“I would say being a creative person has completely altered the path of my life. It’s allowed me to be more open to saying ‘yes’ to things I am fearful of doing and my fear of vulnerability.” A brave statement to open my interview with brave soul Elena Ohlander. A model, photographer, visual artist, and art director at a local private school, Elena is the ideal example of a human who has trustingly allowed her creativity to guide her toward the best life possible. “Creativity is an outlook on living life. I would say most of my major steps in life have been based on my creative lifestyle and at this current moment, I have no regrets.”
A Minnesota native who has spent most of her life in Jax, she describes the bold city in a bright, astute voice as creative, but slightly repressed. “What we need is more advocacy for funding…our art culture is definitely ahead of local society, and the city needs to catch up.” Dancing between gallery shows, her daily job, single parenthood, and the essential, significant task of honing her creativity, you can find Elena all across the Jax arts scene. Listing the activities that fill her dwindling spare time, I quickly gather that Elena doesn’t have a single hustle or hobby that isn’t creative.
“Art, especially when shared, is meant to connect the artist with the world. It’s my way to communicate with society at large.” And she has a lot say. As a model, she savors the opportunity to explore being herself and simultaneously a character. “It can be stressful to adhere to certain expectations and be yourself.” She got started five years ago from “just saying yes” to her fellow photographer friends. She now models mostly for hair shows and the occasional MOMNI fashion show (which she ROCKED by the way). “I’m not looking to make it my career,” she tells me, “the idea of wrapping my self-worth into my profession makes too rocky of a road.”
“[As a model] I’ve learned to accept that the majority of images we see are not real or accurate representations of the person who’s there. I don’t think there’s one image of myself that hasn’t been photo-shopped in some manner. It makes you feel insecure; it makes you feel not good enough.” It’s hard to imagine such an exquisite woman feeling insecure about her appearance, but I listen as she continues. “I’m not afraid to be myself. I’m not 5′ 7″. I have tattoos. I have stretch marks. And I want to encourage other models to be themselves. It’s okay to be a real person and do unhealthy things sometimes. Yes, I model, but I still eat McDonald’s burgers at 2 am after drinking,” she tells me with a laugh, “and I’m okay with that.”
Elena lives her life with a grace that emphasizes this idea: creativity does not realize perfection. “I’m not a master of any one thing. I have to jump around [in mediums] to stay relevant in the conversation. My creative passions wax and wane and giving ideas out to others informs my conversation.” Whether it’s with her adorable daughter or her many art students, she benefits from any time she spends with children. “Adults often forget about the perspective of the child, but it helps you see the world in a different light.” Elena navigates her life with the skill all single mothers know best: time management. “I was the youngest of eight kids and the first in my family to get a degree, but I didn’t pursue it until my daughter was born. There were many sleepless nights to work on artwork, but you make time for what’s important to you. Now that my daughter is older, we get to explore how creativity sparks us together.”
Follow Elena on social media @elenaohlander for inspiration from her creative endeavors.
Written by Mara Strobel-Lanka. Photos by Geek Chic Photography.