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Work / Photography

David Robert Elliott’s photographs of young runners examine aspiration and self-worth

“My practice really feels like a learning process in and of itself. It’s a way for me to learn about myself and discover things about the world we are in,” San Francisco-based photographer David Robert Elliott tells It’s Nice That. Originally from Kansas City, David has spent the past ten years working on editorial, commercial and personal projects.

Finding inspiration in literature, music and nature, David uses photography to create metaphors and icons from the world around us. “Looking at things around us and pulling meaning from them is what really draws me to medium,” he outlines. Despite now being so absorbed in the discipline, he got his start almost by accident. “My best friend suggested I take a photo class in high school. I was mostly into drawing and watercolour but I needed to fill my schedule and there were cute girls in the photo class so it made sense,” he jokes. “After one week, I was hooked and it’s been my main focus ever since.”

Now, his practice provides opportunities for him to learn about the world. Somewhat formal in its execution in terms of composition, David’s work sees him exploring various subjects, and allow said subjects to guide his outcomes. “I like to work on projects that teach me something or show me something,” he tells us, “A lot of my work the past few years has been interested in failure, learning and growing.”

One such project is I used to believe that I could be the next Larry Bird. Published as a book by Candor Arts, the photo series features portraits of young runners, their faces grimacing as they exert themselves in the heat. Having photographed the competitors between 2013 and 2014, David then spent a year or so editing the series. With more formal reportage-style photographs also included in the series, I used to believe that I could be the next Larry Bird explores how far we are willing to push ourselves to realise our perceived potential.

Posing questions like "How do our failures define us? How much of our perceived worth is determined by our performance?” and “How many times are we willing to lose before we give up?” David uses his own experience to gauge how we cling to aspirations and measure our worth. “I used to believe that I could be the next Larry Bird,” reads the project’s statement. “This is ridiculous, Larry Bird was a 12-time NBA All-star, MVP three consecutive years, and won three NBA championships. Larry is widely considered one of the best to ever play the game. I wish I could see myself when I realised that I was not going to be the next Larry Bird. I’d like to see the look on my face.”

“Even as I write this,” it continues, “I have to confess, deep in the back of my mind there is a tiny voice saying ‘Fuck this, I am the next Larry Bird.’ I am 33 years old, sitting at a desk, in an office, and seriously believing that there is a chance in this universe that I am in fact the next Larry Bird. I’m not crazy. I know I’m not the next Larry Bird, but I could be."

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird

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David Robert Elliott: I used to believe I could be the next Larry Bird