reconnecting the female body with nature in celestial bodies
Celestial Bodies is a philosophical, emotional and environmental exploration of the relationship between our bodies and nature by photographers Eleanor and Rachel Hardwick and Chrissie White.
Sisters Eleanor and Rachel Hardwick teamed up with fellow photographer Chrissie White to document their time spent traveling over 28 days across America's Western states. The outcome is a beautiful photo book, Celestial Bodies, which explores the connection between the female body and the surrounding environment. The ethereal images display a seamless interaction between the human body and landscape, accompanied by a commentary throughout the book, written and hand painted by Eleanor. We had a catch up with Eleanor, Rachel and Chrissie to find out more about the process of creating Celestial Bodies.
Tell us a bit about the ideas behind Celestial Bodies...
Elle: We knew that we wanted to make a series of conceptual photographs, and that we had all been thinking about themes to do with reconnecting our bodies with our planet and how we can relate our emotions to cycles in nature. I definitely want the book to feel reassuring… like we can trust our earth to look after us even through all the political and environmental shit that is happening right now, and that you can honestly do these amazing trips so easily and cheaply. The benefits it will do to your sanity are priceless.
Chrissie: We also explored ideas involving the vastness of the landscape compared to the smallness of a human being. Throughout the trip we constantly felt in awe of the world ahead of us as we saw it through the different lenses of our eyes, our cameras, and windshields.
Rachel: I think the 'celestial' element really speaks to me in the sense that when I think of space and the span of the universe, it helps me put things into perspective about how awe-inspiring life really is and how we take so much for granted. We often get consumed with the little things when really we should be looking at the bigger picture.
How did you find the process of working together on this project?
Chrissie: It became very natural for us, regardless of the fact that this was the first time we had actually met in person. Elle was one of the reasons I started photography years ago (we met on Myspace/Flickr), so it seems perfect that our first book is with each other.
Rachel: Even though Elle is my younger sister, I really admire her and am indescribably proud of her - we used to collaborate on projects constantly when she was a teenager, as I was her first 'muse' in her very early work. So to finally work with her again so intimately was really special. Meanwhile Chrissie is someone I've been in touch with sporadically over the internet for over ten years now and whose work I've always been inspired by.
Elle: Every image in the book feels like it belongs to all three of us; we were all heavily involved in directing different elements of the images. I'm really excited that this is the first time my sister and me have officially collaborated together, considering that we have both been making art for years. We had both known Chrissie for years through Flickr too, and I have always felt very connected to the ideas she explores.
How do you think the female body relates to nature, and how did you explore this through the images and text in your book?
Elle: In a Carl Sagan sense, we're literally made of carbon that is the result of stars from billions of years ago. Secondly, I do believe that our moods and patterns are closely linked to the moon (particularly as women) - even if that's somewhat subjective - we are still undeniably reliant on the cycles of our planets to time our lives, to give us the vitamin D to keep us happy, whatever. But also, I think that when you strip back elements that define an era in a photograph, landscapes and the nude body feel so timeless; both almost evolve at the same rate, and I do think that's a deep connection. Before we went on this trip, we were all were feeling that we needed a break from modern life, and we all came back feeling so inspired. I think people underestimate the power of the planet we live on and how it affects our sanity.
Female nudity is something that's prevalent in this project. What is it about the naked body that fascinates you?
Elle: I love the timelessness of nudity. Clothes and manmade objects can date an image really easily, and I really wanted to make some work that felt universal, and out of space and time. We all have these bodies that actually are so similar, they've been like this for so long, and yet we so often hide them due to the fleetingness of trends that make us feel as if self consciousness matters, when it shouldn't.
Rachel: I've always been really interested in naturism and the concept of being completely unfazed by the naked body - perhaps I'm just a massive hippy but, as Elle said, we're all the same under our clothes. I think particularly the female body has so many associations with a multitude of things that have been conjured up by modern society, and the fact that the nude woman often ends up shamed or judged is something that really bothers me. By presenting it in the book in such a completely non-sexual, almost alien way, I hope people will take something away in the sense that the female body is so much more than what the media tells you.
What were the prominent differences you found working in the 8 different states you visited?
Elle: Shooting in March, we were dealing with temperatures from below freezing to heatstroke-inducing, so we never knew what our bodies might endure. America's landscape is so inspiring in that in can change so rapidly, and that was definitely a great bonus in creating a really varied body of work, which is so key for fluctuating and climatic narrative of the book.
Chrissie: I agree with Elle. We dealt with all sorts of weather, but one thing we found interesting was that we saw no rain until our last night of the trip because we spent a lot of time in the desert. Each state has its own type of people to a certain degree, which I guess must have something to do with the varied climates and landscapes of each place. Regardless of the differences in landscapes though, we found people everywhere who shared similar ideals to us. Often we would meet people camping or in motels who would later in the night reveal their life stories to us. Most of them talked about exploring (or not-exploring due to social/economical obligations) and falling in love.
What was the most magical experience you had whilst creating Celestial Bodies?
Rachel: My most magical experience was at The Valley of Fire - it's a huge state park in Nevada that absolutely took my breath away - multi-coloured rocks that for years were underwater, as far as the eye could see. I think that was the most beautiful place I've ever experienced in my life.
Elle: Driving along the Oregon coast. Being put up by the most welcoming woman at her ranch near Yosemite. Discovering Soda Dam, a hidden hot spring inside a cave on the side of the road in New Mexico. And so many of the skies we saw, which were so endless; skies you would never dream of seeing in England. There's something both terrifying and grounding about realising how small you are when looking at the stars.
Chrissie: Waking up at sunrise in White Sands, New Mexico. Elle, Rachel, and I climbed up on a sand dune to see the sky light up. We were wrapped in blankets and had a little Tibetan bowl with us. It was just one of those tender moments where I felt happy to be alive, with my friends, surrounded by nature.
Celestial Bodies launches at Moth Club, Hackney on Wednesday 27 January 2016. Live performances from Eleanor's band Moonbow and Yaya Bones, DJ sets from Flamingods and Warrior Princess, and a film screening of a new short film made by Eleanor during the trip.
Books will be available on a first-come-first-served basis. Entry to the event is free.
Text Lula Ososki
Photography taken from Celestial Bodies