Celebrating extraordinary lives with Simone Kaplan

December 8th, 2023Celebrating extraordinary lives with Simone Kaplan

Ellie Young of Trentham was born in New Zealand. Her father was a lighthouse keeper, and her mother was a schoolteacher.

Ellie Young of Trentham was born in New Zealand. Her father was a lighthouse keeper, and her mother was a schoolteacher.

The culture of living by the sea with her parents and brother and not many other people at all, until she was 10 years old, taught her to appreciate the ocean, the mindful details of nature and to be comfortable in her own skin. The ocean in particular always provided peace and stillness for her.

Her dad always loved photography and often had the camera out documenting his kids as they were growing up. After leaving the lighthouse service, her parents had more children, she is one of five, but it’s interesting how different their upbringing was. Ellie and her elder brother were always drawn to nature.

Ellie met her husband Alan in Dunedin where they lived down the road from each other. They got together when they were about 17 years old. Together they still enjoy jumping in their van and taking off travelling. When their daughter was young, they travelled like gypsies, up to 10 months at a time. She too has the travel bug now.

Ellie’s Gold Street Studios workshops was established in 1999 and developed out of a passion and concern that many early photographic processes and techniques were losing their place in the photographic institutions and art world.

In 2000 Ellie attained the National Gallery of Victoria Trustee Award for her work in gum bichromate printing. After some years of research, her Salt Printing Manual was published in 2011. She constantly exhibits her work locally, nationally and internationally.

Pre-covid Ellie was teaching in Beijing, Tianjin and Nanjing in China. She describes the experience as magical, providing beautiful connections with people, amazing food and countryside.

Originally set up in Collingwood, Ellie’s experience of the commercial side of the business was one of it being cut-throat. It took away the joy of “passing down the techniques” and impeded on her time to take photos herself.

Trentham became an escape, with no mobile phone reception at the time, beautiful nature, and she fell in love with the area. She and Alan found a beautiful house and in time set up the workshop and studio space on site.

Today, her passions for travel, photography and family are threaded through her daily life. Ellie feels very lucky she gets to do what she loves every day. For her the photography techniques and art are about “sharing not about selling”.

“It is an honour if people buy your photos, the ultimate compliment if someone wants to hang your art in their dining rooms.”

Her main passion is macro close-up photography, mindfully zooming in on insects, butterflies and other organic things. “A fly’s wing can turn into a church window, refracting light, different shapes and shadows – quite beautiful.”

It is the craft that is not always understood. For example, a carbon print can take 2 to 3 days to complete. “You really have to be passionate about the process and the outcome takes your breath away. Online doesn’t do it justice.”

Four years ago, during Covid lockdowns, one of her grandsons committed suicide at just 14 years old. Ellie said William was a huggable, gorgeous kid who suffered from a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. He had an affinity with friends, loved animals and photography.

Although it felt raw and painful to talk about the loss, Ellie said she felt it was important to talk about it more. It was a terrible shock to the family without any warning signs.

As it was during Covid lockdowns the family were so grateful to the police for being so compassionate and even received a beautiful letter from Daniel Andrews, expressing his condolences.

“People don’t know what to say or do to support you in grief, but it always meant so much when someone could acknowledge and chat.” Ellie and Alan hug their family even more tightly now and together they mark each anniversary of his passing and the birthday of William. At Ellie’s next photographic exhibition, they are planning on raising money for youth suicide.

Although Ellie loves living in Australia, coming from NZ, she finds things so different with regard to indigenous culture. She recalls as a young child, Māori culture being celebrated and taught in schools
– Māori Poi dancing for example was part of the curriculum.

It saddens her that the same respect is not given to Aboriginal culture. In NZ they had the Treaty of
Waitangi signed in 1840 honouring Māori culture and integrating the country so there was less division. She believes Australia is behind in this way.

“The Aboriginal culture can teach us so much – respect for land. It could have and still can look different in Australia.”

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