Powerful storytelling through images gives Nada Elissa's work an impressive magnetism that pulls the viewer into a haunting new dimension. We talk to the budding artist and find out why she hates being called a photographer...
Nada Elissa's works depicts a sort of vacant yet effervescent version of Cairo with a ghostly hyper reality that’s utterly captivating at a glance. Most of her photos are in black and white with a sharp focus, often finding beauty in destitution or a soul where there should be none. Her documentation covers a broad range of subjects from abandoned buildings and impoverished areas to home life and a bad-ass gangsta grandmother. Just don't call her a 'photographer'...
Firstly, a bit about yourself outside of photography. What do you do/how old are you/what's the meaning of life e.t.c
I work at Zawya part of a four-member team who brought the concept to life. Im 24 years old. The meaning of life ? I cannot answer this question. But the meaning of my life is to document as much information as I can, whether it's visual, auditive, spiritual or emotional.
What's your current state of mind at the time of reading this question?
Exhausted, helpless, happy and high.
When/how did you get into photography?
I started photography when I was about 14 or 15. My dad gave me his old Zenit 11 (USSR Analog Camera), taught me how to use it and explained the main points in a manual camera to capture an image. I directly connected with the object. Also, I used to play around with the point and shoot cameras from Kodak when I was younger.
What kind of gear do you use?
At the moment I juggle between my analogs (Zenits and Canons), my pinhole camera that I built on my own with a match box and my DSLR.
What for you makes a good subject to shoot whether it's a building or human person?
For me a good subject is a subject that tells a story, or that holds a story. Old buildings, and/or abandoned buildings hold so many stories. A human person is a story on its own.
How would you describe your style?
Hmm.. Sensitive Documentation?
Do you spend a lot of time thinking about/setting up your shoots and where you'll do them, or is it more spontaneous than that?
I spend a lot of time thinking how and when will I go capture the forsaken palaces or abandoned buildings. Some buildings I have photographed very spontaneously... Walking in the street, I spot the "victim" and just manage to get in (if it's possible). But when I take pictures, I'm directed by the light and I don't think about it that much, it's instinctive.
Which photographers/artists have influenced you?
Influences: JR, Francesca Woodman, Sebastiao Salgado and Hassan Massoudy.
Is Cairo a good place to be for a budding photographer?
Well, I think it depends what kind of photography you do. If you can deliver something that no one else can, you can be recognised anywhere. I believe the problem with Cairo is that the lack of diversity in the professional fields leads to everyone wanting to do something fast and easy and get money. Photography is one of those things if you do weddings and events and so oon.
Photography is the only medium of documentation available to anyone and everyone. Even kids pick up cameras and shoot. Cameras are easy to handle (especially the new ones... automatic mode and you are good to go!). And for some unknown reason, people in Cairo, LOVE to get photographed, they just love it. So everyone wants to be a photographer because its "easy" and people demand it.
BUT I dont consider myself a photographer. I just take pictures, I document. I feel like more of an anthoropologist. So to answer your question, anywhere is good a place including Cairo if you are a budding photographer with something to deliver.
Which of your shoots are you proudest of?
The series "Lost Walls & Stuff" because I am so happy I was able to go in these palaces and villas. And the shots with my awesome grandma (pictured above).
Will you be exhibiting your work at some point?
I had one exhibition in January. And there is one coming up by the end of this month or beginning of May. It's being discussed, so nothing sure yet.
Check out more of Nada Elissa's work on her blog More Than Nothing.