The fantasy-inspired photography of Elise Swopes has garnered her over 270,000 Instagram followers and the elite status of being a social media star. What started out of pure joy—combining nature with her love for cityscapes, mainly of her home city of Chicago—has evolved into a full-fledged career.

“Five years ago, you couldn't tell me I was going to be getting asked to do any kind of the stuff I do [now],” she says. In 2011, discovering her own talent with Instagram led the then-college student to leave school a semester early for a project in Japan.

Swopes’ ability to produce “surreal” images with her phone and mobile apps, and instantly share them online provided her opportunities to work with brands like Adidas, Finish Line, Kellogs, and New Amsterdam, just to name a few. But as her success grows, the 28-year-old stays grounded. “There's never a moment where I'm like, ‘Okay, yes, I'm in it,’ because tomorrow Instagram could go away.”

With the Federal Communications Commission’s recent repeal of net neutrality, the future seems uncertain for those who use the Internet to connect to their audience. Helmed by FFC chairman Ajit Pai, the repeal implements more restrictions on Internet use, with certain providers being able to implement fees for entering their competitor’s domains. While the full scale impact of the repeal has yet to be seen, many are already fighting back in whatever ways they can. In the face of this changing landscape, the nonprofit open-source browser Mozilla Firefox recently released its latest upgrade, Firefox Quantum, boasting a faster and safer Internet user experience.

In partnership with Firefox, we recently sat down with Elise in her home city of Chicago to talk about the repercussions of repealing net neutrality, taking breaks as an artist, and what it truly means to be a “child of the Internet.”

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)


What about the Internet inspires you?

I'm constantly searching [for] new information. If I'm not feeling inspired, I'll probably be on Pinterest searching up other cool work. I might go on and just chat with friends. Where the Internet comes into play is we've got all this connection for any kind of emotion we're feeling—sad, happy, [or] inspired.

Is that why you call yourself “the child of the Internet?”

Growing up, school really wasn't my forte. I was mostly comfortable being at a computer and figuring out things myself. 

So what was younger Swopes searching for back in the day?

Anything that was social and allowed me to design my own space was something I was really obsessed with. Little Swopes, when she used to go to school and they'd have other browsers downloaded on the computers, she would download Firefox. Because that was comfortable. It felt safe.

Safety must be a top priority when you have a lot of followers.

That quarter mil[lion] changes you. I'm not gonna say that it doesn't. You think about who's seeing your work consistently, and how they're taking it all in, but that's the chance you take with the Internet.

Safety precautions is a plus for me being someone who works on the Internet so much and having my information entered—not even just for my work, but [for] anything... It feels good to know that you're safe and being able to browse privately and safely. 

It seems like work never stops for you. Does it help that you can use the Quantum’s library feature to get back to work after a breather?

I think it's really important to take a break as an artist. You can get so wrapped up in what you're doing. It’s cool to bookmark where you were and come back when you're ready.

You can now use Instagram on your desktop. How do you feel about jumping from mobile to web with the apps you use regularly?

I was so used to doing everything on my phone, and I still am. I even have Firefox downloaded on my phone. But having the ability to look at Instagram on a browser has allowed me to get outside of my phone and make sure that I also have my website ready.

Followers can also get to your site faster, right?

I'm all about the convenience factor, especially being a mobile photographer and editor. I'm always figuring out how I can make it safer, too.

So, what does it mean to you to keep the Internet free?

My whole base is the Internet. That's where I connect to my fans, that's where I connect to my family.

When I found out that Firefox was on the wave of net neutrality and they were understanding of its importance that was really big for me. Supporting a not-for-profit that's in support of our freedoms and our rights as Internet users is something really big. The problem with our government [repealing] net neutrality is we have all these big companies coming in, dominating what we can do on a daily basis [and potentially] making us pay for even checking our socials. 

It's some serious shit.