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.

  1. Any fool can buy a digicam and press the button.
  2. It’s free to do absurdly high numbers of pictures.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Anything produced in such high numbers is clearly meaningless

The world is full of the generic, mediocre professional “photographers” taking your money and giving you cr*p. There are too many of these people.

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.

Weddings

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

http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/seasons/13621908

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.

http://www.duffyphotographer.com/doko_folder/doko.html

http://www.david-bailey.co.uk/Archive.html

http://www.terencedonovan.co.uk/flash.html

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.

Be real.

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.

 

Thank you Edward for participating in this interview. If you’d like to see more of his work, please visit his Personal Website | Flickr.

19 thoughts on “Saturday Night Conversations : Edward Olive”

  1. Brilliant interview. There is so much to learn, his views are so concrete about the use of film. Definitely a good read for film enthusiasts like me.
    And very good question Akshay.

  2. Yeah but it’s his way, his point of view and his toughts.
    I allways laugh on advices given by others.
    He is he and you are you, no 2 similar ways understanding and seeing – inside.
    Hey, here is my advice then: if you listen to me, do what you want.)

    And “Try not to do what masses do?” Oh true, but 99% will be nothing more but strain and copied plastic… Lets get that 1%…,)

  3. i saw your post on the photospace gallery email and i just wanted to say that i don’t think that taking pictures of girls asses is fine art either and that was an unnecessary comment to make about that picture at an inappropriate time.

    1. Dear Kayla,

      Thank you for taking interest in the blog and taking out time to read Edward’s interview. I understand that you feel that Olive’s work can not be counted as “fine art” but then I ask you, how do we define “fine art photography”?. Isn’t the very definition of “fine art” blurred? Where you might call a picture by Henri Cartier-Bresson fine art, some might call pictures by Helmut Newton fine art. It would be a little myopic of us to just say how we interpret art, for its open for everyone to find their own meaning in it.

      Regards,
      Akshay B
      Constellation Cafe

  4. Hmmm… This is the second time I’ve come across the opinion that digital photography as practiced by the masses does not produce art of value. The first time was at a photography workshop. I wrote about my initial response to the idea on one of my blogs, Probably it can be summed up with “So what?”
    But I’d like to respond to Edward Olive’s statement “Anything produced in such high numbers is clearly meaningless”. A long time ago all books were hand made. As in, copied by hand, letter by letter, word by word. This made them very valuable and they were instruments of power in the hands of an educated elite. It also made them very vulnerable to subversion by that same educated elite. And so rare that most people never even tried to learn to read.
    Then the printing press was invented, and words were ‘freed’ to fly around the world into the hearts and minds of the masses.
    Of course lots of ‘rubbish’ has been printed, but many great literary works can be bought and read in paperback form. And they are.
    The printing press was just a technological advance in the creation process. Even the pen was just a tool. Great writing comes from the hearts and minds of human beings.
    Here’s another example: In Japan during the Edo era artists used printing to produce ukiyo-e in great quantities. They were popular art, and not valued as much as painting. Like many other forms of Japanese art, it was considered artisan work rather than art. Old ukiyo-e were sometimes used as wrapping paper. There were probably many mediocre ukiyo-e produced, but there were also some extraordinary works of art now recognized all over the world.
    In my opinion, Edward Olive is making a mistake. He is confusing the creation process – digital camera – with the creator – a human being. However, I’m grateful to him, and to this blog for publishing the interview, because it has provoked me to really think about this subject, and clarify my own opinion to the point where I can put it into words.
    Incidently, I think Olive’s wedding photography is wonderful!

  5. “i don’t think that taking pictures of girls asses is fine art ”

    photography like painting and sculpture has always included nude study along with still life, portraiture landscape.

    there will however people who cannot see more than nude form

    each person has a limit in how far they are able to see. to study art history is very important to understand art present. it makes you realise little has changed. rembrandt lit a long time ago better than many current photographers have yet to learn how to today

    many people will acuse me of making a mistake about saying digital images not have soul. most of these people will have probably never really studied the difference close up between a genuine large or medium format analog hand made print and something seen on their computer screen or printed at happysnaps.

    i still own a couple of the current models of canon full frame digicams with these overpriced f1.2 L overpriced lenses people buy. often i use them instead of polaroids justto check the effect of multiple strobes and when you really look with an informed eye the subtle differences are staggering. the same would be true of hand selected, picked grapes for vin d’auteur compared to red alcohol that gets you drunk produced in gigantic quantities and sold discount in supermarkets.

    time will show the difference, but it will be understood by the few and will all be the same for the masses. this will be true for all forms of expression. the masses can recognise fame but few will study enough to understand the small differences.

    but in any event you have little to learn from online chitchatting with nobodies like me. i may be one of the few who dares to speak out and one of the few duped by japanese coroporations out to make an easy buck but you have more to learn by not bothering to read what i say but to find out through your own experimentation.

    perhaps you could buy a couple of rolleiflex, bronicas, mamiyas or hasselblads or equivalents some bowens or similar flashes with beauty dishes and octoboxes etc hire a few models a 6×9 kaiser, lpl or durst enlarger, some recycled cotton rag paper you bought in india, some liquid emulsion, a warmtone developer, perhaps some selenium toner and see what you can produce in prints in your bathroom. then think about them. you may see the difference which you may or may not value.but at least you will know.

  6. Thanks for this post. I most likely agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my father so may this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!

  7. Edward does fabulous work and is extreme in his opinions, because he believes in them.

    I’m a wedding photographer too and offered a recent Bride and Groom a choice of their professionally finished wedding album with grins and all, or a signed copy of Cartier Bresson’s Decisive Moment. To my surprise, they took their wedding album.

    Either, my pics are better than Cartier Bresson’s, or they want pictures that remind them of their mundane day. Guess which ?

    Once upon a time, keen B&W photographer Andrea Ingram appealed for a UK photographer to shoot her big day on a 4×5 camera. I was the only person to respond, but in the end what seemed like a great idea came to nothing.

    Suppose my point is that the vast majority of weddings are quiet family affairs in pleasant surroundings with not much going on. Nice if you can get a gig in Spain where the arty types hire a manor house and dress like the underworld. But it ain’t that way in Dagenham !

  8. The issue for most couples is not the target audience being rare or wide, plenty of brides want a decent job done… its quite simply that 99% of brides value only bottom end of market price or mid market price but gigantic bulk of photos without caring at all what they look like. They will take a decent job as long as its dirt cheap and huge in amount, if not they’ll go for rubbish either to save money or to make sure they get their bulk – 1500 pictures in a cd without photoshop on the same day as the wedding with unedited video of 4 hours all for 50 cents.

    The job for a wedding photographer is to separate the wheat from the chaff… to select the best brides from the dozens of emails you will get each week requesting estimates. The brides with taste, style, class, sensitivity and emotions deserve your fullest attentions. The bulk photo low end price brides need to be left to your standard low price high bulk photographer who cares for nothing more than paying his car loan and putting food on his kids’ table, which is valid and worthy enough reasoning to take photos.

    Photographers are like painters. Some paint walls white every day to take care of their family. Some suffer for art to the extent of cutting their own ears off. There is a place for each.

    I aim for the top.

    Yesterday I bought the wonderful 120mm Makro Planar Hasselblad V series lens for black and white film portraits just slightly closer than the 150mm and 80mm I have and in between the two for flattening. There are very few who will appreciate the subtleties of such details when they write their emails to me asking only about price.

    Last night I was up until 5am hand developping 14 rolls of 120 film I shot for a portrait commission where I was hired to produce 1 picture. On a12 and a16 and a16s that’s about 200 shots. The charming French couple understood quite how far I wanted to go to immortalise their baby boy. Few people do though.

    I will take any measure necessary to move my work up to the highest level bar cutting off ears.

    1. “Yesterday I bought the wonderful 120mm Makro Planar Hasselblad V series lens for black and white film portraits just slightly closer than the 150mm and 80mm I have and in between the two for flattening. There are very few who will appreciate the subtleties of such details when they write their emails to me asking only about price.”

      Good luck with the new lens, Edward.

      I sold my 120 Makro Planar because beyond 10ft it’s performance became unsatisfactory. It’s designed for close-ups and I’ll be surprised if it’s as good as your 150mm for full length portraits.

      I replaced it with the 110mm FE f2 lens which is stunning in all aspects and is unique at f2 for light capturing ability and aesthetic. I’ve never used it at a wedding because, like you, I don’t think a bride would notice it. They seem to have difficulty choosing my wide-open Summilux bokeh shots in their rush to make sure they have equal photos from each side of the families.

      Have you got a complete/near wedding shoot on-line for us to view ? I’m very interested to view how you balance your art with the ‘required’ shots.

      BTW, I’m a big fan of yours and we’ve corresponded on Flickr and Twitter. I am not being deliberately negative here. You are on a positive mission, whilst many of the ‘well known’ photographers who spend much of their time self-promoting their ‘California light’ formulaic wedding skills on Facebook and Twitter to other photographers, are not passionate about their craft. You are NOT in that group by any means.

      However, there are many who are striving to do a great job, would love to be a Magnum wedding shooter with a Leica M3 (how I started), but do need bookings and income and ….. They may be offended by capable photographers, from the top end of the Bell Curve, criticising/ridiculing their efforts and selling themselves short. Good luck to any artist who wants to cut an ear off, but the vast majority of the best artists that ever lived, didn’t see that a positive act.

      No offence, right ? You are good, very good, and I enjoy following your exploits. :-)

  9. Great interview and I must say, Edward, that I am a big fan of your work. I also respect people with strong opinions.

    I shoot for a living and also teach photography I’ve been a ‘pro’/published since 1991. I started shooting aged 7, in 1976. I spent three years at art school and in my life have probably spent 20 years or more in darkrooms. I’ve shot ever format from 110 to 20×24 inch plate; used liquid emulsion… but then decided to spend six weeks making my own emulsion instead of buying it off the shelf. I went digital in 2007, with Nikons and now also shoot a digital Mamiya for which I have some great old lenses including a 1948 Kodak on a tilt-shift macro bellows.

    That’s some of my heritage…. so you have some context for the rest of what I’m about to say in response to a few of your points:

    “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.”

    Bold statement. The absurdity of using a medium that produces toxic waste, uses vast amounts of animal fat to produce it and which is costly to produce, shoot and process could also be argued. As for value and importance, these are not questions limited to digital photography. How many of us in the old days sat through other people’s holiday slideshows straining to keep awake?

    “Any fool can buy a digicam and press the button.”

    True. But film cameras have buttons too and any fool can push them.

    “It’s free to do absurdly high numbers of pictures.”

    Only absurd if that high number of pictures are all duds. 3years of film school bankrupted me. Free is good and the immediacy of digital can help people learn who couldnt necessarily afford to do so on film. I agree about digital creating a mindset of shoot-delete-shoot-delete. Which is why I get students of mine to go out and do projects where they shoot only 36shots, with no deleting. Film discipline with the immediacy and cost-effectiveness of digital.

    “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.”

    Ever seen Martin Parr’s work?

    “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.”

    It’s film therefore it’s art? Why is this true now? Just because of the existence of digital? Does that mean every shitty picture shot on film between 1870 and 2010 is also art, just because it’s on film?

    “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.”

    I would agree that maybe as well as making digital products, Kodak, Fuji and others could have carried on making their film products for those who want them. But they are businesses, not philanthropic societies.

    “Anything produced in such high numbers is clearly meaningless.”

    In two years of production in the 1950s, approximately 1million Brownie 127 cameras were made by Kodak.

    And I imagine you were typing your replies to comments using a quill, 19th century ink and velum, then having them couriered by pigeon to the folks at Constellation Cafe? Or were you typing them on a mass-produced computer?

    There is no doubt that photography has changed with the advent of mass-produced digital cameras, just as it did with the launch of the Brownie in all its derivatives: maybe Kodak’s first dirty money? But the real revolution came with the addition of ‘lights-on processing’ and the global publication mechanism of the internet, the latter being the medium through which you have been able to let world see your work and profit from it no doubt. Good for you sir. Good for you.

    Progress: not so bad for business after all, eh?

    So, please just continue to shoot your wonderful pictures and give your mouth and typing fingers a rest from the eulogies, preaching and snobbery of the whole film/digital debate. The value of photography is in the pictures produced. Sure, the gear and the process are worth debating, discussing and poring over. I think maybe the journey is what is important and not so much the vehicle.

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