The first in an ongoing series, Better Than I Was Yesterday (BTIWY) is a new initiative designed to spotlight designers and curators we admire.

Photography + Styling: Ellie Phan

HMUA + Grooming: Chloe Rose

Photo Assist: Davzon Toy

Models: Alexandria, Blaze, Natalie, Solomon

Ellie Phan started photography in 2015 purely to document life and the beauty of it. She’s formally educated in photojournalism, but more concerned with getting the soul in her images. In 2021 she dropped her full time job and dove head first into fashion photography, finding the medium to give her voice in a noisy industry.

To kick off our ongoing series Better Than I Was Yesterday, we thought that Ellie would be the perfect person to create a concept that talks to her voice within the PRGRSS ecosystem. The images are inspired by the stark spreads of late-90s and early-2000s era magazine editorials, when fashion photography turned a new page and began telling stories by focusing on the expressions of shoot talent. Approaching the shoot as a personal learning step, Ellie took away all distractions from complex lighting setups and instead shifted the energy to the garments and her models, turning the clothing into an extension of the wearer.

We used the opportunity to catch up and ask Ellie a few questions about her craft. You can shop the Ellie Phan edit here.

How long have you been taking pictures Ellie?

Two years of taking it seriously, before that there were 6 years of playing around and never thought of taking the leap.

What’s the worst picture you’ve ever taken?

I can’t point out a particular one, I just know that there are photos I really didn’t enjoy taking. The reasons normally vary from not having my own creative control or not vibing with the subject and the surroundings.

As a photographer, do you ever struggle with the contradictions around fashion and consumption?

All the time! I try to create art from my passion for style and beauty, however, if my photos don’t boost sales, it’s considered an unsuccessful campaign. My craft is used in an industry where consumption is the driving factor and we are pretty much selling products rather than promoting creativity; people buy with a mentality that the clothes give them style – not the other way around. I guess it’s also up to us to educate the consumers through the work we put out there, as well as insiders in our field to slow down, go inwards, think deeper.

Feel you on that one. We find therapy helps, but what are your coping mechanisms?

Self-time, definitely. I get overwhelmed from working in fields that require so much socialising, so it’s important that I have time for myself without talking to anyone.

You also straddle the music world. How is photography like making music?

It’s like having the creation in your head already, whether it’s a glimpse of your vision, or a simple melody, then there’s the process of making that creation come to life using instruments like cameras, clothing, the location. Making music is similar in that process, you can create the song using your musical skills and instrument, solo or with a band of other musicians – just like a photographer working with a team to shoot a project. You share this moment together working on something you all believe in and it feels special. Saying that, both crafts allow the artist to work solo as well which I also really enjoy, just you and the camera, or a piano and you’re ready to go.

What’s the most advanced state you’ve ever hit?

This shoot is it! I have got a better flow during work, my vision has been the clearest and the connection with my team was really fun. That’s why I do this, making beautiful things happen with people who share the fun and believe in you.

Tell us about a time you took something too far…

One person’s too far is another person’s normal…

What’s the shittiest piece of clothing you’ve ever bought? Why did it suck?

For the longest time in high school I was going hard on stuff like skinny pants, that real late 2000s look. Frankly speaking, I didn’t even like skinny jeans that much at the time, it was just something everyone else was doing and I felt weird being the odd one out. I eventually realised that wearing something you don’t vibe is really wasting your time (and money), I just had to learn the lesson.

You know where this is going by now…what’s the best piece of clothing you’ve ever bought and why did it rule?

There’s this pair of Vaquera denims I got a few months ago and I’ve been in love ever since. From the quality to the fit and how I find they’re just so….me! They go with everything I already have and I can see them with me for at least the next 10 years, no matter how my style changes and expands. I think that’s what makes an amazing piece – how timeless it is.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, what’s the thing in your head that you picture to calm you down?

Just nothingness, blank space. I always think in visuals so it’s good to shut off sometimes.

Why does integrity matter?

It’s less stressful, I feel more at peace with myself. Of course you gotta be smart, but working with solid ethics does more good than harm. Why go backwards in an industry where everything is about pushing boundaries and being progressive?

On that note, what’s your favourite PRGRSS piece this season and how is it like your favourite movie character?

I’m really vibing the Our Legacy Third Cut Sand Denim – they remind me of Cleon in The Warriors look and I’m obsessed with the styling in that movie.

How important is gaze to a photographer?

What you see is what others also see while looking at your photograph. As a photographer, you have the power and responsibility to drive the narrative. You can choose to just click the shutter with what is constructed in front of you, or go deeper – express yourself and make a statement through the instruments of fashion, beauty and emotions of your subjects. To me, the gaze is equivalent to a photographer’s voice, that’s where your style comes from and it shows who you are.

Lastly (and most importantly), what did you have for breakfast this morning?

Black coffee, hah! I usually skip breakfast.