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Elena Helfrecht

Elena Helfrecht was born in Germany and is currently based in London.
In 2014 she graduated in Art History and Book Science at Friedrich-Alexander-University in Erlangen and is enrolled in the Master’s Programme of Photography at the Royal College of Art from 2017 to 2019.
Through photography she examines the human psyche. Her images are created from multiple layers of meaning, characterized by a personal iconography. She is influenced by the folklore of her childhood in Bavaria and her active and continuous passion for Art History and Psychology.
Elena’s work has been internationally shown in over 30 group- and solo-shows from 2014 until early 2018, including the Museum for Communication in Frankfurt, MIA Photo Fair in Milan, the Fotofestiwal in Lodz, Fotofever Paris, Atopos CVC in Athens, the Click! Photography Festival in North Carolina and various galleries in Europe and Japan.
Articles about her work have been published in collective books like Unlocked by Atopos CVC or The Opera: Magazine for Classic and Contemporary Nude Photography by Matthias Straub, as well as in magazines and
blogs like Art – Das Kunstmagazin, Klassik, Stern, L’Oeil de la Photographie, Academy Now, C-41 Magazine, Papercut and Kaltblut.

Elena Helfrecht

Elena Helfrecht was born in Germany and is currently based in London.
In 2014 she graduated in Art History and Book Science at Friedrich-Alexander-University in Erlangen and is enrolled in the Master’s Programme of Photography at the Royal College of Art from 2017 to 2019.
Through photography she examines the human psyche. Her images are created from multiple layers of meaning, characterized by a personal iconography. She is influenced by the folklore of her childhood in Bavaria and her active and continuous passion for Art History and Psychology.
Elena’s work has been internationally shown in over 30 group- and solo-shows from 2014 until early 2018, including the Museum for Communication in Frankfurt, MIA Photo Fair in Milan, the Fotofestiwal in Lodz, Fotofever Paris, Atopos CVC in Athens, the Click! Photography Festival in North Carolina and various galleries in Europe and Japan.
Articles about her work have been published in collective books like Unlocked by Atopos CVC or The Opera: Magazine for Classic and Contemporary Nude Photography by Matthias Straub, as well as in magazines and
blogs like Art – Das Kunstmagazin, Klassik, Stern, L’Oeil de la Photographie, Academy Now, C-41 Magazine, Papercut and Kaltblut.

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“My practice is imbued with a deep interest in consciousness; a result of raw self-observation and a constant desire to understand the mind. Originating from personal experience with mental illness I started using photography as a tool to reach a state of reflection, initially working impulsively and based on pure emotion. This has not only developed into a general interest in psychology and how consciousness is constructed, but also given me the ability to transform my thoughts precisely into images. At present I work in elaborated and planned concepts, instilled with a visceral iconography that started developing in my early beginnings.
Making an image for me is an effective way to reflect and research on the human condition. The camera allows me to expose internal discourses and translate psychological processes into the visible realm, giving access to confronting the intangible in all of us. Often I use skin therefore as a sensory element pointing to the impelling force embedded in flesh and bones. In my imagery I intend to manifest a dense emotional atmosphere through an affective symbolism.
Photography connects the mental and physical world and distills the inherent theme of separation and coalescence. When making a photograph, we separate a piece of ourselves in the very moment of operating the shutter, and bring it forth into an independent existence. Through this extraction we are not only able to gain a new and perspective on the alienated familiar, but also share this insight and experience with others.”
Elena Helfrecht

 

German photographer Elena Helfrecht’s work has a power and mystery to it that stays with you, a sort of insistent haunting, her work tackles difficult subjects, mental illness, despair, and the landscape of emotions. Unravelling tales of quiet wonder emerge in series like Little Stories, where we encounter a sort of endless observation, watching, waiting, the tension built by the suggestion of something ominous, lurking, coming together like tiny vignettes that form one larger mythology.
Many of the Elena’s works include dark nocturnal lighting, images of wrought flesh, torn, re-sewn, dusted with sand or grit, — eerie images of the womanly breast as a focal point of eroticism and perhaps facility, exposed and made lyrical in a way that oscillates between the two viewpoints.  Work like the ongoing series Between the Skin –focuses on the traces that experience leaves on the body. In some works there is an intimate close up look at the hollows scrapes, scars of the human body speak of quiet eroticism.
And yet as well, many of Elena’s work might frighten –they take such a perilous path to tale telling, to the gothic, the dreadfully exposed.
This is seen most plainly in the picture of the woman suckling a white doll. The harrowing image reminds one of the terrible photos of old insane asylums, as does the photo in that same series of the woman huddled on a dusty floor. The artist shares that the photos symbolize the loneliness of mental affliction, the fear of the permanence of generations of mental illness, and conversely the need for self-care and the universal need for mothering.
Elena was raised in the forest country of Bavaria roaming around in the forests and along the river close to her childhood home that stood perched on a hill. She studied art history and art, but taught herself to photograph and in her work, there is an earthy rawness that has the mark and grit of memory, the cycle of life playing across tableaux of sorrow. Elena notes of the Bavarian tradition: “Our archaic folklore is somehow dark and violent. However, it is also intriguing and deals with emotional issues including subconscious fears and problems. Forests are my safe place where I could always go to be myself, without being judged, just existing and wondering about the life around me. A part of my series “Rituals” was shot in this place. As a child, I loved wandering around and imagining what else hides in the trees, full of fear and fascination…”
For the artist, writing and drawing is a negotiation of sadness, a process to retrieve her ideas and emotions, an extraction of sorts, and the nude body serves to expose these emotions, to work through her emotional life and that of her subjects in a way that is unflinchingly composed…
Rosa Berland, Beautiful Things Art Blog

 

Elena’s interview with The Phoblographer

“I think photography works so good as an outlet for me now that it has a big part in my victory against self harm and self destructive behavior.” says Elena Helfrecht, who describes herself as a 24 year old fine art photographer based in Berlin, Germany. “I have not hurt myself since many years now.” Her work was shown this year at the Berlin Unframed Festival, Turin The Others Art Fair, and Bruxelles Off Course Art Fair.

“With my photography I uncover the human psyche through the body.” she describes about her work. “I like to consider skin and bones to be books we can read in. Often I work with concepts to illustrate certain emotions and states of minds, my camera is therefore my instrument to tell stories that words cannot grasp.” In fact, Elena got started with self portraiture, and then went on to capture what she believes to be the human essence.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Elena: I first started drawing at a very young age. Later I slowly discovered photography as my main medium when my dad gave his old digital camera to me. The camera works for me like an enhanced hand. With no other medium I can bring the images in my head to life in such a direct and personal way.

Phoblographer: What made you want to get into conceptual and expressive portraiture?

Elena: Somehow it developed organically all by itself. My first shots were always nature, mostly little details and things that I found while strolling around outside. I always had the urge to express myself, to get rid of certain thoughts and emotions. Back then I released it all through drawing, but as I got more intrigued with photography I eventually started with self portraiture and slowly switched the medium for my purposes.

Phoblographer: A lot of your work is very expressive and there isn’t a lot of emotion being shown in faces. Instead, it’s through body language. Why do you choose to do this vs showing a person’s face?

Elena: This is a really interesting question and also a process I went through. When I begun with photography I often featured eyes in my work, as they in my opinion were the direct connection to the soul. At some point I discovered bodies as an issue, maybe through self portraits. In the past I often documented my own struggle with depression and psychological issues, always in search of who I was and what defined me as a human. Through photographing my scars from back when I hurt myself I learned to find beauty and peace in them. Before I often considered them as ugly and was ashamed. I think photography works so good as an outlet for me now that it has a big part in my victory against self harm and self destructional behaviour. I do not hurt myself since many years now. I still like the photographs of back then, because they remind me of what I went through. I accept it as a part of myself and of who I am today.

Bodies and their movements, their language, are telling so much about the souls living inside of them. Humans are fascinating and I love telling their stories. True beauty for me lies only in experiences, in truth, and in emotion. We are fantastic creatures and I find it sad that society hides our true beauty behind blank and smooth surfaces that do not really exist. It leads to a wrong impression of who we are.

Phoblographer: How do you feel lighting plays a big part in your photography?

Elena: Lighting is incredibly important for my photography. I rarely use anything apart from natural light. In my opinion artificial light cannot imitate the atmosphere daylight and certain structures and shadows create. Lately I also started to use candles for some of my shots. They allow an amazing play with shadows and create a melancholic, yet cozy surrounding which is essential for some of my concepts.

Phoblographer: Where do you typically draw your inspiration from? A lot of it looks like dark fairy tales.

Elena: I am inspired a lot by Bavaria and it’s dark forests, where I grew up. I always loved to read myths and legends from my country and I had a very colourful imagination. From a psychological and anthropological point of view, myths and fairytales reveal a lot about humanity, about our fears and dreams. They are very metaphorical.
At this time I am also studying for my master’s degree in art history, so I consume a lot of art which probably inspires me also unconsciously.

My main inspiration though is my daily life, the things that happen to me and my own emotions, which sometimes can be too strong to not let them out.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use. How do you feel that it helps you get your creative vision across?

Elena: For a lot of time I use a Canon EOS 600D and mostly a Tamron f2.8 17 – 50 mm. I never really worried about my gear and I always had the opinion that the photographer makes the pictures, not the camera. But just now I am at a point where I see it is really half and half. Since I am working in really bad light situations and cannot use artificial lights in order to not destroy the atmosphere my pictures breathe, my camera system has some difficulties. Just now I am saving up for a new camera – I just didn’t make my final decision yet, though I am playing with the thought to switch to Sony since they released some pretty amazing stuff this year, just not 100% sure yet.

Phoblographer: So why did you start out with self portraiture? Was it to show people the type of work that you wanted to do?

Elena: It is a psychological reason I guess. As mentioned before, I started with it in order to get different perspectives of myself. Photography allowed me a completely different view on me and helped me exploring who I was and what I can be. Still I have to say there is a development going on. Now I often use my body as an instrument for certain concepts. I do not see myself in the pictures anymore, rather an anonymous being completely incorporating the emotions and ideas of the concept. It is very practical to work with myself now, because I am always available and I know exactly how far I can go with myself. Another plus is that I have an easier communication with myself regarding the images in my head and acting them out.

Phoblographer: What are your conversations usually like with people when you want to create images like this? Do you use storyboards or drawings and sketches to show them what you want to create?

Elena: Sometimes I do use sketches or some written words, often things develop also very spontaneously. I only work with people I share a connection with, whom I trust and whom I know. Therefore conversations before are often very personal, sometimes we also laugh a lot. During the process of photographing I am very vulnerable. I have to open myself in order to notice the emotions going on in this very moment, so I can capture them. In the last time I am also learning to work with models and people I don’t know well yet.

Phoblographer: How do you feel your work is evolving, and where do you want it to be one year from now?

Elena: I think I already shared some of the processes I was going through. One year from now is a pretty accurate time – I guess for the future in general I can say that at some point in my life I would really love to photograph strangers and to be able to talk to them straight forward without any fear. I see so many interesting people on the streets, but we are all in a hurry and I am too shy and too afraid. But maybe one day, without setting myself under too much pressure, I will be able to do it.

Exhibitions List:

Solo Shows:

2015
“There is strong shadow where there is much light” Cell63 artplatform  – Berlin (D)
“There is strong shadow where there is much light” Vanilla Gallery – Tokyo (JP)

2014
“Nightmares”  Sound ‘n’ Arts -Bamberg (D)
2012
“Schwarzer Abend”ABM-Salon –  Heilbronn (D)

Group Shows:

2018
“Subject Matter” Disrupt – London (UK)
“Work in Progress Show” Royal College of Art – London (UK)
2017
“Moviemento” – Final Girls Film Festival – Berlin (D)
“La peau de l’ours”Galerie Marie Demange – Brussels (B)
“Still Lives: Honouring the Dead” GalleryX – Dublin (IRE)
2016
“Ophelia” Cell63 artplatform – Berlin (D)
“Berliner Extravaganza” Espace Saint Bernard – Brussels (B)
“All dreams continue in the beyond” Cell63 artplatform – Berlin (D)
“Unlocked ” Atopos CVC – Athens (GR)
“Cross the Line”KH5 Gallery – Zürich (CH)
2015
“SHVR Pop-Up Show”  The Fruit Gallery – Durham, North Carolina (USA)
“Cross the Line” La Cave Showroom Gallery – Paris (F)
“Goth: Dissection and Suture” Vanilla Gallery – Tokyo (JP)
“Triskaidekaphobie” Galerie Morgenrot – Berlin (D)
2014
“Reflect: Art is Dead” Cell63 artplatform  –  Berlin (D)
“Docma Award 2014” FotoliaLAB –  Berlin (D)
“Docma Award 2014” Museum für Kommunikation -Frankfurt (B)

2013
“Bram Stoker International Film Festival” Spa Pavilion -Whitby (UK)

Art Fairs and Festivals

2018
MIA Photo Fair, with Luisa Catucci Gallery – Milan (I)
2017
Fotofever, with Luisa Catucci Gallery – Paris (F)
Łódź, Fotofestiwal: Trash cans for hearts and people have no soul
Off Course Art Fair, with Luisa Catucci Gallery – Brussels (B)
MIA Photo Fair, with Luisa Catucci Gallery – Milan (I)
2016
Unframed Festival, with Cell63 artplatform – Berlin (D)
The Others Art Fair, with Cell63 artplatform – Turin (I)
Off Course Art Fair, with Cell63 artplatform -Brussels (B)
2015
Click! Triangle Photo Festival: SHVR Pop-Up Show – North Carolina (USA)

Awards

2014
Docma Award, Category Lehrling, 1st Prize
Fine Art Photography Awards, Amateur, 1st Place

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