Eli Sethna’s [@elisethna] Photographs Make You Freeze And Dig Deeper

Eli Sethna’s [@elisethna] Photographs Make You Freeze And Dig Deeper

If you’re lucky to encounter Eli, he’s likely to be dripped out with vintage sunglasses perched on his nose and a camera in hand. From working with Coach x Basquiat to Grey Goose, GUAP interviewed the 25-year-old photographer to explore his creative process and work. 

GUAP: Tell us about your journey.

Eli: I was born in Johannesburg and lived there for 11 years. Then, I lived on a farm in the Andes and Chile for four years, moved to St. Louis, Missouri, for high school, and then to LA. I went to Loyola Marymount University, where I studied entrepreneurship and studio arts, and now, I’m living in NYC! I used to work in the start-up tech space. Still, when the pandemic hit, like many people, I had more time to explore my creativity, which led me to pursue photography full-time now, working at HighSnobiety. 

GUAP: When did you discover your love for photography?

Eli: Ever since I was a kid, I liked grabbing cameras and taking pictures of random things. My parents got me my first digital point-and-shoot when I was 8/9 years old, and I remember running around our garden taking photos of the bees and flowers. When I moved to the states, photography took a back seat. I spent my teenage years adjusting to the culture shock and understanding how I related to the people I was around. But, in my senior year of college, I went to London, picked up some cameras, and the love blossomed again. I started taking photos of friends and people at parties. Eventually, people started asking me to do shoots for them. The growth was very organic. 

GUAP: As a self-taught photographer, have you ever been intimidated by the equipment and technicalities of photography? 

Eli: Not necessarily intimated, but everything has a learning curve. I approached photography by just starting with what I had. So for me, that was my point-and-shoots, film cameras, and phone. I would study what I liked and didn’t like about the photos I was taking and build my skills from there. 

If I ever do need to understand a more technical feature, I’ll do the research and even learn from other people on set and in the moment. Photography is very collaborative, and most of my learning comes from just taking the time to take photos. 

GUAP: What inspires your creative eye? 

Eli: My dad’s a journalist, so I probably picked this up from him, but I like to explore people’s stories. People often get stiff in front of a camera, so I want to calm their nerves, speak to them about themselves, and get them to open up about what they love. I love being a fly on the wall and capturing people in their most natural state– the photos automatically end up conveying deeper themes that way. 

The vibrant and colorful nature of South African art also influences me. The photography world is filled with monotone colors and work that feels like it’s all made and edited the same, so I try to add richness in color and texture with my photographs. 

GUAP: What is your favorite style of photography? 

Eli: I don’t do this myself yet, but I admire powerful street photography. I think it’s cool when photographers can capture moments as they happen without anything feeling forced. We live in a world where someone always waits around the corner to ask you what you’re wearing, especially in New York. That can take away from the organic intrigue people inspire. 

That’s why a lot of my work is still images, too. With our fast-paced world, I love freezing a moment and still having it packed with energy.

See more of Eli’s work here

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