THE FEMALE GAZE: “Elizabeth Bailey: Elusively Personal”, by Diana Nicholette Jeon

Elizabeth Bailey is a Los Angeles-based artist who uses photography to create evocative imagery that explores the themes of self, identity, memory, and longing. She attended Occidental College in Los Angeles and received a BA in Philosophy.

Her work has been exhibited in galleries nationally and internationally, including Light Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon; A Smith Gallery in Johnson City, Texas; and PH21 in Budapest, Hungary. Her photographs have been published in books and magazines, including Float, Stubborn, and SHOTS Magazine, and are held in private collections.

Paint and Scissors from the series Not Losing my Fun
Fallow, from the series In Flux

I can’t recall how I found Elizabeth Bailey’s work originally. I have been sporadically interacting with her on Instagram for a while, and I remember commenting to her how I like her work and how jealous I was of the Memory is a Verb group of photographers that she is a member of. I am not jealous of them as people, but jealous that they had this great critique group that had bonded so well that they developed an exhibition of their work and then made enough proposals to venues that it is now a traveling exhibit. Jealous of that. I would love to be a part of a similar group of strong and motivated women photographers!

Then, last September, I was invited to be a reviewer at LACP’s Exposure review event. Bailey was one of the photographers who signed up for a review with me. I was thrilled because it was a chance for me to learn more about her work, which I find fascinating. After that review, I wrote about a couple of her images and the work of the other women whose work I reviewed that weekend in my September edition of The Female Gaze. But during that initial review meeting, I also told her I wanted to do an interview with her for January 2024. And here we are.

Bailey says she “uses staged scenes, portraiture, and self-portraiture with implied narratives to consider what we conceal and reveal about ourselves to others.” One particularly memorable image for me is the one of Bailey climbing in the neighbor’s window. I thought it was faked, staged for the camera, and that she hadn’t really done it. But, while it was staged for the camera for the final image, it recreated something she actually did. I had to put myself in the role of the window-climber, and honestly, it’s amazing to me. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do this initially, and hence, if it were me, the entire project would have never come to fruition because I never would have entered the home. We don’t always talk about the crazy or fearless things we do in life, let alone in our photography, and I have to give her kudos for following her curiosity about her neighbor to climb in the window and ultimately create a thoughtful project about the neighbor’s life.

I find Bailey’s work beautiful, enigmatic, and elusive. She gives me clues and light details, but not so it becomes a labored or pedantic description, just enough for me to create a story in my mind before reading the artist’s statement.

I’ve asked Bailey to give a short description of her various series so readers who are not familiar with her work have a bit of detail before we delve into more imagery and her interview:

A street series shot with a point-and-shoot camera on Tri-X film, Downtown LA, 1999

documents the Broadway district of downtown Los Angeles in 1999, just before gentrification altered the appearance and character of that location.

In Flux is an ongoing self-portrait series, capturing the liminal states and emotional upheavals that accompany growth, change, and times of transition.

A fantasy retelling of my lonely childhood, The Woods draws on dark fairy tales to recreate moments from the past, with beauty and melancholy intertwined.

The House Next Door: When my reclusive neighbor died with no close friends or next of kin, I became obsessed with discovering who she was and preserving her life story before every trace of her disappeared. 

Not Losing My Fun documents the work of a young, anxiety-driven artist who obsessively paints, assembles, and creates her own world made of beautiful fashion dolls, even as she fears growing up and the approach of adulthood.

The Pearl, from the series The Woods
Looking Out, from the series Not Losing My Fun

DNJ: Tell us a bit about your childhood.

EB: I grew up in Northfield, Minnesota, a small midwestern town south of Minneapolis. My father taught English Literature and Cinema Studies at Carleton College, a liberal arts college there. Dad absolutely loved literature, film, and storytelling and was an avid photographer himself, with a darkroom in the basement of our house for as long as I could remember. I grew up with an emphasis on photography and classic film, with storytelling and visual imagery being part of what was deemed important in my family.

Street Scene, from the series Downtown LA, 1999
Billy’s Grill, from the series Downtown LA, 1999

DNJ: What brought you to photography?

EB: I didn’t get into photography until my early 20s. I graduated from college with a degree in Philosophy, thinking I might go to law school, but I took a few entry-level office jobs at corporate law firms and hated it. I enrolled in a night class at the local community college, a B&W darkroom class, and I quickly discovered my passion. More advanced classes followed, and then I branched out into art and design classes and started learning graphic design and photography. I found that my knowledge of each complemented the other.

Her Escape, from the series The House Next Door
Nightgown, from the series The House Next Door

DNJ: Do you consider this your career, or do you do it for personal enjoyment? If the former, when did you figure out art was your career path, and how did that happen?

EB: I have always loved using photography as a medium for deep personal self-expression and have wanted to keep it that way, so I chose graphic design as my career. Graphic design is something I love as well, but I don’t feel the personal and emotional attachment to design projects that I do with photography projects. I’ve been happy with this decision, but I’ve also noticed that I’ve never focused equally on both disciplines at once; I’m doing mostly design or mostly photography. I have alternated between the two for many years.

Desolate, from the series In Flux
Unrest, from the series In Flux

DNJ: Tell me about the evolution of the different series you have done. What came first? How did they lead to the next one and the one after?

EB: I began creating my (open-ended and ongoing) self-portrait series titled “In Flux” in 2016, in the midst of a difficult life transition. I felt compelled to capture the turmoil I was experiencing in images conveying the grieving process, self-discovery, and renewal. As I created these images, I considered my early childhood’s role in shaping my perspective, which led to the series “The Woods.” For that project, I worked with my young daughter to create images about childhood fantasy and isolation that reconsidered my early life, depicting scenes of beauty and darkness that mirrored how I felt at the time. I was concluding this series around 2020 when an unexpected chain of events led to my next project, “The House Next Door.”

I’d had the same neighbor for 17 years, a reclusive older woman I was friendly with and spoke to regularly. When I suddenly stopped seeing her and her mail started piling up, I called the police, who discovered she’d died in the house. I went into the house to answer questions and was shocked to see how she was living – I realized I had not really known her. She had no next of kin, and the house would be cleaned out and auctioned off. I decided I needed to go back inside and find out who she was through what she had left behind. I became obsessed with preserving her history and her memories in “The House Next Door.”  This project became all-consuming for a good two years until the sale of the house finally ended that work.

Meanwhile, my teen daughter was coping with her anxiety by obsessively creating doll art, and I started to document her art and process. This was the basis for my series “Not Losing My Fun,” which I am still working on, currently.

The Silent Woods, from the series The Woods

DNJ: Can you share your approach to creating work?

EB: My approach varies. I start with a mood, intention or rough idea, which always evolves over time. I usually write about whatever I’m doing and thinking, I keep notebooks and like to write by hand. In making the photos themselves, I often begin intuitively. I might decide to start photographing in a setting or with a prop without a precise outcome in mind but rather a driving feeling or idea. Other times, I pre-visualize what I want as a final product in a staged scene, and I set it up piece by piece.

Paper Dolls, from the series Not Losing My Fun
Combing Yarn, from the series Not Losing My Fun

DNJ: What message do you intend to send out into the world with the work you make?

EB: The work I make is about sharing a perspective, a point of view, or a life experience, and that’s what I hope comes across. I want the work to provoke emotion in the viewer, and pique their interest, and raise questions that it doesn’t necessarily answer.

Entering, from the series The House Next Door
The Car, from the series The House Next Door

DNJ: Do you have any advice for other photographers that you learned through making mistakes and then “getting it right?”

EB: I am very much still learning, making mistakes, and figuring things out. The primary thing that’s helped me grow and develop along the way has been to stay engaged in critique groups, classes, or collective experiences that allow for feedback, dialogue, and development.  I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be part of a photographic collective (Memory is a Verb) for the past few years, and I’ve learned so much as we have created a group exhibition proposal and successfully exhibited our group show in museums and galleries, with another show in the works for 2025.

Left Behind, from the series The Woods
Voyager, from the series The Woods

DNJ: What’s on the horizon for you?

EB: I’m shaping my“The House Next Door” series into book form. This project is very much narrative-driven, so I’m working on text to accompany the photos, experimenting with how to put it all together, and looking into how I might publish or self-publish it. This will be the first project of mine I’ve made into a book, and I find the prospect both thrilling and daunting.

Reflecting, from the series The Woods

I hope you have enjoyed learning about Elizabeth Bailey, her practice, and her gorgeous work.

The Dress, from the series In Flux



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Comments (2):

  1. Brian Grogan

    January 29, 2024 at 04:44

    Thank you for sharing…
    Very inspirational !!


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