An Interview With Ellen Kaplowitz

What does photography mean to you?

Without photographing I would not be fulfilled. It is my chance to investigate and be a part of different lives all over the world.

What is its priority in your life?

It is the major priority in my life. I am constantly thinking of where to go next, a place that is not totally touristy.

How did your relationship with photography start?

It all started when I was a little girl with my first Brownie Hawkeye camera. We always had family photographs and my mother was great about keeping photographic albums. Much better than I. Later on in life I went to study filmmaking at NYU and wanted very much to make documentaries. I did one brief doc on Papua New Guinea but switched to still photography when a museum in the US asked me to do an exhibition of my images from Tibet.

I've always wondered why some people are photogenic and others are not? Can you explain?

I don't think it is the people who are photogenic or not but rather how the photographer approaches the subject in making them feel comfortable. That all comes out in the photograph.

What's your work flow process on a photo job?

I'm up early in the morning to catch the light and then continue till the end of the day when at around 5 the other golden glow lighting is dominant. Mid-day is when I might photograph indoors or in narrow alleyways where the sun isn't so prevalent.

What is your favorite piece of equipment?

I'm still shooting film with my Canon cameras. I guess I would say my 20-30mm lens is my favorite because it allows you to get in close to the subject.

When did you first shoot photographs for others?

Around 17 yrs ago. When did you first earn from photography or got a commission? Around that same time.

What are your sources of inspiration?

My inspiration comes from just being in a new place or one that I have been in before where I love the landscape and the people.

What moves you?

Incredible landscapes and the humility and beauty of people who don't realize they are beautiful. Their naturalness is what makes the photo wonderful. In all these years working as a photographer, what are the most famous people that you have 'snapped?' I don't generally photograph celebraties. So I'd say the most famous and the unknowns.

What was the most fun work that you have done as a photographer?

So much of it is fun but I think photographing festivals of dance, for example in Ghana during the celebration of the new King was so colorful. The music and dance combined was inspiring.

How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically for a photography session?

I am psyched right away because I know it will be a totally new adventure. Some of it will be positive and some negative. As for physically I try to get to bed early to rise early for the light. Staying in shape year round is the key.

You travel worldwide to get your images. Any favorite places you like to get back to often?

I have so many favorites that I have returned to after seeing the first set of images. What comes to mind is all those years in Vietnam which lead to my book [World Of Decent Dreams: Vietnam Images, 2003]. Also, the areas of Tibet I have gone to are incredibly beautiful. Any locations that you haven't been to yet? Many places especially in Africa. But I have to feel that the conditions are safe for me and although I can rough it I do know my limitations.

What would you say was the hardest place you ever had to get to and photograph?

The area parallel to the base camp of Mt. Everest.

If, and when, you ever do slow down from making all of your worldwide trips, do you have any other 'creative' interests that you would pursue?

I hope not to slow down but what would be creative is to revisit all my slides and put them together either for an exhibition or book.

For more information on Ellen and her breathtaking photography, visit her website:

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