In Focus: Dominique Ellis

During the last days of Moderne Gallery’s presence in Old City, Dominique Ellis captured Daniel Jackson’s Unicorn Rocker in the perfect light. The resulting image and print, which received the Eric J. Doughtery Award in Photography during this year’s Annual Adult Student Exhibition, represent Dominique’s reinvigorated love for film and her quest to capture time and the many ways Philadelphia is changing.

“Photographing other people’s art isn’t a hard thing to do, but there was something about the lighting that added my surprise in the darkroom,” she said of the piece.

A visual artist and researcher, Dominique came to Fleisher in 2017, having put down her camera after serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco and receiving a Fullbright student scholarship, during which she worked in Egypt. After growing tired of relying on her smartphone as her camera, she stepped back into the darkroom after a nearly 10-year break through Ahmed Salvador’s Color Photography class at Fleisher. Since then, she has joined Rick Wright’s merry band of darkroom enthusiasts in Rick’s Darkroom: Art of the Fine Print class.

“I don’t know why I put down my camera, but I did,” Dominique said. “Coming back to film really changed the way I navigate this city.”

Though she is already an accomplished visual artist, Dominique credits Rick with helping to refine her photographic perspective, challenging her to think deeply about her subject matter and to develop a larger narrative that supports her work.

“He is one of my biggest mentors in a lot of ways,” she said of Rick. “I did photography in high school and a little bit in college in Nebraska, but I don’t think I really understood how to go big and all the technical things Rick provides.”

For six years, Dominique has been working as The Clay Studio’s retail manager and gallery. Headquartered in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood – at least for now – Dominique regularly steps out to explore the neighborhood and capture buildings and objects before they disappear completely. Her early explorations of the John Grass Wood Turning Company, a woodshop on 2nd Street that remains frozen in time, became a launch pad for her larger project and an idea for a potential book.

While she works from home, Dominique continues to ride her bike throughout the city with her camera in hand. Having access to a backyard, too, has prompted a return to drawing, and she has been committed to building her visual vocabulary through large-scale works in charcoal. “I have a backyard, so I’m turning that into my residency for the next month,” she joked, noting that she believes community art-making spaces like Fleisher and The Clay Studio are vital in providing access to visual art for those who need it most.

“I think now, more than ever, people who are creative or have never had the chance to be are understanding that you have to keep going,” she says. “The arts are always that thing that can keep you going, so I’m trying to stay as creative as possible.”

Dominique’s artwork, from top: Edward Corner Marine Merchandise Warehouse, detail, 2019; Unicorn (Moderne), 2019; and 12 Feet Deep, 2018.

Since the coronavirus led to the cancellation of one of the Annual Adult Student Exhibition reception and prize ceremony, in which we celebrate the achievements of our adult students, we are highlighting a number of the exhibition’s prize winners each week. The series, In Focus, will run through the spring.

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