Peaceful Exorcisms: The Photography of Elena Helfrecht
Most photographers choose to highlight only the best of their subjects – blemish and scar free, an idealized face or body that can’t possibly be real, much less attainable. Conversely, artist Elena Helfrecht relishes in her photographs being as “real” as possible. She hails from the shadowy forests of Bavaria, where she draws inspiration from folklore and art history, resulting in an aesthetic of suppressed fears.
Creative from an early age, Elena began drawing like most children do, but switched to photography as her primary medium once she had the opportunity to experiment with an old digital camera. Her image-making is entirely self-taught; her early drawing sessions helped to hone her skills in composition, color, manipulating anatomy, and visual storytelling, all of which are prevalent in her photos.
Elena’s images cover a breadth of topics including body positivity, strength, vulnerability, and the delicate membrane between life and death, among many others. In her series entitled The Silent Dialogue, wounds and scars communicate a visual record of battles fought. Landscapes of flesh showcase remnants of self-harm: bloody, but healing and alive. In another related series, The Wounded, the fragile allure of humanity is on display. Curvy, scarred, and deformed bodies are transformed into things of high beauty.
The Rituals series is another favorite, where snow-white maidens populate a forest with soft bodies reminiscent of the witches of William Mortensen. In some photographs, the women appear to be asleep (or perhaps deceased), laid in awkward angles. In others, the nudes are emerging from hiding. The series is about human purity and being free from societal pressures.
It is about the development of the human soul and pure emotion, about the border between strength and vulnerability. The series consists completely of self-portraits. Nature, as a place free from any social obligations and conventions, plays an important role showing different states of mind and emotion. The human soul gets uncovered, with every little detail and antagonism.
Her emotional imagery is intensely personal, yet resonates deeply with all who gaze upon them. While Elena’s personal intentions for some of her visuals may differ, viewers can find solace in the wounded forms. Her photos are as real as they come – the scars, blood, and dead insects have not been edited in to communicate an idea artificially, making the content even more poignant. Metaphors, like the wasp in Emesis (representing verbal violence) hold added emotional impact. Someone dishing out verbal abuse may experience regret later, however, it also symbolizes the power associated with it and how impactful words can be.
“Diagnosed with depression and an emotionally unstable personality disorder I discovered the camera as a way of treatment and peaceful exorcism. Sometimes we might not see in the beginning, but every pain we suffer makes us the beautiful beings we are today. Pain is valuable, and so are mistakes.”