Elsa Quarsell is a Swedish photographer, who has been a resident of London since 1999. Studying at the Surrey Institute of Art & Design in 2003, she graduated with a BA (Hons) and a portfolio that won her the Metro Imaging student bursary. Elsa’s work has been published in a variety of notable publications such as, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Independent, Arena, Vogue and The Face.
[Photo: Elsa Quarsell]
Over the years she has chosen to work within the portraiture field, assigning herself to capturing people who deviate from what society call the ‘norm’. The work she creates is bold, colourful, draped in playfulness and eccentricity.
Our very own local Lass Liverpool’s Burlesque Queen Millie Dollar is amongst the 104 models in the book, prepared to allow you a little peek at their humble or outrageously chic, vintage or glamorous abodes. From the decadence of Berlin, to the glitz of Paris, the boldness of America, quirky London and beyond. Elsa has been on a long mission around the globe photographing it all over the past two years, setting the standard for other photographers to follow. If you fancy a long lingering look at what these alluring creatures get up to in the comfort of their homes you must buy this book, I promise you it will be anything but dull and sure to brighten up your domestic life.
Being an avid Burlesque fan myself I was keen to get the low-down on this book and the photographer….
MEL: How did you get into photography initially?
ELSA: I started doing photography at school when I was 15 and got really into it. My dad was a photography enthusiast and had all the darkroom equipment so I set it all up at home. I had a very good teacher who encourage me a lot and took me on as an apprentice after I finished school when I was 18. I won competitions and started exhibiting quite early and got a lot of praise which spurred me on even more.
MEL: And what kind of photography were you doing as an apprentice?
ELSA: The photographer is called Martin Nauclér and he is a reportage photographer. I worked mainly in the darkroom, printing for his books and exhibitions.
MEL: What was your first assignment as a photographer?
ELSA: My first proper assignment was for The Financial Times Magazine. I had to take some portraits of Fay Goodwin and was really nervous. Absolutely everything went wrong that day! My main camera, the Mamiya RZ, didn't wind up, the film was completely stuck, so I changed to my Nikon 35mm but with that camera the flash didn't work properly...I got more and more stressed and ended up with a film with more than half of the pictures completely black......that was my first and last job for The Financial Times. [Photo: Agent Lynch]
MEL: So, onto your fabulous new book 'The Domestic Burlesque' - what initially inspired you to create a book about Burlesque Queens?
ELSA: I used to go to The Bethnal Green Working Men's Club quite a lot and I saw some burlesque performances there. I like photographing people with a distinct style so I asked a few of the performers if I could do a shoot with them and it went on from there. After about 30 shoots I had an exhibition which went really well and I felt I didn't want to stop and the best way to show these pictures I thought would be in book form. As burlesque was getting so popular and growing all over the world I thought why don't I go to Paris and a few other places as well, so I did.
MEL: Does Burlesque differ from Paris to the UK in anyway at all? Have you been to other places to photograph?
ELSA: It was quite a small scene over there but it's grown a lot since then. It was two years ago. After Paris I went to Amsterdam, Stockholm, Berlin, New York, Dallas, Austin and Tokyo. [Photo: Dinah Might]
MEL: How did you select the people for your book and how many are in the book - were any rejected?
ELSA: I looked at flyers for shows and checked out websites for international burlesque festivals to see who was performing and got in touch with people through Myspace and Facebook. I did 104 shoots and they are all in the book. A few people got in touch with me I guess once word started spreading about the project. Everyone I photographed is in the book.
MEL: Each performer has their own unique, individual style - how did you go about designing the shoots, where did you start on the day and did you have the room and clothing all pre planned beforehand?
ELSA: I would often have a look at pictures of them before, on MySpace, and if there was a particular act I really liked, I would ask them to prepare that. But it's hard to say what's going to work before you've seen the flat so to start with we would have a look at the different outfits to see what would work, and what would be funny. [Photo: Coppelia]
MEL: You worked on this theme for over two years, travelling to their homes, and photographing them where they lived [which is a very personal thing to do]. What other extraordinary lengths did you go to along the journey?
ELSA: I started shooting the detail pictures quite late on in the project and felt I had to go back to a few places to do that. I went back to Paris just for the day to shoot a home I thought was really amazing. When abroad I often had to do 3 or 4 shoots in one day as I was always working on a pretty tight budget but it was an amazing experience to meet so many interesting people and to see how they styled their homes. Pretty exhilarating at times!
MEL: How and where did you start getting the book published? Is this your first book, and do you plan anymore?
ELSA: Yes, this is my first book. I contacted a lot of publishers quite early on and got lots of positive replies but there was always a but. When the book was finished I didn't feel I had the time to wait for any replies from publishers, I just want it out! And I'm quite enjoying the whole process of self-publishing and the absolute control that you have. I'm already working on the next one but you'll have to wait and see!
MEL: It's probably really difficult to say with so many inspiring images and interviews but which were your favourites?
ELSA: Hmmm.....Nasty Canasta is definitely one of my favourite photos. I love the colours and the details in that picture, but of course most of all the outfit! I love the way some of the interviews turned out, that was also something I didn't originally plan to do but I'm glad I did as I think it really makes the whole thing way more fascinating. [Photo: Nasty Canasta]
MEL: You say the interviews weren't planned; did they happen during the shoots when the Girls were just generally chatting around their home?
ELSA: No, I did it all via email after I had photographed everyone.
MEL: Why did you choose the six Guys to model in the book as opposed to an all female book?
ELSA: I would have likes a few more men actually. Burlesque is not only a girl thing. They often call it 'Boylesque' when men are performing.
MEL: Did you select the books title 'The Domestic Burlesque' due to them all being photographed in their own home [which is very unusual and personal in itself as opposed to onstage in all their finery].
ELSA: Yes it's because they are all in their own homes and I like the sound of it. It sounds a bit like a mission, for a spy.... which is quite burlesque-esque. [Photo: Trixie Malicious]
MEL: Where can people buy your book, and how much does it cost?
ELSA: For now you can buy it on the website www.thedomesticburlesque.com or Amazon but I will have a stockist list on the website as soon as it's all sorted. It's £24.99.
MEL: In one sentence why should they buy the book?
ELSA: Because I'm incredibly proud of it, I think the whole world should see what these fantastic, brave individuals have created, and because I'm poor and need the money to do the next one! [Photo: Fancy Chance]
Interview by Mel 13/09/11
All photos by Elsa Quarsell [Elsa by Robbie Moore]