Regulars / Nicer Tuesdays

“Am I problematic?”: Olivia Rose tackles the big questions in her Nicer Tuesdays talk

Independent director and photographer Olivia Rose took to the stage before the break at last month’s with a firm statement: “I’m an analogue only photographer, I am staunchly in love with and will never give up on film photography.” While not having any issues with digital photography, her love of the analogue side of the medium comes from the fact that “film being the actual fight, versus digital being playing it on Street Fighter; film being experiencing the band and the instruments and digital being in the studio.”

It was on a trip to Jamaica that Olivia experienced a turning point in her relationship with photography. She was visiting with her friend and assistant Jay who has his roots in the country. She explained: “For me, it was this incredibly eye-opening experience of a culture that I knew nothing about and I came back with a completely different set of eyes on my own life and my own upbringing.”

“It wasn’t until after that trip that I started taking myself seriously,” she explained, as i-D published some of her photographs from Jamaica. What followed was a snowball effect, shooting for multiple publications and brands, establishing a strong portfolio of portraiture. “I’m really traditional,” she added on this point, “I’m a portrait photographer in my heart.” The people featured in these shoots were usually street-cast models which not only allowed Olivia to retain a sense of authenticity but to play with the idea of re-contextualising characters. She proceeded to give us a run-down of her career to date, treating us to an onslaught of amazing portraits and series, before finally finishing with her recent video for Skepta’s Pure Water.

The bulk of Olivia’s talk, however, centred around the question of whether, as a white photographer who shoots almost exclusively black communities and musicians (particularly in her standout book with Hattie Collins This Is Grime), she is problematic. “It’s a question I can’t answer, still to this day,” she remarked, “it’s something that I’m constantly questioning within myself and my work and I think ultimately that is the point.” Olivia did, however, offer some sort of conclusion on the matter, telling of how she’s learned that some jobs are not her jobs and so it’s responsible to pass them on to someone who’s better suited for it. “And ultimately, you have to know where your story started,” she continued, “which is why I have admitted to you where my visual obsession with race and culture started. I need to present to you a journey that I have been on and will continue to be on.”

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