical competition is higher than it has ever been, you have to sell yourself as well as your music. Not only that, but in today's industry where physical media is at risk of becoming defunct, if you want someone to buy your CD then they're significantly more likely to if it actually looks good. I've previously been known to buy albums at stalls just because I like the artwork. Admittedly I am a magpie when it comes to aesthetics, but you get the idea!

Do the musicians who commission you usually have an idea in mind? Or do they come to you for artistic direction, too?

I get a bit of both. Some people have a rough idea of what they want, some people know almost exactly what they want but need some guidance on how to make it feasible, and some people just let me go totally AWOL. Happy days.

Do you have a favourite music promo shoot? An album cover you’re most proud of?

Ooh, difficult. I've been incredibly lucky to work with a brilliant range of people on a variety of bonkers shoots! I think my two favourite promo shoots would have to be the cake and party popper fuelled event that was Eliza Carthy & Jim Moray's tour promo (I got given jelly and everything!) and the powder paint/confetti/finger paint/streamers mess that constituted Cupola:Ward's session. I realise there's possibly a bit of a theme there... As for my favourite album cover, I was very pleased with how strikingly Blair Dunlop's Blight & Blossom image came out.

I must admit that I have no interest in fashion whatsoever. The idea of shopping horrifies me, and I always skip the fashion pages in a magazine or newspaper I’m reading. I’m guessing, however, that you are a fashion fan – not only are you always immaculately turned out, but you must regularly work with models, stylists, make-up artists. What excites you about fashion? Why am I wrong to lazily dismiss fashion?

You're far too kind. Immaculately turned out very definitely only applies to appearing in public, it's woolly jumpers and slippers all the way if I've got editing / admin to do! I guess I am fascinated by the fashion world, but I think that's down to being fascinated by all elements of aesthetics. So often people underestimate the importance of styling a photoshoot, of good hair and make-up (even if it's very subtle), of choosing outfits which work with your location, the props or the other subjects. The exciting part is watching your vision come together and working out how to tweak it to make the most instant visual impact. First impressions are important, particularly in the likes of printed media. What you shoot on the day is what you've got to work with (with a certain amount of leeway in the edit), so it's a good idea to know stylistically what you're doing and get it right!

On to your music… when did you start playing the fiddle? Did you take classical lessons and then discover other styles as you progressed? Or did they happen in hand in hand?

I started playing the fiddle when I was in Year 4 at primary school, so I would have been about eight years old. My Mum, who plays classically, used to play the Captain Pugwash theme tune to my sister and I. Henceforth I was absolutely determined that one day I'd be able to play it too. I was classically trained for five years but found myself totally disenchanted by the limitations of having play everything exactly as it was written, much preferring to learn tunes by ear off albums by the likes of Duncan Chisholm or Eileen Ivers. Thankfully my teacher at the time noticed this and handed me over to a fantastic local fiddle player, Sarah Matthews, who totally restored my love for the instrument and steered me towards the wonderful Folkworks Summer School. My adoration for the genre has continued to grow ever since!

Who are your violin heroes?

To name but a few: Nancy Kerr, Eliza Carthy, Jaime RT & Duncan Chisholm.

Have you always sung, too?

Always. I'm mildly concerned that my Dad still has a recording of me, aged two-ish, singing 'twinkle twinkle little bat' somewhere...

When and how did you meet David Gibb? Am I right in thinking you joined his band first, before the two of you became a duo?

I was part of David's touring band for about two and a bit years before we started doing the duo stuff. We met when I responded to a casting he put out for a fiddle player on (don't laugh) MySpace. You know, when it was actually still useful. Poor MySpace.

I know that David’s a songwriter – are you, too? How do you select and arrange the material you’ll work on?

I am, yes. We generally have quite different writing styles; David writes a killer pop song and I'm more a fan of arty alt lyrics – but every now and again we write something which suits both of us and that gets used for the duo. David's also very good at finding old rhymes and poems and putting them to music, and sometimes we'll sit down and adapt a story to make it our own.

Does your photography work nicely complement your music, or is there a bit of juggling to be done?

Generally, it works remarkably well. Chatting to the lovely people on the folk scene tends to result in useful contacts for both the photography and music, so that's always nice! The only time it becomes more problematic is during the time that it's simultaneously wedding and festival season, but there are ways round that (people don't usually get married on Friday / Sunday / Monday, thankfully!)

What does 2013 look like to you? What will you hope to achieve with both your photography and your music this year? Any new projects on the horizon?

This year I'm hoping to 1) Shoot more personal creative work with the aim of submitting to more magazines. 2) Continue to photograph lots of exciting musicians! 3) Actually remember to blog more often and 4) Release the second duo album with a big hurrah! (Theoretically in late August / early September.)

I've also been working on a project with the wonderful Jo Freya, entitled The Food & Folk Book, so hopefully we'll get a bit more done on that too. I might actually go on holiday this year as well. This feels like a pretty radical option.

 And two more general ones to finish off with…

If you could shoot any person (living or dead) or place anywhere in the world, with money no object, who or what would it be?

Argh, don't make me choose! Hmm, I'd really love to shoot some real 'characters', so that'd make my (photographic) hit-list something like: John Cleese, Michael Palin, Ian McKellen... There are plenty of impossibly beautiful people I'd love to photograph too, but listing them would take all day.

As for places, I'd love to explore New Zealand or the Amazon rainforest – the kind of places I dreamed about going to as a kid. I've always adored nature and the wild, so both of those options appeal to me hugely.

Who is your influential-woman-Wednesday? Who is your ultimate heroine?

I admire a lot of people, so there's no one particular individual I can pick out. I've grown up in a family of very strong women. My Grandma, for example, was a professor of chemistry; my Gran, a bit of an activist, spent endless hours helping at a refugee centre; my great Gran was a doctor in the war and my Mum – well – she probably deserves a medal.

On a star level, I've got a lot of time for Scarlett Johansson: another strong woman with brains, style and an apparently very level head. Oh, and did you see her avec catsuit and arse-kicking in Avengers Assemble? WHOA.