From the pages of Issue 9… our feature of photographer Olivia Bee. The level of sincere intimacy and wistfulness as present in her work is staggering. When we asked her to tell us a bit about herself she said simply: “I notice too many things, I’m totally in love, I’m really hard on myself and I always wish I was in the desert.” We can’t help but feel like this proclamation is not only the perfect introduction to the artist herself… but also to her work, in which we get a sense of wonder, helpless affection, Bee’s dedication to crafting a vision as well as a longing for faraway places.
Hi Olivia! Tell us a bit about yourself.
I notice too many things, I’m totally in love, I’m really hard on myself and I always wish I was in the desert.
Alongside shooting agency represented models, you also photograph your close friends. Regardless of who you’re photographing, there’s an admirable amount of intimacy present in the work. Do you enter both types of shoots with the same mindset / photographic approach? If not, how do you think the work differs?
I definitely try my best to, but naturally there is a difference between photographing a person I’ve known for 15 years and photographing a person I’ve known for 15 minutes. But I enjoy both – when I photograph someone new, I think you can reach a level of intimacy but it all depends on how open both of you are and how your personalities play off each other. Listen, be open, and just be kind and attentive, and I think you can take most peoples’ photographs.
Do you ever have moments where you think that maybe you should step back, put the camera away and experience the moment as it is rather than capture it?
Recently, yes. I have been thinking a whole lot about photography in the last 6 months and why I do it, the reasons behind everything and what’s going to change. I’m going to stop photographing a lot of things . I don’t need to snap drunk kids at parties anymore. I want to be present for the ones I love in my life and I want pictures to strengthen our relationships more than they already do.
Big congratulations on the recent completion of your first NYC solo show, Kids in Love. You’ve talked of the images being a curated set that are relatable in the sense that they convey universal themes – can you elaborate on this?
I think Kids In Love can relate to a lot of people – they’re universal experiences. Making out with a boy, losing your virginity, depending on someone, swimming in the summertime – But universal in the sense that they are relevant to privileged white teenagers in America. These photos are about creating your own universe with your friends. It’s about growing up. It’s about being a kid. It’s also about the American dream.
Have you found there is a lot of pressure to change your stance or your style? With that, how important do you feel it is for people to do what they love?
Of course there’s pressure. But I don’t make pictures for the audience or for the pressure. It’s the most important thing to do what you love. Whatever that means for you. There is a great sense of personal strength evident in your work. Have you ever had someone tell you that you can’t make it? How did you react to that?
People will try to push you down. A lot of people early on in my career said I wouldn’t last. It’s a constant battle to stay relevant of course but that’s my agent’s job really. I just take photos that I love. I’m young and contemporary-ish and I have a voice that some people listen to. I’m very blessed.
Is there any particular meaning behind the reoccurrence of horses in your work?
I fucking love cowboys and the west. Expect to see more!
Travelling has become routine for you as a photographer. What would you say has been the most memorable place you’ve been to for work? What did you love most about it?
I have a very special relationship with Paris. It’s my second home. Palm Springs is one of my favourite places in the world and I also love the Czech Republic and Tokyo.
What’s next for you?
A few editorials (Lady Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar Germany, L’Obsession), lots of personal work that I don’t know if I will share, and a short film.