Saturday Night Conversations : Edward Olive
Sometimes we can never know what life has in store for us. Our paths twisting and turning, sometimes ending up in new places never imagined. And surprisingly we realize that this is where we want to be.
Edward Olive was never a photographer, he was an actor looking to shoot some head shots for himself. Today he’s one of the most sought after wedding photographers in Europe and he’s already been honored with recognition by Hasselblad Masters and countless other awards. His strong style of photo journalistic weddings and nudes make an unforgettable impression on every viewer, transporting them immediately into another world. Some say Edward is still not a photographer, he’s just a true artist with passion.
Q. How did you start with photography?
A. I bought a camera to do my own actor’s head shots. It all went very obsessive very quickly. I started working just because I was offered money by someone. People ended up actually liking the pictures and then some more people liked them and it just went from there. That started money coming in and made me think that perhaps what I was doing had some meaning after all. I wasn’t that bad.
Q. What is photography to you? How do you interpret it?
Photography is, at its finest, an art form or social thought, as poetry or journalism.
However as everyone can write and everyone can now take photos, photography and writing are both equally debased to the extremes of Facebook, Flickr or Twitter. Verbal diarrhea and matching pictures. The internet generation that produces writing and photos without meaning.
Q. One of the core reasons why your work caught my eye and surely has just so many followers is because of your use of film photography in weddings. With that you bring a sense of infinite courage, such a feeling of romanticism in your work that it has to make an impact. But then the question remains, why film?
A. There are still absurd people who insist on using digital cameras. The vast majority of these do so simply because they can produce images that show people they know and places they have visited. These photos are of no interest to anyone else and will be of no importance.
- Any fool can buy a digicam and press the button.
- It’s free to do absurdly high numbers of pictures.
- Who cares about quality if you can still see your girlfriend grinning inanely for the camera in front of some monument or some inane grinners lined up at some vulgar provincial social event.
- Anything that anyone can do and does is worthless. Heating microwave plastic-meals is not haute cuisine and the same is true for the digigraphers. It is not fine art. Both the micro-wavers and the digigraphers may think it is. Few people dare to speak out about the con trick that has been pulled by companies like Fuji or Kodak who do not make genuine black & white photographic paper yet lower themselves to make digital cameras merely for quick profits. At the very least you would have thought that they could make their dirty easy money from the digimasses and produce the fine art photography materials for the love of art and photography or because it would give them a certain prestige.
- Anything produced in such high numbers is clearly meaningless
Q. Most photographers choose to make their living in commercial photography like fashion or product. But you choose to work a lot in weddings. Why so?
A. Fashion or product
When they hire me to do fashion shoots or product photography I’ll do it. On the one occasion that I have done each I have been lucky enough to be nominated for awards. Perhaps I didn’t do it that badly after all. But then what does that matter. What matters is something entirely different.
I need to eat.
A very few people across the globe understand and appreciate what I try my best to do in their weddings. They fly me in and I do their pictures. I am very lucky there are these very few rare people.
Weddings are a great opportunity to take pictures of all sorts of people, in great sets with their best wardrobe, of all ages and in very concentrated emotionally charged states. Perfect for a photographer. My aim is to take only pictures that are good enough to win an award or be in a magazine, gallery or book. Provided the pictures are also portraits and photojournalism of the couple’s nearest and dearest that aim is also coincidentally going to produce exactly what the couple want too.
The test for wedding photos and for wedding photographers should be if you are interested in spending your valuable time looking at the pictures if you don’t actually know the people in the photos. An even further stress test is would you spend 40 dollars on a book of pictures of photos of these unknown people. You may not want to put these strangers’ pictures on your own walls but if you would go to a gallery show of them then they are good enough. That would equally apply to celebrity photography or nude photos, so often only interesting because of the interest in the person shot or the aesthetics of the body and not in the photo itself.
I have spent a lot of time and money buying many meters of photography and photographers’ books. None of them are by wedding photographers. Wedding photography could be full of real talent of the level of Nigel Parry, John Deakin, Richard Avedon, Jean Loup Sieff, but its not. Its full of the mediocre and the generic, the worthlessgraphers and the irrelevantgraphers.
At time of writing this Mario Testino has just shot the wedding engagement shots for Prince William and Kate Middleton. I don’t know if he will do the actual wedding but what I would say is that it is fantastic that someone somewhere is bringing in a really great photographer… one of historical importance, into weddings. It is however a shame the only two pictures that have appeared so far from the shoot are bland, flat lit, flat colors and dull. He is a genius he should have done far better (as in his recent exhibition in Madrid’s Thiessen gallery or as in his recent book from Brazil). It is not clear what he was thinking of. I would be surprised if someone so modern as Prince William made him destroy all the good pictures and put out only the two worst but you never know.
Q. How do you make the transition from wedding pictures to fine art nudes and maintain the same style?
A. My wedding photos are almost entirely real photojournalism.
I find moments and people and try and shoot them as best I can and as fast as I can using the light that’s there or adding lighting in a way that doesn’t affect their natural behavior. It’s like a wild animal photographer using infra-red or leaving a light on in the jungle the critters don’t get bothered by. I try to keep it true.
For nudes it’s not found it’s made even if it may look like I just found the situation you see.
It takes up to 2 weeks of planning, notes and meetings and fully thought out lighting, color schemes, appropriate lenses, cameras, films, different in-house lab processing, wardrobe, make-up, sets and backdrops, acting style etc. There will be some improvisation and collaboration with models’ ideas before or during the shoot and collaborative selection of finished pieces that can take a couple of weeks to assemble. It used to be easy and quick. Now it’s a load of work and effort and far more kit than anyone sane would cart around.
I will inevitably have a certain style and technique which, while subject matter varies, will clearly be mine, whether in nudes or weddings. I am also very limited in what I am able to do so there will also always be a certain similarity and within each period of my work there will be a look of that time.
Q. Are you a emotional individual? Would you say irrespective of the kind of pictures you take, they are always emotive subconsciously?
A. Good question. I am emotionally not normal.
I am far better at doing emotions in characters that are not me or by producing it or capturing it in pictures. Your weaknesses are your strengths. If I was a normal person I wouldn’t have the life I do and I wouldn’t be producing the work I do. Only when you are off track and totally obsessive will you manage to pull out something important.
In any event I am not important nor am I interesting. My pictures may almost be though when it all comes together. So don’t worry about who I am or what I think. Don’t waste your time reading these interviews I do. Just look at the pictures if you like them. But you’d still be better of spending your time in Patrick Demarchelier’s book. He’s incredible.
Q. What other projects are you working on? Any exhibitions or maybe any projects with acting?
A. If you want to buy my new book you can. It’s here
It looks pretty. Lots of flowers. Nothing to shock your mother in law.
Q. What has been your biggest influence?
A. I have a lot of books by great photographers, both well known and obscure, and regularly look into them. This week I have spent quite a lot of time researching the 1960’s work of the incredible triumvirate of Duffy, Bailey and Donovan.
I would love to see photographers that cool getting hired by Vogue nowadays but it’s unlikely to happen again. Too much nepotism and too little taste. The dominance of the people who know someone.
But just looking at photographer is not enough. Last week I went the Tate Modern with my sister (who knows far more than I do about such matters). Yesterday I spent a day just looking for textures in the moss in my sister’s garden. It all comes together somehow.
Q. In your pictures, we don’t see the obvious but you choose to pick out moments or just parts of what you feel should be revealed. Do you feel that you show what you see in your mind, are your pictures your versions of reality?
A. My wedding photos are real but from a certain point of view and have a certain style. You soon know they are my pictures. Within the reality I select the interesting and condense that reality and interesting. Frame, light, focus, selection and darkroom technique only serve to accentuate the important and the interesting.
Reality can be mundane. I like things that almost exist or never have.
Do you know what weddings are really like? Go to one one day without drinking alcohol then tell me. To be a wedding photographer you have to be a magician.
Q. As an artist what difference or similarities does he see in two different art fields being an actor and a photographer?
A. It’s the same thing.
Its personal expression and the capture or creation of emotion, performance, thought, feelings, moods, the engagement of the spectator, the cathartic experience, the social comment, the play on words, the comedic, the sensual, the dramatic.
Once you’re out of the mass of unknowns you’re in there with everything. Not that I would know yet though as still battling in obscurity). It doesn’t matter what you make it in if you make it you can then bring in your pictures. Look at Lord Litchfield, Karl Lagerfeld, Bryan Adams, Mary McCartney, Andy Summers, Harvey Keitel, Antonio Banderas… the list is endless. They are all now photographers moving at the very highest levels of galleries, top magazine covers and couture advertising.
When I look thorough Vogue I see Paul McCartney’s daughter, Kate Moss and Penelope Cruz and sister designing clothes and perfumes and Dennis Hopper and Mick Jagger’s children modeling. The whole system from Harper’s Bazaar to Dolce & Gabbana is ridiculous… run by money interests and cronyism, pedestals for and mincing up to the famous. The royal court of sycophant lovies. Photoshop plasticity. None of the celebrities have skin and few their own eyelashes or breasts. Few have talent. Few will last.
Q. In your photography, especially in weddings, you totally disappear into the crowd which is evident by the amazingly natural shots that you get. But as an actor, your presence should always linger. How do you feel about the contradictory situations and your changing roles?
A. If you’re shooting, like I am, people who aren’t Naomi Campbell or Robert De Niro its tough to get them looking real unless they are pretty distracted or drunk enough not to care (but still no too drunk so they have their eyes open). Fortunately in weddings there is plenty to distract them and plenty of free drink. The trained and the talented can take direction. Its distraction and alcohol for the rest.
Q. Any tips for amateur photographers out there?
Buy only genuine (film) cameras, and if possible at least medium format.
Don’t use computers. Make sure all your finished pictures are really handmade prints made by you. There is more to real photography than just pressing a button and a few keys.
Haute couture is hand made from the finest silks, cottons and leathers from hand made producers of the finest level from around the world. 3 Michelin star haute cuisine is hand made from the finest handpicked ingredients. Photography is no different. Its really hard to do something really good. It takes years of study, a lot of kit and clear personal vision.
Aim for the top you may get half way up.
Don’t think numbers think only quality. Too many people produce too many images. How many of these dreadful facebook people do you know parading their holiday photos over the internet in monumental amounts? Don’t allow people to email you their awful photos of their awful kids at Christmas or of them on their awful holidays. If they continue sending block their emails or it will pollute you.
Be as tough with yourself as you are judging the others. I know my pictures so far are almost invariably not good enough but I am trying my best to fix it. Don’t do like so many local professional idiotgraphers, doing cheap copies of my pictures or of anyone else’s. Better to try your own ideas and for them all to be a glorious disasters.
Don’t waste your time liking your friend’s photos because they like yours. Don’t even bother to look at anyone’s picture unless you are sure they really stand out as the one in every several million worth looking at. That doesn’t mean only look at Magnum but have very, very strict criteria. If it’s not brilliant don’t waste your time.
Only when your obsession reaches levels that make you almost impossible to relate to for normal people will your work start to become meaningful.
Spend all your time, money, space, and efforts to try and do the best you can. You will feel guilty and perhaps foolish but at least you will find out how far you can actually take your work and if it is worth you really going for it or if you would be better off spending your time commuting to a boring desk job in middle-middle class small town suburbia somewhere in grey-dull-land instead.