Invisible Cities: Elise Swopes

The interview is conducted as part of the SuperRare April Exhibition: Invisible Cities, curated by an and Elisabeth Johs.

As one of the original Instagram artists, Elise Swopes learned to connect with a worldwide audience of millions by melding art with a message. Since then, the Brooklyn-based photographer has worked on countless ideas showcasing her surreal cityscapes and streetwise style.

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It’s all in the mind.
Describe the cities in your art:

Chicago has been my favorite playground for over a decade. I moved to New York in March 2020 and it’s been a lot of fun playing in a new territory. 

How did you become interested in using cities as the subject of your art? Which aspects of cities fascinate you the most?

Architecture flows through color, lines, and shapes. Architecture looks different in certain light and weather. Architecture is free and available to explore. So, it’s difficult not to use it as my subject when I began as a college dropout with no money. Taking photos of people has stressed me out a bit, though because I’ve had to boost someone’s self-esteem so they can perform confidently but the cities always perform. They’re always confident.

What do cities mean for you?

Cities feel limitless. Every corner is new on any given day. From down below to high up, I’m intrigued.

In the Eye of the Storm
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To achieve stillness even at the center of a difficult situation or “eye” of a storm.
Which are your favorite cities? How do these cities inspire you and influence your art?

Chicago, New York, and Tokyo. Tokyo changed me as a person. The way people respect one another and show kindness is so special.

What are you trying to express through depiction of cities? In portraying cities, what are the (bigger or personal) stories you’re trying to tell?

Cities are the canvas to my soul. They give me an opportunity to dream and add a little bit of me to every photograph I take.

What’s your approach to make art about cities (creative process, technique, art genre, aesthetics etc.) 

I love taking helicopter flights around a new city. I think it’s one of the most unique perspectives you could possibly have. I take photos with my iPhone mostly but I also use a Canon R5. I also edit everything on my iPhone within a couple different apps that I’ve been pushing to the limit for almost a decade. I believe I’m painting surrealist scenes with my fingertips.

Where Focus Goes, Energy Flows
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When Mother Nature and architecture fuse together, we are presented with a fine line between utopia and dystopia. I’ve walked this fine line by creating a surrealist combination of cityscape and waterfalls using only an iPhone as my tool of choice.
What does your ideal city look like?

My ideal city has a good mix between natural occurrences like waterfalls, forests, or mountains mixed with manmade concrete and glass. In respect to Mother Nature, of course.

What’s the relationship between people and cities (or nature and cities) in your art?

Some may see some of my art as destructive, but I like to imagine it as a regular day. Although subconsciously, there’s a lot to be said about human’s lack of care of the Earth and personal responsibility.

What are the little things you want your viewers to notice in your art?

How important iPhone art is to younger people who don’t have expensive equipment or programs. I’ve been working diligently for over a decade even when it wasn’t popular to make sure I stayed on the map. It wasn’t easy and I was tested plenty of times to give up. But I persevered and will continue to.

What’s your dream art project to do?

To produce a curriculum for high schools around the world for iPhone photography and editing.

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