Queer as in Kiss Me

Photographer Ellen Dixon Captures Queer Joy

Nothing says queer joy more so than the work of Ellen Dixon, we caught up with the Newcastle based photographer about their journey into photography, queer identity and what inspires their work.

Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you? I’m Ellen (they/them) a photographer from Whitley Bay, Newcastle upon Tyne, primarily working with film capturing candid life while looking for beauty in the mundane. My work has been displayed across various venues and event spaces in Newcastle, Leeds and London as single and collaborative exhibitions between 2014-2022. I am currently working on a personal project ‘Queer in Question,’ a photo series exploring queer identity in the Northeast through portraiture.

Who or what inspires you? Many photographers inspire me: Nan Goldin, Tish Murtha, Sirrka Lisa Kottinen and Gregory Crewdson to name a few. I’m currently really into the work of Wolfgang Tilliman. He has inspired me to photograph anything and everything again just like I did when I was younger. I feel like his modern works have helped me give myself permission to be more playful and not take myself too seriously. The amazing creatives I hang out and work with also inspire and motivate me. Their encouragement gives me the confidence to keep doing my work.

When did your interest in photography start? It started in winter of 2009 and a group of us were playing out in the snow. A new friend of mine brought his Nikon camera. He let me take some photos with it, of our pals throwing snow in to the air, and from that moment on I was hooked. I loved how the flash captured the snow as it was falling, I loved how it captured everyone’s happy faces as we messed around, and I especially loved how good the quality was, much better than our Sony Ericsson Cybershot phones. I ran home and begged for a camera and with Christmas just a couple of weeks away, I had a camera of my own by the end of the month, a Sony a290. I spent the whole of Christmas Day taking photos of EVERYTHING. I had the camera in my bag at all times from then.

How does queer identity feed into your work as a photographer? My most recent project is mainly about exploring queer identity, focusing my photographic development on shooting and processing film through a portrait series in conversation with queer-identifying individuals of the Northeast. The series has made me confront my own identity while exploring the identity of others in the community and consequently became the main reason I finally pushed myself to raise the funds for my top surgery, a journey I realised I needed to go on all along.

Your work covers themes of queer youth and identity as well as nature and exploration. Do you think the two are often interconnected and how so? After a lot of mental and emotional shedding through my adolescence, I finally found a sense of peace in nature and landscapes. Whether it’s Whitley Bay beach, the lakes and fells of Cumbria or the great mountains and lochs of Scotland. These landscapes remind me how amazing the natural world is and how wonderfully insignificant I feel when I’m in them. I feel the same way when I’m dancing along to heavy bass in queer spaces. I feel the same stillness and adrenaline at a rave as I do when I’m standing in magnificent landscapes. I think I will always try and document both the queer community and landscapes in a similar way as they are both just as beautiful as each other. When these images are next to each other I’d like to think of it as a reminder to the viewer that we’re all humans within these landscapes and we’re all looking for that sense of unapologetic freedom outside of the chaos of modern society.

Is it fair to say that there’s a romance to your work? Do you think queer love is represented enough in the arts? I feel like expressing our love for one another in public spaces is one of the most powerful things we can do and I am always drawn to photographing those who are comfortable expressing and celebrating queer love. The first queer work I saw in person up north was an exhibition by photographer Phylis Christopher, ‘Contacts’, which documents lesbian life, and that was as late as 2021. Most branches of the arts still have a long way to go in terms of queer opportunity and physical exposure. I know if I saw that exhibition when I was younger, I would’ve found myself much earlier. I’d like to think my work can contribute to that journey for others in years to come.

You’re based in the NE but spend a lot of time in Cumbria, how do you think Cumbria could better serve queer people? How do you think Queer Cumbria could work to improve things?
I’m very thankful to have the connections to come to Cumbria often. I think the main thing that’s missing is social spaces for queer youth to go to, feel safe and be around people who can encourage them to be confident within themselves. Every small town or big city needs spaces for minority groups to grow and flourish. Many beautiful pieces of art and literature have come out of the lakes and more can be created through community and funding opportunities. Queer Cumbria is clearly paving the way forward for more queer representation, opportunities and not being apologetic about it.

Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to take photos but doesn’t know where to start? Get a camera or use your phone, doesn’t matter which. Take pictures of your friends and family. Go to galleries and watch photography documentaries, figure out what kind of photography you like and that doesn’t have to be a single genre. Follow your instincts. Print your work. Remember it’s a form of expression and there is no such thing as a bad photo if it’s important to you.

Interview Stevie Westgarth

Photography Ellen Dixon