Born in Russia and currently living in California, photographer Elena Kulikova draws inspiration from swirls of color and touches of natural elements. Known for her love of experimentation, Elena's self-taught style of photography pushes the boundaries and always shows her subjects in a unique light (sometimes literally).
Photos by Emily Knecht
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do – where do you live, where do you work, etc?
I’m a photographer, recently moved to Los Angeles from Oakland. I photograph a lot of portraits of musicians, album covers, and fashion editorials or lookbooks. Other artists tend to love my photography for my colorful and conceptual style. A team of various creatives is usually involved and we shoot on location or a photo studio. During my free time I love to keep creating, collaborating with beautiful muses or shooting stills of flowers and other organic beauty such as butterflies, rocks, and lately a lot of soap bubbles. More can be seen on my website.
When did you first get started with photography?
I took a darkroom class in high school and loved it, but it wasn’t my passion and I never imagined being a photographer for a living. I started modeling and was introduced to many photographers and styles. My college boyfriend gave me a camera when I was 18, and I accidentally discovered multiple exposures by forgetting to advance the film sometimes - that’s what really made me fall in love with photography, multiple realities coming together. I started visualizing places, objects, and people that I could combine together. I continued to model into my mid-20s. I was living in Amsterdam, and had access to a lot of amazing modeling agencies so I was shooting frequently and experimenting often.
How did your style evolve to what it is today?
When I first seriously started photography I was really influenced by digital photography & fashion because I was modeling and surrounded by the industry. I strived for that clean well-lit fashion look, but honestly just got bored because so much of today’s fashion photography looks the same. I understand that the photos need to be realistic to show the products but I want to capture something more magical, and hint at the depths of the subject I’m photographing whether it’s a person or a flower.
I moved to Oahu from EU at 25 and started shooting with film again. I photographed a lot of surfers, the waves, tropical beauty and sunsets. There I discovered my great love for nature and my photography became very colorful. Anytime I walked on the beach or discovered a new tree I would bring back some seashells or flowers to photograph at home. I still constantly bring back interesting seeds or flowers home to photograph under my macro lens. The other day my cat killed a metallic fly (but didn’t devour it) so I captured its beauty under a macro lens. This earth is full of inspiration and I’m so happy others enjoy seeing what inspires me.
Do you feel your own personal aesthetic translates to your photography aesthetic?
It’s hard to answer that question. I think yes and no. My photography aesthetic is colorful, vibrant, psychedelic, dreamy, hypnotic at times, and sunny. My home-decor aesthetic tends to be more minimal. I love Scandinavian design, there’s a lot of white in my home with colorful accents, and I love wood. Lighting is my favorite part of the home, I love bright natural sunlight during the day, and for night-time colorful and whimsical lighting. My friends create Hybycozo sculptures and lamps, it’s one of my favorite lamps!
I have colorful led lighting all over like under my work table like a sci-fi space ship, and I think at night time my home becomes more like my colorful photography. My fashion aesthetic tends to be more colorful, playful, comfortable, feminine, light and flowing. I love wearing jewelry that is nature inspired such as Nervous System.
What's the most important thing to you when creating an image? What do you hope the viewer takes away from it?
I want my photography to be inspiring and move the viewer, captivating enough to make them ponder about the little details I capture under my macro lens when photographing stills or the depth and possibilities of the person in front of my lens. When photographing people it’s important that the person is comfortable and enjoying the moment. A quote that I really resonate with is ‘There is another world, but it is in this one.’ by W B Yeats - I really hope my photography translates this in a visually creative way.
We love the look of your home! Can you tell us what you look for when you're getting items to decorate?
If I’m not shooting on location or in a photo studio I tend to work from home, so it’s important to love all the items in my home and feel comfortable. I love organization and don’t like clutter because then I feel like I am a better creative and can focus my energy on artwork. I love plants and colorful artwork, things that are made with love and from natural elements. For home decor I look for the value of how something will help me organize better, or make something like an artwork or an interesting lamp illuminate my surroundings in an inspiring way.
Do you have any advice for young photographers out there trying to find and hone their own style?
Continue to create for the most important audience of all, yourself. Create what makes you truly happy! Sometimes it’s a journey to discover what you really love, and that’s life - your tastes will change, you’ll discover something new and that’s great, go with the flow and explore anything and everything that inspires you. If you see a photograph out there that speaks to you don’t just copy it, see how you can make it better, challenge yourself and experiment.
How do you make sure you stand out in a sea of Instagram photographers?
I joined it recently, only 2 years ago, and I love it because it’s a great platform to share my photography with a larger audience worldwide. Honestly, I don’t have any tricks for standing out on Instagram, because I’m just sharing my art and it makes me happy that others follow me and leave sweet comments on my work. I tend to post my latest photography and sometimes love to include a little bit of poetry or beautiful quotes juxtaposed to photographs. I keep a notebook of my favorite quotes and poems, it’s my little treasure that I’ve been transcribing inspirational passages into for several years.
Finally, tell us three things you've been interested in lately!
I’ve been extremely fascinated with eyes, I’ve had a few “Eye Ball” parties where some friends DJ, many friends bring other friends and then I photograph eye portraits. I’ve also been devoting a lot of time recently to this project and collecting a lot of macro eye photographs. I’ll soon be starting a street art project around the streets of LA and hopefully other cities soon! I want to create some new artwork that is more captivating than simply visual, so I’m currently very interested in creating a fun, fragrant, ‘scent’sational, olfactory inspiring, visual photo book. I’m very interested in all of LA! I recently moved here and so excited about all the streets, all the museums, new hiking trails and all the spots I have yet to discover. Equally I’m also very interested in traveling and really craving to explore Iceland or Japan soon.
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