1952 (Age 1)
At 18 months old, Elliott's mother noted that he had a gift for colour. She recalled he could name all the colours. One day she pointed to something blue and the baby Elliott said "Blue". She then pointed to something green and he said "Green." Then in an attempt to trick him, she pointed to something turquoise. 'Blue-green", the young Elliott replied. Scientifically correct and the only description, his limited vocabulary would allow.
1955 (Age 4)
At the age of four, Elliott discovers his passion for music. Important, as music would inspire many of his early works.
1957 (Age 6)
Wins Painting Competition
At the age of six, whilst attending Ashburton primary school, Elliott won a painting competition. He painted musicians.
1958 (Age 7)
Takes up Photography.
On a cricket match outing with his parents, the restless young Elliott found the match boring, so spent most of his time at the refreshment hut, drinking over-steeped tea and eating his favourite snack biscuits, called Cheeselets. On the way home, the coach passed through the village of Chudleigh Knighton. The driver stopped and everyone got out and went into the fish and chip shop. Elliott, having scoffed all afternoon, instead wandered into the Woolworths next door and bought a camera for 4/6 (22p). The following day Elliott took his first photographs.
At age 7 the Elliott family moved from Ashburton to the neighbouring village of Buckfastleigh. Buckfast is famous for it's huge abbey. It is the only monastery rebuilt after their dissolution by King Henry VIII and used for its original purpose. Elliott's mother, a devout catholic, sent him to the convent school there, where he was taught by nuns for four years. The religion did not stick and Elliott states he first found something of the Divine whilst studying quantum physics and astronomy as a teenager. He has always stated that the recurring crosses in his work are a symbol of mortality, not religion. They are crosses, not crucifixes.
1959 (Age 8)
At Buckfast Convent School, Elliott's 'Bust of Caesar' is held up in front of the class for all to admire.
Elliott just enjoyed the moment, as he had no idea who Caesar was.
1960 (Age 9)
Elliott creates a graphic drawing and it is pinned to the classroom wall at Buckfast Convent School. His first exhibition. What is interesting about this sequence of events, is that all the elements which would initially appear in his photography - painting, sculpting and graphics - were already beginning to emerge.
1962 (Age 11)
At 11 he attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Totnes, an all boys school, at which Elliott first excels, but eventually comes to detest.
1964 (Age 13)
Having asked for a camera as a birthday present, Elliott becomes a keen amateur photographer, mostly photographing his girlfriends.
1966 (Age 15)
Elliott's grammar school was run by martinets, who considered Elliott a rebel and he was constantly in trouble for ignoring rules he considered ridiculous. With his long Oscar Wilde haircut, op art shirts and Cuban heel Chelsea boots, he was caned on average once a week, for unacceptable behaviour. Long hair was forbidden and strict school uniform was mandatory. Elliott considered the canings unacceptable behaviour and refused to conform. He argued with his masters, that there was nothing wrong with his appearance, only their response to it. He told them his dress sense was 'superior to the uniforms' and that said uniforms were 'artistically bereft of taste.'
He eventually dropped out of school and instead went off on his motorbike to juke box cafés, with his red-headed, micro-skirted, fur-coated girlfriend. Which he says, taught him much more about life, than cloistered academia. He didn't turn up for his exams. On one occasion when they phoned his parents, Elliott turned up, but handed in a blank sheet of paper. Which Elliott says was 'a definitive, visual statement about my education'. Elliott found the attempt to stamp out his creative persona, offensive and ergo completely rejected the idea of going on to Art College. He also says he knew his art would be "too exciting for the educational environment".
1968 (Age 17)
Charge your glasses and pray be upstanding.....
Breaking up with the second love of his life (but tenth girlfriend), glamour queen Pauline offered Elliott her leather coat, in exchange for three of Elliott's tiny 10cm prints of herself. She tells him, "Your pictures are great and they are different!"
Elliott dismissed this with a self-deprecating laugh, but kept the coat, which was hundreds of times the value of the tiny prints. Elliott described this as "The best divorce settlement ever." They weren't married, so this was technically his first sale. She was obviously right and simply saw what Elliott could not yet see himself. His own talent. Reflecting on her comments later, was one of the reasons Elliott took up photography. So gentlemen, break out the Champagne, charge your glasses and pray be upstanding, for glamour queen Pauline. A very perceptive lady, who saw what the others could not yet see.
1968 (Age 17)
Later that year Elliott decided he was either going to be a photographer or a rock guitarist. He also created his first art photograph, 'Under Grave Snow'. Flowers dying under the weight of heavy snow, on an unmarked child's grave. Partly inspired by Francoise Hardy's allegorical dirge, 'Mon Ami La Rose', which Elliott listened to both in French and English as a teenager. Although this early picture is nothing like as accomplished as later works, the substance and gravitas is already there, right at the start. As is the artist's innovative use of titles. An allusion to Dylan Thomas's 'Under Milk Wood', with 'grave' working as both an adjective and noun.
1970 (Age 19)
It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.
Ellott is increasingly drawn to photography and rock music. He buys his first serious SLR camera (and a guitar).
1971 (Age 20)
Having worked in photography passionately for some time, Elliott builds his own darkroom to print his mostly monochrome photographs. Elliott says he only ever worked in black and white as he could not afford colour, which at the time was many times more expensive. It took about a month to print his 2 years work. About 200 images. He then laid them out all over the floor and pondered them for several days. On day one, Elliott found himself glowing with pride, extremely pleased at his progress. On day two he wasn't so sure. On day three, he took one look at his two years work and took the 10 x 8 prints outside and burnt them all. Except for just a few, which he kept. For days Elliott would ponder the handful of photographs he had kept, wondering why he had done so. Eventually he had an epiphany and realised, that somehow the images were an honest expression of himself. He decided never again to create random images, but only to create images which were true to himself as an artist.
1971 (Age 20)
Pioneer One: Photo Art
In 1971, Elliott abandoned black and white completely and never returned to it. This was ahead of the curve, as the general cultural switch came 15 years later. Following his desire to make photography more expressive, Elliott begins to wildly experiment with the medium to conquer its inherent rigidity.
Originally as a photographer, Elliott perceived Photography as like painting the entire image in mid air and chucking it all at the canvas in one hit. Elliott knew that to take Photography to next level, he would need to control and introduce alchemy into this process. So he began by increasing the number of exposures, introducing layers of light and moving away from the ubiquitous instantaneous snapshot. Above all he wanted to creatively and technically master control of the medium. To do with light, time, space, mass, perspective and viewpoint, what painters did with paint. Better, even. To find emotion in the machine. Passion and fire. Perhaps even a little of the Divine. And to paint with technology, a truly universal art for the electronic age.
So right from square one, Elliott was meddling with the fundamental elements of photography. Breaking it down, for a deeper understanding of it and to allow control. This can be observed in the early time lapse photography with the polychromatic seascapes, infra red photography in colour, painting with light trails, desynchronised flash and so on. These were all alternative, altered realities. Elliott was trying everything and wanted to change photography to make it reveal the most beautiful underlying truths. Things that would make you gaze in awe and wonder and reveal things beyond simple observational recording.
One day in 1971, Elliott was in his lilac and purple Darkstudio in Devon, thinking about the permutations, potential and possibilities of photography, when he suddenly had another epiphany. He says it came in a 'flash of revelation', that photography was technically and creatively a nascent art form and largely terra incognita. He was the first to see and proclaim Photography 'more powerful than painting' and was able to explain exactly why.
1971-1977 (Age 20- 26)
Immediately following his epiphany, the artist went into an incredible work fit for around 6 years, working day and night, creating pioneering photographic art, out of pure passion. And unlike the observational photography of the day, these were images straight out of the artist's imagination. Images saturated with substance, emotion and gravitas. And all with beautiful use of colour. Elliott saw monochrome as Photography's technological work in progress and this was the principal reason he abandoned it. He reasoned that if colour had been invented first, black and white would be only occasionally used for abstraction. Elliott says his generation would 'boo and jeer' when they realised they were about to be shown a black and white film, at the cinema.
1972 (Age 21)
First Colour Printing
To begin with, Elliott used the top, custom, professional labs in London to print his work. This was short lived. Increasingly frustrated by their inability to meet his quality standards, Elliott decided to print his own colour in Cibachrome. Photographers with their own colour darkrooms in the 20th century, were very rare creatures. Elliott says he has met many photographers, but never encountered one who printed their own colour. He has therefore printed every single original and became a world class master printer. He states that even back in the early Sevenites, he was "a vastly superior printer", vis a vis the pro labs. Cibachrome is long since obsolete and today he creates on his own pigmented giclée machines, with equally outstanding expertise.
1972 (Age 21)
First Photo Published
It wasn't long before Elliott's work started to get noticed as outstanding, by the photographic cognoscenti. The general press and the art world ignored Photography, so the only outlet for photo art, was the photographic magazines and annuals. Elliott's first picture was published in 1972, not long after he started. This soon became a regular occurrence.
1972-3 (Age 21-22)
Elliott began to introduce creative elements for greater control and expression, as in 'Angel Of Darkness'. Apart from introducing the prevously created watch into the picture, this image also shows controlled coloration and de-synchronised flash. Together these things are hugely expressive. The picture is an early example of the Gothic period, which were all created in haunting landscape settings and largely concerned with mortality and spirituality. Heavyweight stuff for a young man just out of his teens. One can also observe the artist 'breaking up reality' to create mood, excitement and emotion, as with the picture 'Lady At The Lake'.
1974 (Age 23)
Alchemy with a camera
Elliott rapidly became both a creative supremo and a technical virtuoso of Photography. This was typified by much loved classic 'Remorse', which involved new, highly sophisticated levels of optical masking and shadow coloration - both Elliottonian innovations. Two techniques amongst a myriad of others he pioneered. There is no afterwork of any kind. No Photoshop, as it didn't exist and no montage as that would not allow the seamless perfection required. So it was all done in camera. The artist was learning to control light in sophisticated ways.
1974 (Age 23)
First Cover and 6 page interview in a magazine
Back in the 70s Photography was not considered art, not even by its most famous exponents, so there was no infrastructure for photo art. Elliott described himself back then, as 'Like a voice in the wilderness, howling into oblivion.' The only places that would publish outstanding photographs, were photographic magazines and annuals. There was nowhere else. During the 70s and 80s, the UK photo press published a huge amount of Elliott's work, including in anthologies. In 1974, the magazine Photo Technique was the only magazine in the UK to publish creative photography. Elliott was the first unknown to be given the full celeb treatment. They normally only published famous photographers. This did much to enhance Elliott's reputation, as many of his photographs were published internationally. It also made the work very influential. Elliott went on to get hundreds of pages of press.
1974-5 (Age 23-24)
In the early work, a metamorphosis can be seen to take place, as Elliott shifts away from observational photography, towards the creation of his own reality, with images straight out of his imagination. This progresses through an incredible arc until eventually he creates the revolutionary 'Metasphere' 1974-5, where every square millimetre was created by the artist. It is also the first ever photo megawork. It took 332 hours of work to create. It is the world's first painted and sculpted photograph. Elliott referred to these images as 'Symphonies For The Camera'. They were the converse of the snapshots ethos of the time. The world orchestrated their cameras for reality. Elliott orchestrated reality for the camera. A radical departure and something which very much set photography free.
1976 (Age 25)
The early Seventies shows Elliott exploding the medium of Photography in a hundred different directions, with many new trajectories, often showing multiple innovations in a single image. This is well exemplified by 'Pseudosynthesis' of 1976. Elliott not only created the entire scenario but also created the minimalist painting and aerosprayed the sunglasses, bottles, chocolates, and so on. Such autonomic creativity was unprecedented in photography.
1977 (Age 26)
The Fine Art Studios
Last photograph of Elliott in Devon, pictured here in The Red Room, where he lived. The Purple and Lilac Darkstudiio, was next door. He also had a second workshop and studio outside, exposed at one end to the elements and a third loft studio. This allowed him to work on multiple pieces simultaneously, essential when creating pieces over weeks, or even months. These studios were used purely to create fine art. No commercial activities.
1977 (Age 26)
In May 1977, Elliott left Devon permanently, to go and live in London. In the same week he opened a one man show, entitled James Elliott's Debut Show, at the Pentax Gallery, in the West End of London. This was close to Piccadilly Circus and was one, of only two galleries in London, showing photography. The exhibition was critically acclaimed and drew crowds.
1978 (Age 27)
Oxford Circus Studio, London
In 1978, Elliott opened a studio right in London's epicentre on Oxford Circus, at 262 Regent Street. It was here at Oxford Circus, that he met 17 year old Elizabeth Caron, his model, muse and first lady of the ensuing 12 years. She appears in many of the artist's greatest works of the time.
1979 (Age 28)
Elliott creates his first work which was a glimpse of the ground-breaking cyber art to come, although some say that accolade belongs to 'Metasphere' 1974+5. It is worth noting here, that right from square one Elliott pursued technical virtuosity as well as creative supremacy. Note the face can be read from a front perspective, as if wearing some sort of helmet or in profile, like a moon drawn as a caricature in a child's story book. This was an image decades ahead of the curve. Proto computer art.
1980 (Age 29)
Elliott studies the dark art of transparency retouching, one of the the most closely guarded secrets of photography. There is only one course in Europe with ten places a year. Elliott gains a place, adding yet further to his technical mastery. Elliott notes that one must be 'more exacting than a painter' as any transparency retouching is magnified on printing. This mastery of the brush would come in handy when electronic retouching arrived with Photoshop.
1982 (Age 31)
After a decade of immense creativity, without any erotica, Elliott creates his first major erotic work : Champagne & Stilettos. The image took 107 hours of work and shows a new mastery of colour. Gone are the bells and whistles common in first symphonies and here was a vastly more restrained and beautiful palette. This was a glimpse of the pioneering fetish erotica which was to come.
1983 (Age 32)
World Famous Erotica
Elliott creates the first latex fetish erotica classics. The clothes did not exist, so Elliott designed and made them. Elliott's erotica from the early Eighties launched a million fetish photographers. This work predates the absorption of latex fashion into popular culture. The early erotica caused controversy. A year's worth of 'letters to the editor' and so on. Although Elliott only created twelve images, they became world famous.
1984 (Age 33)
Birth Of An Icon.
Elliott creates the iconic classic "Kiss On Frosted Glass", one of his most successful pictures, which garnered international acclaim. It has been published all over the world and although much imitated, has never been equaled.
1984 (Age 33)
Elliott also created his first hat in 1984 after several disastrous attempts with hatters. Despite his attempts to abandon them, on many occasions over the years, their popularity with the public, collectors and friends alike, has kept them current. He made them himself for 23 years, eventually delegating to the Spanish in 2007. Even they initially declined the challenge. They have the world's largest straight-as-a-blade brim.
1985 (Age 34)
Titular Innovation And Euphony
Elliott always creatively titled every piece of art he ever made, right from the beginning, with 'Under Grave Snow' (1968). Here the word 'grave' can be read in two ways, as an adjective or noun. Creative titling was not at all the norm in photography, where mind-numbing titles like 'Untitled 49' were common. Worse yet, drearily descriptive titles like 'The Mountains Of Milford', were ubiquitous. Elliott found this contemptuously boring and it clashed violently with his extreme level of creativity. Over the years, his titles gradually evolved to the point where they have become unique. Elliott has created words like 'Metasphere' (1975) or even visual words like 'Voy(Ag)eur' (1983). This can be read 'voyeur', or 'voyageur' and Ag is the chemical symbol for Argentum - silver - which is all relevant to the subject matter.
This titular concept becomes more noticeable in the Eighties, with titles like 'Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis', 'The Inevitability Of Circumstance (And The Fall Of The Dice)' and 'Manic Mistress Synthesis'. Many of his titles, for example 'Kiss On Frosted Glass' or 'Madness Mistress Metamorphosis' are deliberately euphonic. They are a pleasure to say and roll off the tongue beautifully, which is another innovation. Today, many of his titles are almost works of art in themselves. Recently upon reading, 'The Bitch Behind The Devil Behind The Mask', an observer commented, "I want to buy the title!". Latest innovations include 'Neo Nuclei Quadrangle Split', 'Symphony Of The Spheres' and tongue twister 'The Perpetually Perplexing Complexity Of Physicality', where each word contains part of the next. It is also, of course, a perfect example of the subject matter. The artist stated after creating it, "It can also be used as a sobriety test".
1986 (Age 35)
Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis - 407 hour epic masterpiece.
The entire summer of 1986, from May to September, was spent creating the world's first photo light sculpture. The entire piece was created from scratch by the artist. It had a 76 action exposure sequence, required 21 lights, 40 Polaroids, 160 test exposures, endless rolls of film and was exposed in 7 layers. It took 407 hours of work to create. Various elements moved during the exposures and the entire structure was silver and white, with colour only introduced via the lighting. This ensured the high saturation of colour. It was the last great 'Symphony For The Camera', as Elliott called them. After the artist moved to Belsize Park, his trajectory completely changed. Elliott moved during creation of this image and had to maintain two studios as 'Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis' was standing in his former studio unfinished. This continued for months, at great expense, until the masterpiece was ultimately completed.
1986 (Age 35)
Belsize Park Designer Darkstudio - Not at all the usual bicycle shed.
In 1986 Elliott also moved to 63 Belsize Park in London's Hampstead, where he designed and created the ultimate Darkstudio - a vast room capable of 100% blackout for totally controlled lighting and also colour printing. It famously also featured a glass chandelier, state of the art processing equipment, including thermostatically controlled water, a massive graphic mural of Elliott, a huge signature and a Bang & Olufsen stereo. Elliott created many of his Cibachrome masterpieces here.
1986 (Age 35)
Pioneer V2: Computer Art
In 1986 Elliott created a very important image entitled 'Digital Visage'. An absolutely cutting edge piece of cyber art. This was a glimpse of things to come and having championed Photo Art, he would, for the second time, pioneer a revolutionary new art form. Elliott's first experiments in computer technology predate Photoshop. Elliott used amongst other things, the Quantel Paintbox and later, the Kodak Premier system. Elliott recalls perceiving a graphics tablet as 'The Canvas Of The Future'. Which was probably about right.
1988 (Age 37)
Pioneering Art - Pioneering World Record Prices
Elliott not only pioneered Photo Art but also the selling of it. In 1988 he sold a 24 inch 'Metasphere' for $3,000. An edition of 10, this was a national record for a contemporary artist photographer and Elliott went on to break the European record and ultimately the world record. This run of success saw 'Metasphere' eventually selling for $40,000 in 1995, having smashed records a staggering five times. These prices were literally unheard of at the time. $40,000 was the price of about 3 new cars. Remember, few thought photography was art back then and even fewer bought it. In order to experience the success, Elliott asked Liz Caron to draw the money from the bank in Shakespeares (£20 notes) and throw it all over him, the better he might experience his success. Elliott not only pioneered photo art, but the selling of it, too. This was all reported in the press and perhaps Elliott did more than any other single photographer, to ignite interest in the contemporary photography market.
1988 (Age 37)
World Class Master Printer - Facilities which cost a Ferrari.
Elliott builds a huge state-of-the-art colour darkroom at Belsize Park NW3. It boasted three large format enlargers, three processing 'robots', thermostatically controlled and filtered water and even a glass chandelier. The equipment alone cost about the same as a Ferarri 308 GTS, at the time.
1989 (Age 38)
Light Years Exhibition - Here comes the pink Cadillac.
Elliott turned up to open his 'Light Years' exhibition in London's West End, in a Pink Fifties Cadillac Convertible, with Liz Caron. The solo exhibition at Visage Gallery ran for 4 months and featured 30 classic works.
1989 (Age 38)
Bye Bye First Love - OK computer.
All images © JAMES ELLIOTT 2016
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