“A momentary glimpse into someone else’s life”: Tour a world of characters captured by Charlotte Ellis
Originally for Vogue Portugal’s June 2023 issue on ‘travel’, this collaborative project from Charlotte, Lydia Chan and Athena Paginton takes us deep into the labyrinths of our world.
- Joey Levenson
- 31 August 2023
"We always love when a collaboration occurs between some of It’s Nice That's favourites. Such is the case with Vogue Portugal’s World of Characters, the new photography project (and mini-film) from visionary Charlotte Ellis, with set design by Lydia Chan and make-up art by Athena Paginton. It’s a fantastical and surrealist tale on the “different types of eccentric characters you would find around the world”, Charlotte tells It’s Nice That. The team pulled inspirations from old vintage entertainers, cultural traditions, surrealist artists and abstract performers, evoking a circus-type visual to the entire affair. “We wanted to construct universes that integrated concepts of art, travel and culture that allowed us to present colourful eccentric and unique individuals who represent human expression in all its forms,” Charlotte adds.
Lighting plays a particularly integral role in the project. From a haunting chiaroscuro to sparkling spotlights, it’s clear Charlotte laboured over the time and thought required to set up these compositions. “Each of the characters were softly highlighted from an above top light that was rigged above their heads, which gently created a soft beam of light. This gave off the impression of another world and added dimension to the overall composition,” she explains. “We also played with spotlight tungsten heads that added in different tones and hints to sunlit pools of light to bring in the idea of different types of light around the world.” The light also serves to complement and bring out the other working parts of the frame. In fact, by refraining from too many close-ups, a lot of the series takes on a tableau-like effect – emphasising the beautiful set design work by Lydia.
“The inspiration behind the set is something mystical and fantastical but rooted in objects that exist in society,” Lydia tells us. “Each image is like a momentary glimpse into someone else's life.” Playing on the ways in which we seek meaning in life by inventing stories and creating fantasies, Lydia wanted to lean in to “objects that already had meaning imbued in them”. It was a different effect to her usual large-scale world-building epics, as for this shoot she honed in on individual objects and the ways in which they can communicate the intentions and lifestyle of a character. “I think that's some of the most exciting discoveries of travel, seeing people around the world doing things differently from you and being fascinated by their traditions,” she explains. “It was important that we communicated that sense of wonderment without necessarily linking to specific cultures or locations around the world. The set narrative being open ended allows the viewers to complete the story and invites their imagination.”
“Each department had creative freedom for each character so it was an exciting surprise every time each character came on set to see the whole look work so well,” Charlotte adds. “From the styling to the make-up to the set, it all just felt right.” All three of Charlotte, Lydia and Athena agree that the general aesthetic of the day seemed to be about balancing vibrance with moodiness. The make-up is what truly brings this aesthetic to life, landing somewhere between fine art and typical Vogue-tinged glamour. “The face painting looks were all intuitive, focusing on graphic shapes, spiralling and growing, to represent how each character was evolving,” the make-up artist tells us. “Each of the worlds we created felt as though we were stepping through time, exploring history at our fingertips.”
The synthesis between all of their creative visions seemed to have happened organically, prompting them all to evolve their craft. “It was a truly collaborative experience,” Charlotte emphasises. “Our individual ideas fit together so seamlessly, forming the perfect complete puzzle,” Athena concurs. While all of them were so aligned on their point of view, it’s interesting to note how each of them have a different stand-out image. For Charlotte, it’s the black-and-white group shot with art by Kimia Amini in the background. “I think this is one of those images for me where you’re dancing on electricity, when you see every element coming together to sit in harmony,” she explains. For Lydia, it’s the overhead shot of the man lying in a cape of shells, and for Athena, it was that of the character holding woven baskets on her head.
Overall, Charlotte “hope[s] the audience responds to this in an excited surreal way”, particularly taking note of the blending of all the different motifs, inspirations and traditions from around the world. “Our goal is to remind people to always be creative,” she adds. “There is so much content out there and I feel it’s important to push yourself creatively, think of ideas that blur multiple concepts and try to make work that feels exciting to you.”
GalleryWorld of Characters for Vogue Portugal, June 2023. Photography by Charlotte Ellis, Set design Lydia Chan, Make-up Athena Paginton (Copyright © Charlotte Ellis, Lydia Chan, Athena Paginton, 2023)
World of Characters for Vogue Portugal, June 2023. Photography by Charlotte Ellis, Set design Lydia Chan, Make-up Athena Paginton (Copyright © Charlotte Ellis, Lydia Chan, Athena Paginton, 2023)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.