Eleanor Leonne Bennett is an international award-winning photographer and visual artist. At just 17 years old, she has already been named the CIWEM Young Environmental Photographer of The Year (2013), has also won first places with National Geographic, The World Photography Organisation, Nature’s Best Photography and The National Trust, to name just a few.
At the age of 14, only two years after having ever picked up a camera, Eleanor was thrust into the spotlight when one of her prints was selected by the world-renowned Saatchi Gallery and Gilt Groupe to be included in a special art sale. Since, her work has been published in the Telegraph, The Guardian, The British Journal of Psychiatry, Life Force Magazine, British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and exhibited around the world.
Quite a feat for a teen who doesn’t even have a passport. But, don’t be fooled by her young age, this phenom has achieved levels of success that are way beyond her years.
We caught up with the UK based artist to get the scoop about her skyrocketing success and what we can expect to see from her next.
When did your interest in photography begin? Was there someone that encouraged you?
EB: My Mum had done a lot more for me than anyone else as a positive influence. Due to a frequent illness, I was home educated for awhile. Mum and I handmade things out of recycled materials and today, every time I see an empty cereal box, I envision turning it into a house. Since I spent a lot of time being alone, and my mind was left to roam with no real outlet, I developed a very abstract imagination.
My interest in photography began at the age of 12. I read about the SeeThe Bigger Picture Competition, which required you to create a diary that was built on the theme of biodiversity. I am competitive and thorough (many people say obsessive), and my submission reflected that. When I lost the competition and saw who won, I thought that the judges may have assumed I was assisted by an adult, which of course was not the case. A summer of hard work went down the drain, but my interest in photography began, which gave me the outlet I needed.
Who or what inspires you?
EB: I source too many things as frequent sparks for stirring me creatively to list, but I am often inspired by the negative and tend to focus to a few themes: death, destruction, texture and luxury. People who are close to me dismiss me often as being morbid, but that is the only way I feel I can express myself, particularly when it comes to social and political issues, as I am very disillusioned.
When did you win your first big prize?
EB: My first big prize, as an overall winner, was the Children’s UK 2010 National Geographic Photography Competition. I’d wanted to win this competition for ages, but with the amount of wonderful photographs that win every year I thought I stood no chance. It was breathtaking when it was all happening, and it is an experience that I cherish.
How would you describe your photography “style”?
EB: As well as the blatant morbidity, I aim to find the beauty in the otherwise dull. I have a recent photo of a double window pane covered in myriad scratches, but the reflections and colors showing through make me think of a star strewn galaxy. I have my most positive moments when I discover a hidden serenity and nonconforming beauty that others would dismiss.
Is there a message you aim to communicate to viewers through your art?
EB: I used to try and communicate I AM CAPABLE OF WORKING IN A TECHNICALLY ADEPT WAY IN EVERY GENRE, HIRE ME! But, these days my work is often just a passing thought that expresses my emotions toward to the environment, human destructive behaviours and my inward criticism. I use my work to express what I wish I could say with words because I often feel too nervous to say all the things I should and would like to.
We interviewed famed photographer Jill Greenberg and asked her what advice she would give to a young woman pursuing a career in photography, she said “get a sex change”… have you experienced any gender bias along your path to success?
EB: From my experience, which of course is very limited in comparison to hers, my answer is different. I haven’t experienced gender bias, but I do experience age bias, every single day! Sometimes I feel as extreme as adding 20 years to my current age to be taken seriously, especially when it comes to the value of my work.
Although I have won a lot of significant awards and accolades and have been exhibited all over the world, I still see many gallery represented photographers with fewer qualifications who sell work for far more, which is very frustrating to me.
If people dare to deem my emotional capacities as inauthentic just because of my age, I think it really says more about their preconceived notions then about me.
You have achieved so much at such a young age, what are your career aspirations?
EB: I remember a creative piece I saw on Etsy with the slogan along the lines of “Dead artists don’t need your money, live artists do.” I hope to find the right clients for my work and make a career out of it.
Do you work in any other art forms?
EB: I am a published poet. I have also recently written on art for Zenfolio’s blog. My first work was in mixed media, which I still sometimes use in photography. I am also an illustrator and a book cover designer.
What does the word feminist mean to you?
EB: Feminism represents a lot of positive ideologies I adhere to, and I feel that I represent modern feminism in my own small way. However, I am very critical of the people within this movement and am vocal about the fact that activists need to be educated and most importantly, honest for the benefit of our progress.
I find it to be overwhelmingly cringe-worthy when respected young feminists of my age group blurt out bigoted comments based on their own ignorance. Creatively, I always take my audience into account and make sure to never act in ways that may hurt good people needlessly.