My Gay Toronto - Spotlight

G Elliott Simpson
on the Transformation of photography and the ecstasy of art

By DREW Rowsome

16 October 2017

It has been just two months shy of the publication of G Elliott Simpson's provocative and stunning book of photography, Transformation. Pre-publication, I had a long interview/conversation with Simpson about his photography and seemingly a million other pertinent diversions. Simpson is an old friend, co-worker and artist who has intriguing opinions, an insatiable curiosity, and a very nimble mind that synthesizes pop culture, politics and personal observations into the ideas that fuel his art.

Transformation is, according to publisher Bruno Gmunder, "Doing well," but Simpson shrugs, saying he won't speculate on sales until it's been a year and he's no longer "waiting on a royalty cheque and some numbers. And they haven't asked for a calendar yet." In the meantime he is receiving fan mail that is gratifyingly "positive," and prints at are selling at a rate that is, while not yet lucrative, exciting. "I look at Transformation as a test tube for what I'd like to do," says Simpson. "There's a wider scope to my work than latex and fetish, but a retrospective is what you get at the end of your career." 

What Simpson wants to do next isn't quite clear. "The people in Transformation are posed in a blank room," says Simpson. "I'd like to put them in a whole world, in a context beyond sexual." From there he references tentacle porn, The Gilmore Girls, the visual splendour of Bladerunner 2049, Fuzzberta & Friends, HR Giger, transhumanism and Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne. I can't pretend to understand his vision beyond the gut feeling that these are photos that I really want to see. If we ever do get to see them: Simpson is on a, only partially self-imposed, break.

"I need a period of time to recoup," says Simpson. "Artists have a finite amount of energy," and the ideas need to gestate. And while he has been experimenting with models and mattes, he suspects, for now, the process is prohibitively expensive. Echoing many other photographers, he is not optimistic about current trends in photography. He cites sloppy photoshopping, amateur-looking photography that mimics social media snapshots, automation, and photographers that blatantly copy styles instead of using them as inspiration. "Everything's devalued by the internet," he says. "You have to not look at things, work in isolation." Simpson's photos come from a deep and occasionally dark place in his psyche and he notes that,  "Asking me what kind of paint I use isn't going to help you achieve a specific meaning and feel." 

Simpson is also a highly skilled commercial photographer for hire but, with so many aspiring photographers "willing to work for visibility," he has recently had offers that he turned down as "demeaning," including a suggestion from a publisher that he crowdfund another book. He is concerned that, like his successful career in graphic design, photography might be more enjoyable, and artistically fulfilling. as a hobby. To that end he is filling his current hiatus with life experience by studying social work where "at least I can see the good I am doing. And combat the numbing aspect of being constantly bombarded with media."  

Simpson is battling the "temptation to look at the book as closure," as a final chapter in his photographic odyssey. "I never wanted to be famous," he says, "but I do want to work professionally and get paid." He pulls up the Fuzzberta & Friends Facebook page, which he admits he monitors obsessively, and marvels. "It's guinea pigs dressed in hats. She sells t-shirts and calendars and is raking in money. Who would buy a Transformation t-shirt? Maybe I should do the gay soft core porn on one side and kid's bedrooms as another." He laughs heartily. "I'd need another alias."

More of Elliott's work can be found in our latest MGT Issue #51. Transformation is available at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St, and other fine bookstores or online.