“Master and Commander” by Kristi Elias. Photos courtesy of the artist.
The work of Long Beach photographer Kristi Elias is beautifully dark, evoking the type of emotions that studio photography—when done with the eye of a perfectionist—often does: longing, curiosity, and the sensation that the viewer is getting a glimpse, albeit a brief one, into the life of another.
The Professional Photographers of California tend to agree, with a panel of jurors consisting of outstanding photography professionals from across the state bestowing upon her the prestigious honor of being named the California Photographer of the Year. This follows her being recognized by the Professional Photographers of America last year as International Photographer of the Year.
Though the awards cement her place within the professional scene, the Brooks Institute of Photography alumna remains humble and adamant that she is simply an artist.
“I have been an artist my whole life it’s not just what I do but who I am,” Elias said. “When I was in high school I knew I needed to find a way to make a living as an artist. I loved photography and decided it would be the most profitable way to live as an artist.”
Inspired by a variety of artists—from the work of Annie Leibovitz, to which Elias’s own work harkens, to Rembrandt—Elias attempts to perpetually think outside the box.
“You Won’t Bully Me,” Elias’s chilling photograph of what looks like a child martial arts student within a mine, boxing gloves on his hands and sweat dripping down his body was her most recognized photograph. The shocking juxtaposition—someone so young with a face that is undeniably pugilistic—appealed to judges across the board, with the photograph earning Elias the additional awards of California Child Photographer of the Year, the Bay Photo Award, and the Sunset-Lexjet Award.
Her work, balancing between digital experimentation and portraiture, shows just how progressive Elias’ idea of photography is. “I think digital has been great for those who are creative,” Elias said. “It has greatly broadened the spectrum of photography as a medium. But digital has also has a negative backlash. Where people used to have printed and or framed documentations of their life’s journey, we now have legacies on hard drives or lost on iPhones. Without printed portraits, there will be nothing left for your children or grandchildren to look at. The art of the printed portrait is not just for us but for our future generations to enjoy, experience and past down. I believe that having your portrait created by a professional photographer and then mounted for you through archival printing is just as important if not more now than ever before.”
Elias, who has been photographing for 16 years, originally started her career in Los Angeles but moved to Long Beach a decade ago. Though she feels Long Beach will always be dominated by LA simply due to size and demand with its plethora of advertising and modeling agencies, she stands by Long Beach’s ability to compete with the best.
“LA and New York have more photographers than any other city in the States—but I love Long Beach,” Elias said. “I have clients that come from San Francisco, San Diego, other states and even countries. If you can create something unique and different and marry it with both a luxury client experience and great business practice, then you will stand out no matter where you are.”
Elias also scored three other awards: the California Portrait Photographer of the Year Award for “Portrait of Milan;” the California Illustration Photographer of the Year Award for “Nevermore;” and the Judges’ Choice Away for “Master and Commander.”