On a chilly fall evening we met Elena Helfrecht at our very own fotoliaLAB in Berlin: She was visiting us on the occasion of the exhibition for the DOCMA Award, where she took first place for her picture “Human Doll”. After that, we just couldn’t let her leave again – we wanted to know more about this young photographer and her extraordinary work. So she told us her story.
My name is Elena Helfrecht, I was born in Bavaria, Germany in 1992. Personally, I would not refer to myself as a photographer in the classical sense – I am more of an artist. Photography is my medium, but I never (or rarely) work by request, rather independent and freely. I taught myself how to portray my personal reality. Recently I completed my bachelor in art history and book sciences.
At the age of 13 or 14, my father passed his old digital camera on to me. In the beginning, I primarily took pictures of nature, since people did not seem worth taking photos of back then. However, bit by bit I started to reproduce the images in my head by means of photos instead of drawing them (as I did before). At the time I began to do that through self-portraits. I was fascinated by the possibility of turning the rational reality into my own emotional reality and make it visible for everyone.
Truth and metaphor
In drawing and painting the subjective perception is predominate, while photography captures every detail in a ruthless, exact and balanced kind of way. The documental character of photographs (seemingly) offers a greater degree of truth, although it can be manipulated and changed to have the required impact on the viewer. I often feel like people think that photographs are closer to reality – even if they are strongly edited.
“Emesis” is one of my best known and also most metaphorical images. The wasp in my mouth symbolizes the word and the power associated with it. Verbal violence can do as much damage as physical violence. In this context, Emesis, describing intentional vomitus, stands for regret and the desire of self-control.
Emotion is everything – and sometimes unsparing
I would describe my style as often plain and brutal. I intend to show facts in a very unsparing and revealing matter. Nowadays I don’t edit my pictures as much as I did before. I make a demand to myself that everything that you can display has to be real: scars, wounds, insects in an open mouth. Still, the apparent roughness of the pictures does not reduce their poetic content. Maybe my images walk a fine line between violence and fragility.
With my pictures I achieve one aim: emotions. I want to arouse emotions in the viewer and provoke thoughts. I constantly question common beauty ideals and show beauty in the abyss. My pictures tell stories – currently I am almost exclusively working in series, even if they consist of three pictures only.
“Inside” is part of my series “Rituals”, the most elaborate series I have produced until now. I went to the limits for that. “Rituals” is a series of self-portraits. I caught a cold and my body was aching for days, because I climbed on and into trees and stumbled through the woods.
At the moment I am working on long-term projects. One is for example the illustration of the major arcana – a set of tarot cards that I planned with a befriended magician. I will dissociate from my current attitude for this and work very surreal again, with a lot of manipulation. In a different project, I will work with an author whose work I value immensely and illustrate a variety of his stories. Inversely, he will write stories about my images.
Moreover, I began to explore the microstock market. I had heard about Fotolia a long time ago but it first got my full attention after I became one of the winners of the DOCMA Award and went to the exhibition at the fotoliaLAB. Meanwhile, I have created a Fotolia Portfolio and I am slowly filling it with my work.
In addition, I am always looking for interesting people who want to be portrayed by me and want to discover new sides of their personality. When working with models, it is required that I get to know them first and understand them emotionally. Physical perfection is definitely not a precondition. I love bodies and faces that tell a story. When I take someone’s picture it is almost like a therapeutic effect.
“Arise” is the first series, that I intentionally did with a model. The models’ father is a hunter. After hunting season (unfortunately, the populations of crows are growing too much, since they have almost no natural enemies), he kept a bird for our concept in the freezer. Also, the series has a high emotional content, because the model (who wants to be referred to as “Amaryllis”) is a very good friend of mine and the project means an important closure to her.
I think it is generally important to accept criticism and use it constructively. Setbacks are also a form of criticism. Mistakes are not a bad thing, they are rather a positive way of learning (as long as the same mistake does not happen twice). No matter how long it takes to reach what you wish for: you must never give up. Obstacles can sometimes lead to detours, which open new perspectives and possibilities. Everything has its positives.
Thank you very much for your story, Elena! We are looking forward to seeing your new projects and many more photographs!