Taking on the Masses with Photographer Elise Swopes

We live in a world where your social media number is everything. How many page hits does your blog get? How many Instagram followers do you have? What about retweets, Facebook followers? Social currency has become beyond tangible. With over 266 thousand followers, the Chicago-based Instagram phenomenon Elise Swopes or @SWOPES, has become renown for her surrealist, dreamlike aesthetic that she captures all on an iPhone 6.

With emerging apps like Popular Pays, there are tools that streamline the process for individuals to trade in their follow count for free food, drinks, or even a skydiving session. This led me to wonder how Elise became the Insta-goddess she is today. With clients that include Nike, Chevy, Moet, Explore Canada, and even PetSmart, she isn’t what you’d expect her to be. Elise revealed to me that she has a soft spot for fuzzy dogs, is down to kick it with a milkshake in hand and talk about her rise to IG fame. Read on for our Q&A below:

What is it exactly that you do, all that you do, Elise?

I am an Instagrammer, graphic designer, web designer, photographer, student…female from Chicago!


You’re sort of Instagram famous, how did this all begin?

I started about three years ago with my boyfriend Sadar, better known as @TRASHHAND and I finding the Popular Page on Instagram and we’re like yo, there’s some cool shit on here. So we downloaded a bunch of beginner apps like Snapseed and dived right in. We really made it something that we became obsessed with.


Your first photos on Instagram weren’t really the photos they are now…they were sort of like the rest of ours!

Yeah! I took photos of my cat, my food, myself as anyone else would. I didn’t start off as an Instagram genius or expert…it took a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of practice.


Describe your photos now.

Really dreamy, magical…a different world completely. When you look at a photo on my stream you’re probably going to see something in the photo that’s not really there in real life.

What is a typical Swopes shoot…or explorations like?

When I decide to venture out there’s usually overcast, I love stormy weather! I always go to one single destination. I stay on one block or a couple around it, but if the weather is really sunny and boring…you know, harsh lights then I don’t go out.


With your Instagram following continually growing, can you tell about the money-making side?

I am pretty proud about this actually. I signed with an agency out of New York and I’ve gained so much work from them [including] Coach, Moet, Dos Equise, Nike, Explore Canada and so on. Sometimes it’s a contest that I promote in union with a photo I post in a pair of shoes they send me. The trips are the best though. I get flown out sometimes without knowing what or where I will be, just what the brand is. It get’s pretty interesting…and fun!

You were just in Japan on “business” as an Ig’er, was it your first time in Asia?

It was my first time and I can promise it won’t be my last. I had such an amazing time, especially with our language barrier. It’s a little exiting not to know exactly what the fuck is going on! Best part by far was the Robot Restaurant. Which I suggest every single person in Tokyo visits. I say no more.


It’s safe to assume that your job has granted you the opportunity to travel more than ever, now that it’s more accessible to you do you value it more?

Depends on how you want to live…I remember when I had no followers, but @TRASHHAND and I would drive out for hours in insane snow to get some cool photos. And Asia is pretty cheap, travel is pretty cheap if you don’t mind layovers, not moving your legs for ten or more hours and so on.

What does the phrase ‘global generation’ mean to you?

That if the U.S. is doing something, other countries will catch on quick. There aren’t many differences in what teenagers see these days, especially with the internet. My parents haven’t gone to the same places I have but because we see another person, another Instagrammer taking that dive that makes us believe we can do it too. There’s a genuine need to explore and better ourselves.

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