If the internet was a Hans Christian Anderson story, then Tumblr would be a beautiful, pubescent world of elf-like teenagers all worshipping Olivia Bee. I don’t know what you were doing when you were eleven years old, but Olivia was taking photos that a lot of photographers in their twenties couldn’t even take now – so much so that she’s grabbed the attention of, and has worked for, big dogs Nike and Converse. We caught up with the now 17-year-old queen of the super-young and incredibly-talented and asked her about her very enviable commissions, the importance of freedom, and what it’s like to be a photography sensation.
Do you remember taking your first photograph?
I don’t necessarily remember when I took my first photograph, but there was a moment when I was about eight and I was messing around with my dad’s digital camera from work. I remember taking a picture of some trees or a swingset or something stupid, and just found joy in it, capturing a moment.
It looks like you use film, do you ever use digital?
I use both film and digital, but mainly film for personal work. It lends itself to memory more, it’s tangible, nostalgic, special. Digital is more practical, yes, but, damn. Film is magical.
Do you have a favourite camera?
The Olympus OM-1 and the Olympus OM-10 are both killer.
Photographer Bill Cunningham thinks of his camera as a pen, as something to take notes with, do you agree with this sentiment?
Yes, definitely. It’s like jotting down a real live moment. It’s more direct than a pen though, there really isn’t much of a middleman.
You started taking photographs very young, and have continued to take them during a very transitional period of your life. What differences have you noticed between your early and current work?
My early work is very focused on fashion, lots of pretty girls in pretty dresses in pretty settings. My more recent work is about capturing parts of life that make it special/nostalgic/amazing/perfect/intense. It’s about being raw. It’s about keeping it real.
How important are your friends in your work?
My work is a direct anecdote of my life, and therefore everything in my life is very important in my work. And friends are incredibly important in my life. They teach me, over and over, what it’s like to be a kid.
The internet is saturated with some relatively amateur yet brilliant photography, do you take inspiration from other photographers online?
Definitely. The internet is cool because anyone can have a voice. There are some real treasures around here.
You have been involved in a lot of high-end campaigns (Nike, Converse etc.) how do you feel when they approach you, and how much creative freedom are you granted within the brief?
I feel very honored. My age has sometimes been a barrier, and when it doesn’t have to be, that really feels great. I always learn so much when I shoot professionally, and I think that I take home a lot of those lessons, and apply them to my personal work. Typically I am given a lot of freedom. My work is really about being candid and having fun and catching real moments! And lucky for me, that’s what I’m usually hired for.
And finally, If you could take one person’s portrait living or dead, who would it be?
Julian Casablancas, from the Strokes, circa 2002.