The Joy of Text

Magical Multi-Exposure Photographs Invoke the Memory of Childhood Reading

American fine art photographer and avid reader Ellen Cantor thinks we’re missing out on something special when we rely on e-readers and other digital devices to enjoy literature. Her latest series Prior Pleasures is an unabashed celebration of the tactile and unmistakable experience of leafing through a good book, resplendent with pretty pictures. It’s also an attempt to bottle the magic of first discovering whole new worlds through books as a child.

Cantor_Alice In Wonderland
“I am interested in creating photographs that recreate an experience,” explains Ellen. “Prior Pleasures allows the viewer to feel as though they are reading the text and looking at the illustrations at the same time.” Eschewing Photoshop and other digital tools, Ellen uses multi-exposure techniques to distil the pages of a book into a single haunting but alluring image.

The result is an ethereal thing of beauty in its own right, creating a whimsical atmosphere that can’t fail to transport you back in time and space by conjuring deeply held emotions and memories through the lens of nostalgia and wonder. To compound this effect Ellen has chosen to photograph quintessential childhood classics like Alice in Wonderland, Black Beauty and Nancy Drew.

Cantor_Black Beauty
Cantor_Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates
Cantor_Huckleberry Finn copy
We took a trip down memory lane with Ellen to learn more:

The Plus: Are all of the books featured old favourites of yours?
Ellen Cantor:
The first 12 I did were mine as a child that I still owned…I then found some other childhood favourites – Nancy Drew and Black Beauty – and incorporated other favourites from friends.

Cantor_Jo's Boys
TP: If you had to pick just one childhood story, what would it be?
Little Women. I named my daughters Beth and Amy [after two of the character in the book].

TP: What do you hope people feel when they view this series?
I would hope they would be reminded of curling up on the sofa and spending time reading and travelling to another time and place.

Cantor_Nancy Drew
TP: Do your children like the same stories you did?
Yes, They enjoyed Little Women and Alice In Wonderland especially. 

Cantor_Raggedy Andy

TP: What’s so special about bedtime stories?
They create a bond between the parent or adult reading the story and the child. Reading to a child has been proven to be a great factor in language and literacy development. It creates an environment that encourages reading in the home. Today, it is a good antidote to tv and phones.

Cantor_The Last Of The Mohicans
TP: What will you work on next?
I am working on two series that also talk to the concepts of time, memory, loss and aging. I Can Only Remember What I Don’t Forget incorporates photographs and artifacts from my parents and recontextualizes them into a different visual experience.

Cantor_Through Fairy Halls
The second series Seeking Epicurus has the same concerns. After living in the same home for 40 years, I realised the need to simplify my life after the words of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. I photographed my garage (before cleaning it – as a reference point) but also each object prior to disposal or donation. These photographs provided me the necessary closure, allowing me to let go of the object.

Cantor_Up One Flight of Stairs