Photo of Ellie Pritts by Sela Shiloni

Ellie Pritts’ imaginative perspective and polychromatic aesthetic is a powerful artistic expression that deserves and has garnered marvel and attention. Her online presence has equally captivated a multitude of audiences not only through her own Instagram account @elliepritts, but also through the world’s first collaborative photography app, Hippo, which she founded in 2016 before moving on to help launch Apple’s official Instagram account, @apple. She recently joined the Space for Arts team.

What are your favorite stories across your career?

As a photographer, I have shot a lot of musicians and continue to work with many of them, some whom are famous and some who are not. One of my favorite memories was when I was working for the music publication Pitchfork, which was something that led to me getting a lot of unsolicited music from people trying to break into the scene. I was taking a Lyft at the time, making conversation, and it comes up that I work as a photographer for Pitchfork. The driver asks if he can play me his music and I’m worried this is going to become an awkward car ride spent listening to a stranger’s terrible music. He puts his CD in and I am immediately blown away, it was really good. I give him my card and say, “I will shoot your promos, I will give you a great deal, you are really good and we need to put this out there.”

Within a week he had contacted me and we did a shoot. It was such a great shoot too! He was so good about creative direction. I really like when a shoot is more collaborative and ideas come together.  We’ve continued to work together throughout the years.  What’s amazing is he became quite famous. His name is Sir the Baptist – his music has been on the Billboard charts.  He has been hosted on late night shows, and he signed with Atlantic. It was so cool to have met in that way, to have connected, and to have worked together from day one.

You spoke about appreciating collaboration. How do you infuse a project with your own style while collaborating with others?

Each project has different levels of collaboration. I often get hired because the aesthetic of my work is so strong and identifiable. When collaborating, I tend to more or less have complete creative control, but that comes out more in editing and post-production. On a shoot, I don’t come in with a sketchbook of every shot I want planned out. I’ll have ideas in my head but it really is completely collaborative when shooting. I feel the energy of the individual, I leave space for us to have ideas together. I am willing to try anything, so shoots are highly fluid. Even beforehand, I make it a point to get to know the people and schedule at least one to two meetings prior to the shoot. That way, I am not a complete stranger. Editing is when I am told to do my thing.

Photo credit: Ellie Pritts

Speaking of aesthetic, your photography is characterized by stark often bright colors that give the familiar a surreal feel. What are you aiming for and why is color important?

The journey to this point is a long one and it’s interesting because I would say the theme has been challenge. I first started photography in high school, and digital cameras weren’t a huge thing yet. There were some with professional quality, but they were exorbitantly expensive. So, I was working in a darkroom and my photographs were in black and white. That was how I thought of photography for at least five years, as black and white. Even when I got a digital camera, I was taking color photos and then editing them to be black and white because honestly I didn’t know what to do with the colors. I thought I didn’t like them, but really I just didn’t know how to use them and so colors became this challenge to overcome.  

Once I realized that it wasn’t an aversion to color, but that I was simply uncomfortable, uncertain, and unfamiliar with them, I was able to start experimenting. I started trying new things and shooting live music which lent itself to color photographs. My relationship with color has been a slow burning love affair. I transitioned from only black and white to experimenting with color, and now it’s almost an audible trademark for me. My process is always evolving. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to black and white again.

Color is important to me, and I create palettes that match my shooting location. I’ve moved around a lot and on my Instagram account there’s a noticeable shift between the color palette I am using and my location. For example, New York had a lot more dark tones and muted colors. These color palettes end up reflecting the vibe of the city, it wasn’t intentional but just how I was interpreting the location.

Photo credits: Ellie Pritts

Along with collaborating and color, what else inspires you?

Music is definitely the biggest source of inspiration for me.  I’ve not only shot musicians, but it is part of my routine. Shoots may change but music helps me get ready and create a world. It was my first love. I didn’t think I was going to become a photographer.  I went to school for music. I thought I would be a concert cellist. But now, as a photographer, so much of what I do is an interpretation of music in some way.

You’ve spoken previously about the role of smartphones and Instagram. How does the accessibility of smartphones and other technologies affect the future of Instagram and the photo industry?

I think that the ‘digital’ future is going to be really interesting. As time goes on, it becomes easier and more accessible for people to take photographs. I think that will lead to new talents being discovered. In particular, one of the things I have previously spoken about is that the barrier to entry for photography is no longer as high. There is no formal training necessary to photograph something. In fact, you can learn quite a bit about photography by just watching YouTube tutorials. The accessibility of technology is making it possible for more people to discover and enjoy photography.

Photo credit: Ellie Pritts

Why is the photography industry still relevant?

Our society and culture is comprised of highly visual people. Photography is an easy way to reach people in a swift manner. We’ve always had or needed some way to communicate using visual images. You can convey a message with a photo and elicit an immediate response, I think that’s why photography will always be in demand as a source of advertisement. In today’s digital age, it’s even more important to understand the challenge of marketing to a target audience with shorter attention spans.  Videos can be hard to manage because if they’re a second too long you may lose your audience. A photograph can convey a powerful message in just a fraction of a second.

What is it like being a woman in the industry?

It is so crazy to look back to six or seven years ago and remember things that happened to me as a woman in the industry that would not fly now. It’s difficult for me to think that I didn’t feel empowered or prepared enough to complain more or maybe louder during those years.  It was a time when I was struggling to “make it” and I felt I had to just face these things the way they were. I am happy to see the small changes that have occurred even only in the last five years. The industry is male dominated so there’s harassment like the Harvey Weinstein creeps in control of your work. Luckily, that hasn’t happened to me in the photography field though it has happened to others.

What’s just as disappointing are men with the best intentions who don’t help or don’t realize they can help.  For example, in one particular job I found out I was being paid half the pay grade as a male counterpart, who was a new hire. This was a job where I was told our rates were non-negotiable, so it wasn’t merely that my co-worker negotiated a better rate than I had. The man who made those decisions, who I considered a friend, didn’t even realize it. It wasn’t done on purpose, but the subconscious bias exists everywhere and is problematic. It’s so important to have equality across the board and to have transparency. Knowing your value and identifying the issues transparently can make all the difference.

Photo credit: Ellie Pritts

Why did you want to work with Space for Arts?  

I believe in what they’re doing. I am their perfect audience as a photographer and a booker of studio space, and I have been so for 10 years or so now. I know the process, what it’s like, the limitations, and the frustrations. The photo studio booking process hasn’t changed for years and needs constructive innovation. Space for Arts is tackling that. They are the first innovative team I know of that are tackling the ‘search, discover, and book’ process head on by aligning themselves to the production and photography communities. It is a great idea and great professional product. I really believe in the people and the relationships they are building.  Of note, it’s impressive to think about the millennials that are now in the workforce and are labelled the ‘burnout generation’. Our communities and businesses should be considering them as the future of the workforce – we don’t have time, we are constantly working, so anything that makes our lives easier and quicker is going to be a success. And ease and speed is at the core of what Space for Arts is offering as a product.

Additionally, Space for Arts is giving back to photo community. They are supporting and mentoring the photography community with innovative programming and events alongside a great online service for photo production professionals.

A huge thank you to Ellie Pritts for taking the time to share her experiences and photographs with Space for Arts!

Don’t forget to check out more Space for Arts interviews and news.