ARTS & CULTURE

Ellie Davies' NASA-Inspired Photo Series Captures The Everyday Beauty of Starry Nights

06/22/2015 09:06 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

Ellie Davies grew up in an ancient forest in England -- the sort of place where fairy tales, both dark and whimsical, are set. So she understands firsthand that woodlands can exude a magical aura difficult to capture with the stark reality of a photograph.

"We enter the forest laden with cultural reference points from fairy tales, history, myth and folklore," she told The Huffington Post. Which is why she graces her images with starry skies captured by NASA. The result? A glistening, fantastical-looking scene composed entirely of natural elements.

"I think some images in the series are [...] brooding and dark, some are uplifting or unnerving," Davies said. A brief chat with the artist revealed more:

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What inspired your "Stars" series?
I grew up in the New Forest, an ancient forest in the south of England. It was originally seized by William I in about 1079 in order to create a deer hunting forest and it is now preserved as a National Park. I spent a huge amount of my childhood playing in the forest with my twin sister, building dens and making dams in the forest streams, learning to forage for wild mushrooms and plants, cycling and walking with our parents. The forest was a very important part of my life, but I live in London and it is so easy to become caught up in an urban environment, losing your connection with wild places and finding them alien when you return. I use the woods like a studio space. They provide a scene, or a backdrop into which I carry out small interventions which lead the viewer inside. The process of making, constructing or inscribing within the forest space allows me to mediate my own relationship to the woods.

The "Stars" series is inspired by looking at the balance between how our ideas of landscape are constructed by the culture we live in and by our own experiences of these natural spaces. We enter the forest laden with cultural reference points from fairy tales, history, myth and folklore. Our ideas about the forest are overlaid with received knowledge, especially for those of us living in urban spaces where we are so far removed from the natural world.

This series combines vast starscapes taken by the Hubble Space Telescope with forest landscapes shot in the New Forest. It considers the fragile nature of our relationship with the natural world by interposing images of the intangible and unknown universe with these ancient forests. It creates a new experience of the woodland, one which draws the viewer into a mystery at the heart of the forest, and offers the potential for discovery and exploration. My work allows us to find our own place within this process; to make even fleetingly a space of our own and a way to exist within it.

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The star photos are of course from NASA -- from where did you get the forest images?
I made the forest images in the New Forest in Hampshire and in Puddletown Forest in Dorset. I have just been working on some new images for the series in Fontainebleau in France, but have not released these images into the series yet.

The images make something as large as a galaxy appear as local and intimate as a clearing in a forest. Why did you hope to create this effect?
I wanted to bring these remote and unreachable starscapes into the forest spaces as a way to explore how I experience the forest, how it can feel distant, disconnected and vast but at the same time shimmering with possibility and tantalizing allure, familiar yet unfamiliar.

What was one of the biggest challenges in creating these images?
Most of my work involves a lot of walking with my kit on my back, often in the rain. It doesn’t sound that fun, but I absolutely love it. I like to work in gloomy conditions because it gives an amazing richness to the colors and I love the quiet that comes when I am the only person in the woods, standing still and just listening. So the most challenging part of this series was probably those days spent shooting in the rain, clad head to toe in waterproofs with an umbrella sheltering my camera from the elements.

What mood did you hope to invoke with these images?
This series of images explores our different cultural perceptions of the forest and how this plays into our experience of these spaces. These constructs come to us through media, history, psychology, conservation, and so on, and range from framing the forest as a benign leisure facility all the way through to a place of danger, unknown horrors and as a metaphor for the unconscious mind. My images explore these layers of meaning, encouraging the viewer to make their own interpretations.

I think some images in the series are fantastical, others brooding and dark, some are uplifting or unnerving. I feel that my photographs hold elements of dark and light, mystery, narrative and intrigue. I try not to impose a narrative on the viewer and I love that different people find such different things in my work.

Are there artists creating similar work -- in any medium -- who you enjoy?
I love and have been influenced by everything by Nicholas Hughes, Jem Southam’s "Pond" and "Rockfall" work, Ori Gersht’s "Rear Window" series, Martina Lindqvist’s "Ragskar Island," Jitka Hanzlova’s "Quiet Forests" and Jo Metson Scott’s "Ethereal Forest" installations. I’m not sure exactly how this work has influenced me, but I know it is inscribed on my brain and it filters into my work, the way that I look at the landscape and the possibilities of photography.

One day I want to make some work in the mountains and combine my two passions in life: climbing and the landscape. Probably the most precious photo book I own is Boomoon’s Stargazing at Sokcho –- the eerie, cold, quiet mountains transport you to another world.

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