Based in New York City, Switzerland-born photographer and art director Ella Mettler is renowned for her unique vision, which intertwines natural surroundings with surrealism that is often accentuated with uncanny poses and striking colors.
The photographer, who spent much of her earlier years in Biel/Bienne, often engages with themes around unwavering confidence and storytelling within the subjects she lenses. For example, her recent shoot with model Lola Arenas, who dons an orange and pink coat in the streets of NYC, or Cierra O’day who can be seen roaming Los Angeles as the sun graces her skin. Elsewhere, the theme of expression, whether that be through fashion or artistry, is another recurring idea within Ella’s work. “I definitely think photography has the potential to educate, empower, and encourage people to look at others and themselves with fresh eyes,” she tells us.”
Mettler’s latest series Gender Blending (2022) juxtaposes the gender spectrum and self-expression, lifting social constructs in exchange for the purest path to beauty. Her experience as a fashion and lifestyle photographer is particularly evident in works such as “Lively Bloom” and “She Is The Moment” among a number of others. Meanwhile, Ella has lensed emerging musicians like Meg Smith, Romy Wave, Nemo, and bonboi, as well as notable muses such as Amanda Pavillard, Sophia Kelly, Moya Mawhinney, and Asalia Yusupova to name a few. Continuing on this trajectory of boundary-pushing and experimentation across her work, the variety of color and multitude of angels undoubtedly have become a staple for the photographer.
To learn more about the photographer and her work, we spoke with Ella Mettler in regard to her upbringing in Switzerland, the reoccurring themes of her work, exploring new ways to evolve her craft, and more. Read on for our conversation.
To begin with, can you talk about your background growing up in Zurich as well as your experience moving to New York?
I actually just moved to NYC in 2022. I now go back and forth between LA, NYC, and Switzerland. It’s all a bit chaotic but I love being all over the place. I grew up in a small town called Biel/Bienne in Switzerland, that’s where they make all those watches like Rolex, Swatch, and Omega. I moved to Zurich when I was 16—I’m turning 20 this August. I really loved growing up in Switzerland and especially in a small bilingual city, it’s very charming and unique.
For those who are unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your aesthetic and the reoccurring themes in your photos?
I love creating surreal images in natural surroundings, I have the biggest crush on flashy colors and weird poses and angles. I love shooting people in their own surroundings, I like when you can not only feel the person but also where they are.
Looking through some of your older works, your photos and editing process have evolved quite a bit over time. How often, if at all, do you reflect on what you were making early on?
Yeah! I think my work actually evolved a lot. I think what is consistent is that I love to photograph people. I’m actually so happy with the direction my photography is taking and I really feel like it’s me. I don’t often reflect on what I created in the past, I reflect more on my current work and build off of that. I try to always remember the time when I wanted what I currently have. I’m unbelievably thankful that I get to do this for a living.
In your “Gender Blending” series, you explore themes of gender fluidity as it relates to self-expression—can you share why it’s important to examine tropes such as the following in your work?
This is actually a very important issue for me. I guess that in some of the urban parts of the United States gender identity and fluidity and their expression have become everyday topics and feel familiar, but in Switzerland and also in many parts of the world it still has the aura of the unfamiliar and sometimes even strange and I want to contribute to changing that.
Elsewhere, your “Lucky Charms” shoot is a personal favorite of mine. How do you decide who you shoot? Are there any archetypes that you enjoy working with the most?
Haha, I love that that’s one of your favorites! Thank you! I love that one too. It was actually a really spontaneous shoot and it all worked out so well! For my own projects, I choose people that fit my vision or people whom I automatically have ideas with and for. I love working with people that are curious and excited to create.
Given how long you’ve spent in photography and art direction, do you find that you’re still experimenting with your technique and approach?
I definitely do! I feel like I get better with every shoot I do and I also think that my approach will never change. Only by constantly exploring and evolving can we grow in any art.
Out of curiosity, when you approach making the aesthetical aspects of your series, whether the colors or the angels, is there a specific image you have in your mind already? Or do you develop a sense of what the series will look like as you go?
A lot of it is on the go! I definitely have a vision and ideas in mind and I often see the image in my head but in the end, I’m at the location creating this world with what I have and it mostly turns out expectedly unexpected if that makes sense. I do it quite intuitively.
Lastly, how do you think photography can be used as a tool of empowerment?
Most definitely it can and it should! When I think of photography, I admire many iconic works that were used to address issues of inequality, show injustices, or show us a more diverse and wider range of individual expression. I definitely think photography has the potential to educate, empower, and encourage people to look at others and themselves with fresh eyes.