|Ellen Warner became a photographer 35 years ago in New York. ‘Photographer’ is a job description that tells you less than you think. Is Ellen an artist or a journalist? Does she shoot fruit bowls or fashion spreads? Portraits or landscapes? Does she exhibit? Is she able to sell her work? If so, who buys it and in what form? How much money does she make? Has she become rich from her work or does she make a living? Can she even break even?
Other careers such as law, or teaching or sales are relatively easy to explain. Careers in the arts can take many different forms. Annie Leibovitz is a photographer, but she is also Annie Leibovitz, which seems to be its own job title right there. Ellen Warner is not Annie Leibovitz and doesn’t have her career. But over the years she has managed to produce a solid body of work. She now has her own website, of course, where she displays a number of her pictures along with a coherent summary of what she’s done and what she can do.
A couple of years ago Ellen had an exhibition of her work at a gallery in Soho New York – her first exhibition in over ten years. She had started her career as a photojournalist in 1969. She stopped working professionally for 10 years when her children were small. This was her comeback moment after years of being a wife and mother and an active volunteer in her community.
When she left photography in 1978 to raise her two daughters, Alix and Lily, she did so whole-heartedly. She was absolutely engrossed in her children. In the early days her identity as their mother sustained her sense of herself. She was so rooted in her household that she never thought to take pictures of it. She barely took snaps on holiday. What had been a consuming career that took her all over the world didn’t easily downgrade to a part time hobby. If anyone asked her whether she was photographing, she would dismiss them with a, “Been there, done that.”
Such an absolute departure from her work meant that when she decided to return to it she had to do so incrementally. When you are in the production business you have to have something to sell. Ellen had to shoot her way back into her career print by print.