FASHION BEATS MENTAL HEALTH | Elspeth van der Hole Fashion Photographer May 2014 Interview


Elspeth Van Der Hole and Kate Elizabeth met and attended Nottingham Trent University together in 2010, here we establish Elspeth’s experiences of the past four years, from starting university, graduating to setting up her own business and having troubles to deal with in-between. Elspeth has a collective Facebook following of over 6000 on Facebook alone, not including any other social media or website statistics. 


First of all thank you for taking the time out of your hectic life to be the first edition of a series of monthly interviews! Let us set the mood and start with your personal (and professional) experiences of being a Photography student at Nottingham Trent University, I understand they are still very much a part of your life right now.

That is no problem at all! Thanks for having me –
My time at Nottingham Trent was an interesting one, I had a fabulous circle of friends and a brilliant boyfriend that I met in halls in my first few weeks of moving in. I wouldn’t have changed the personal aspects of university for the world!
However the course was another matter – there were two tutors in particular who were absolutely brilliant to me and supported me wholeheartedly, but the rest of the course was very dated. I was encouraged not to pursue fashion photography and regularly had my work slated by both tutors and students alike. I didn’t know whether it was just that they didn’t like my work, or if it was just plain rubbish, it wasn’t until I began to get my name out there that I realised that people did actually like it!
It’s hard to understand what is personal preference when doing a photography degree and what is fact when it comes down to being marked and graded. I mean, how can you grade something that could be viewed completely differently by every single person in the entire world? 
Instead of dropping everything and letting it kill my drive, I fought back, harder and stronger than ever. I came out of that degree fighting with all my might and less than a year after graduating I feel I’ve succeeded in getting to the position I am in now with confidence. I used those three years of study to network, and I pushed hard to build contacts and a substantial portfolio of both strong images and collaborating with companies such as Vidal Sassoon and ASOS.
One of the best things to come out of my degree wasn’t the grade; it was the people I met – mainly the guys and girls on the fashion courses. Still to this day I work hard collaborating with the fashion students, both undergrad and postgrad, I have had some of my most effective and popular sets from working with those guys!
I don’t feel I learnt much from my actual course but from the negativity I received it taught me how to handle criticism, how to bounce back from feeling like a failure and most of all how to make the best of what feels like an awful situation and to turn it around to your advantage.

For your degree show you collaborated with Bethany Dobson to complete a year and a half study on her life as a fashion model and makeup artist suffering from Crohns disease. Already we can see that fashion is not your only interest. What are you planning for the future with the release of this book and health study in general?

This book was originally designed to look at the behind the scenes of the fashion industry and how we aren’t aware of a number of daily issues these models face. It then became much more as myself and Bethany became very close friends and I learnt all about her struggle with Crohn’s Disease.
I am forever seeing Beth in and out of hospital and recently she was told she would need a bowel transplant in order to live – this is a huge operation and very costly. Our next step with the book is to approach a publisher and see if we can get the ball rolling in terms of selling it as a fund raising tool and also raising awareness for this disease. I am in the process of setting up a kickstarter campaign to raise the capital for publication of an e-book and eventually an actual print. I feel it will work much better in print because you can really get a feel for the story, narrative and how our journey has played out so far.

On the subject of health, I understand you have had issues with the NHS recently, have you ever found the troubles of health to have an impact on your working and photographic life?

Around this time last year my father had just passed away from bowel cancer at the young age of 60. I moved home temporarily in my third year of university in order to care for him full time and attempt to continue studying from home – naturally this disrupted my studies but I somehow managed to pull through, completing my degree in August 2013 and graduating with a 2:1 in November of that year. During my first year at Nottingham Trent I became aware I was suffering heavily from Anxiety which then developed into Depression as my personal issues continued. Anxiety affected me in a huge way – being unable to leave my flat, finding it hard to concentrate in seminars and constantly feeling judged by people. This however hasn’t taken away from my photography – if anything, photography is the one thing that has kept me firmly on track, as it is such a huge part of my life. It’s what spurs me on to keep living – most people who know me either know me for my work, or they know that it defines me and keeps me wanting more from the world.

Although my depression and anxiety is still rife and I can have very bad days where I struggle to be around people, when I get behind that camera I just feel like myself again. It brings me happiness and confidence to know I’m providing people with inspirational images and beautiful pieces of art. I regularly have people contacting me in regards to both my photography and my mental health. If I’ve learnt one thing, it’s that all creatives have an element of these issues and it’s all about being open. If you use your trials and tribulations and target them in the right direction, they can almost always enhance your art and push you to keep working harder.

Do you want to use photography as a way to battle and raise awareness of mental health issues?

Ever since I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression disorders, my photography has been the only thing to keep my going. It takes me out of my own head and gives me a platform to show myself to the world, without having to always reveal ME! Throughout the time that my father was passing away, it gave me an escape, and a way to channel my negative energy to creating works of art for all my followers to see. I have never been more thankful for my talent and profession in my entire life – if anything it has saved my life, I would probably be completely off the rails now had it not been for this creative outlet.

I will also be working to use my photography as a way of raising awareness for mental health issues along the way. Not only through the images but also being open with everyone who follows my work and attempting to make these stigmas a lot less taboo.

My personal favourite shoot of yours to date is by far Wattle Exposure with Emily Barfield’s Bridal designs, but anyone else who follows your work will know that these large scale projects are not foreign territory to you, talk us through some of the massive projects you have under taken since you graduated, why you did them and the outcome.

Awhh that’s so nice of you!
One of the main large scale projects that comes to mind is London Regal – myself and MUA Dominic-Paul came together to create a fabulous collaboration. We used models from Sapphires Boutique Modelling Agency in London and a whole team of designers, other makeup artists, hairstylists, nail technicians and assistants! I do these large-scale projects for a number of reasons – mainly to create some breathtaking images, but also to network, gain experience from others and also to get my name out there amongst the industry.

The outcome for this particular shoot was fantastic! We ended up having two sets published in US Magazine – Zélé. And the video footage of the Behind The Scenes, shot by Matthew John Lloyd was picked up by US Magazine iFathom and featured on their website.

On the day itself we shot by the iconic Tower Bridge in London and had a crowd of over 60 people watching us work. It’s an incredible feeling to have when you realise that what you think is an everyday thing, is completely fascinating to other people! The best bit – it was all caught on video so I can watch it again and again!

And now some questions directly from your followers: “My students are Fashion Styling students…can you give them some good advice about how to liaise & work well with a professional photographer like yourself regarding mood, lighting, direction for a successful shoot?”

Always approach a photographer with ideas of a concept, models, makeup etc. The more information you approach a photographer with, the more likely they are to either collaborate TF* (time for prints/CD/images), or possibly lower their prices due to how much easier you’re making the job!

Moodboards help, we are visual people and can’t always cope with just words! Have a full idea of what you expect of the outcome, and get it across as early as possible so you can build on ideas together. You don’t have to achieve the initial ideas, but having a starting point really helps!

 “Would you say going to uni has been beneficial to your career? Not sure if applying for next year though I really want to build myself up”

Yes… and no.

Originally I went off to Southampton Solent – and here’s a tip, make sure you look at the course description fully. I did “Fashion with photography” which turned out to be 2/3rd’s fashion, 1/3rd photography – I spent 3 months learning ‘the nine heads rule’ and how to illustrate fashion rather than any photography. Needless to say, I crumbled, left, felt like I’d failed, and then realised that there is a reason for everything and I have no question I made the right decision to leave.

In terms of Nottingham Trent… I also spent a lot of time building up my photography and fashion networks alongside university. The course on the other hand, it DID teach me how to take criticism, it also taught me that there are a LOT of pricks in this industry that you need to weed out of your direct circle otherwise they will drag you down. If you don’t feel ready yet, I’d say – still apply, you can always defer your place until you’re ready and go off and take a foundation art and design course to keep your creativity flowing! That’s what I did after I left Southampton – I had secured a place at Trent and wasn’t 100% if I wanted to go back off to Uni again so went to Birmingham City Uni to do my foundation back in 2009!

Do you have any advice for other creative people out there who may be struggling right now, or pointers on steps to take when it comes to setting up and going about business?

First things first – learn what criticism is necessary. If a person is putting you down for their own gain, disregard it. The amount of times I’ve been belittled for kit that isn’t expensive enough, or certain techniques that don’t seem worthy of some people, and it just doesn’t need to be said! I used to let it get to me but now I’ve very much learnt to weed out certain people from my networking circle, or just to take everything they say with a pinch of salt.

In terms of setting up a business – some of the most important things you can learn come from the Association of Photographers’ book ‘Beyond The Lens’ – and also on their website! Copyright laws are very important to be aware of – as a photographer you own the image instantly, unless you sign it over. Always make your client aware and get it in writing incase you have any issues with them in the future! Beyond The Lens also provides templates for important forms like commission estimates and model release forms!

Don’t forget – if you are struggling financially, there are many schemes through the government where you can get business advice, loans and grants to help you along the way! If you ever have a creative block – it won’t last forever, I used to go through periods of almost 6 months where I would just have to put the camera down and come back to it when I felt ready again. It doesn’t mean you’re failing, it just means you’re taking time to let your creative mind rest! You can’t force creativity, especially when stressed.

And lastly network. Network to within and inch of your life – facebook, twitter, instagram – these things are your best friends! Plus people LOVE a behind the scenes image or video, it makes them feel part of the process and gets them excited for the final product!

What challenges do you set yourself to improve? Do you ever get photos back, see an issue and seek out correcting that issue in the shoots following?

In terms of challenges, time management is an issue. Sometimes you can bite off more than you can chew. Clients get frustrated with you and you wind yourself up by working all hours God sends and you burn yourself out. Never promise to have your images delivered at a certain date, always give a time frame (ie. 2-3 weeks) that way you can even impress the client by getting their images to them sooner than expected! When I first started out I would encounter many issues – for example I once accidentally shot in an ISO so high that all the images were grainy. I also turned up to one shoot with only half my studio kit and then just pretended the whole way through that it was meant to happen… Surprisingly the images came out pretty well haha!

The Ted Baker Inspired shoot I worked on with the fashion students from Nottingham Trent was one of my most stressful shoots – everyone was late (including myself and the owner of the venue) so we started late, then some of the students didn’t turn up and so that meant we had too few garments. My flashgun then MELTED and I was working in dark conditions so I was really tested that day. Especially when informed by someone that “all my photos would look different now I worked half in flash and half without” – but that’s just what happens. You pick yourself up, you carry on and you are always happy with what you’ve achieved.

I also take my laptop with me to every shoot and upload the images after ever set to check everything, I take spare memory cards and batteries with me and try and make sure I have all bases covered incase of an emergency!

You have inspired me to look into the Prince’s Trust, can you tell me a bit more about it and your experiences? Got any advice?

The Prince’s Trust is FANTASTIC! I’ve just finished a four day ‘Explore Enterprise Course’ and I am honestly astounded by how much you learn in such a short space of time! If anyone is looking to be self employed I would seriously recommend it – you will learn everything from networking and marketing techniques, to how to keep your books and do your taxes! Not to mention the opportunities to apply for funding and also have a business mentor!

Which photographers/artists and anyone else in the world do you admire?

There’s a photographer called Yanick Déry – he is the original reason why I decided I wanted to become a fashion photographer. The second I saw his work when searching for photographers for my first ever research project in my A Level, I was just completely astounded!

In terms of work ethic, style and photographic talent as an all rounder – I’d say Lara Jade is definitely one of my idols. Working all over the world, teaching workshops in NY, and I’m pretty sure she’s younger than me as well! Bloody amazing photographer.

Who doesnt love Lara Jade! You have a few very special members in your family; let’s chat for a moment about your cousin Alexa Goddard!

Well it’s all very exciting! We’re now allowed to mention it but we’ve had to keep it under our hats for a couple of years… but SHE’S THE LATEST SINGER TO BE SIGNED BY JAY Z’S LABEL ‘ROC NATION’!!

After years of work work working, she’s finally starting to reap the rewards she deserves and I can’t quite describe the feeling of being able to see her succeed and share her journey. It’s just incredible. So go check her out!

Anyone who has worked with you knows there is a catch to every shoot and a certain someone must come along – tell us about Bear!

WELL! Bear is my little dog – he is now over a year old and he is a Chihuahua crossed with a Miniature Pinscher. I adopted him when he was only 9 weeks old, just after my father passed away as I needed something to keep me going and a reason to get out of bed every morning.

And my GOD he is the most perfect little thing! He comes along to all my shoots with me, posing with the models and winning over the hearts of everybody – I now have requests for me to make sure I bring him! He was even brought along to an engagement shoot I had recently to convince someone to buy the same breed!

As he’s so used to the environment of a studio I thought I’d make use of that, and he is now signed to two pet modelling agencies in the UK and has had shoots of his own for companies such as Ditsy Pet, a pet accessory company based in Nottingham.

He keeps me company and brightens up my days – he’s always there through the good and the bad and we even have a little section for him on my website called ‘The Bear Project’ where he’s posing quite seriously with some of the beautiful ladies I’ve been blessed with photographing!

I always get asked why I named him Bear and if it’s ironic because he’s so tiny, but in actual fact it’s all to do with my father!

When my Dad was finally attached to a morphine drip it made him very disorientated and he kept flailing his arms around and looking in distress. Then I remembered that when my grandmother had Alzheimer’s she had a toy panda which used to calm her down and she’d treat it like it was a real baby; at the time I was only 19 and thought this was incredibly bizarre.

But that same day the morphine drip was put in, my boyfriend, Campbell, arrived with flowers for everyone as he usually did, but this time he bought me a teddy bear. I gave this to my Dad and he instantly calmed, sat the bear up on his chest and kept it with him until he died. So as a tribute to my Dad I named my puppy Bear, and every single day he reminds me of what I’m working for, and how hard I have to keep striving to make my Daddy proud!

And lastly, but what every one wants to know – What are your 2014 resolutions, goals and plans? Got anything in the pipeline right now?

In 2014 I have so far been shooting non-stop, and it’s brilliant! I’ve been getting a lot more interest, more publications and a whole load more followers.

The next plan is to move from my hometown Worcester and head to London where I will be buying a house with my boyfriend and setting up my own studio. I’ve already been testing with a few London agencies but as soon as I am permanently based I will be getting my name even further out there in the capital!

In the pipeline right now I am about to go on a 4 day course with The Prince’s Trust in order to put together an official business plan and apply for funding to get myself off the ground officially. Originally my father was going to help me when I graduated but sometimes in life, things just don’t go to plan and now I’m working harder than ever to make a name for myself an achieve success.

Thanks for reading! And thanks for the interview Kate! Hope I’ve covered everything 😀 x

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 See above to keep up to date with what Elspeth is doing in 2014. And stay tuned for more monthly interviews, available on the last day of each month, coming up we have interviews from Sanctus, Pearls and Swine, Waisted Creations and the infamous Wylona Hayashi. If you would like to be interviewed, or know someone I should interview next, let me know!

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