Nomadic photographer Oliver Eglin pays attention to how we interact with our environments
“Often there are images that might not really look like much at the time of taking them, but then through printing it can transform into something quite special,” says the (sometimes) Wales-based photographer.
- Joey Levenson
- 8 November 2021
When we meet Welsh photographer Oliver Eglin, he first tells us he’s “a bit of a nomad.” It’s fitting, as it only takes one glance at his portfolio to see how a nomadic feeling manifests itself across the work. Beautiful, warming shots of various locations – some with people, some without – ensue, all of which evoke a feeling as if the viewer is ‘travelling’ through each frame. It was after living in Berlin, he tells us, that he first got into photography. “At first, I just wanted to direct films and I never really thought about doing anything else,” he says. “Then when I got to university I realised I didn’t actually like the film course I was enrolled on, so I transferred to photography, essentially without any experience of the medium.” From there, he stumbled into fate, as Oliver relished in the art. “I liked that I could work alone and outdoors,” he says. “It made me look at the world in a different light and led me to interact with strangers in a way that I found exciting.” It was later, when Oliver discovered darkroom printing, that he found a niche in the medium that he specifically loved. “Whilst I was at RCA I’d be in the darkroom printing first thing in the morning until security came to kick me out at night,” he tells us. “Printing is like a puzzle, I’m constantly making calculations about exposure and colour combinations.”
Atop of approaching printing like a “kind of maths,” Oliver finds he works best when he focuses on the interaction of people and environment. “This can take different forms, from incidental things that I’ve stumbled across, to more formal compositions of landscapes or portraits,” he explains. “I’m often drawn to the boundary between natural and urban environments and also our attempts to harness nature.”
If Oliver has an idea that is born from a specific environment, he’ll often immerse himself in said environment to really draw out the best possible images. “I try to find a balance between a degree of initial planning, but also keeping it loose enough that there’s an intuitive aspect too,” Oliver adds. “The less familiar somewhere is to me the more possibilities I find for photographing.” In this way, Oliver deviates from focusing on any particular aesthetic. What’s cohesive about him is his approach. “I’m interested in depicting scenes which are maybe somewhat extraordinary, as well as the possibilities to create narrative through the sequencing and the juxtaposition of images,” he says.
Noticeably, Oliver always approaches his projects “from a distance, as an outsider,” as if each series works to unearth a curiosity embedded within. “I’m inquisitive about the world and I like to have an excuse to travel and discover new places,” he explains. His most recent series Everything Turns Away demonstrates this in spades. “It examines the ecological impact of the current health crisis and its significance for future society,” Oliver says. “Made on trips across South and West Wales in 2020, these photographs depict the summer harvest and its significance during a year of economic uncertainty.” For Oliver, these works encapsulate a particular epoch for a community of people in the “less prominent parts” of the country. “Portraying a resilient and untroubled natural world, the photographs consider the cultural legacy of this time, as well as the possibilities for developing more sustainable approaches to farming and agriculture in future,” he adds. And, drawing back to Oliver’s “nomad” lifestyle, he points to projects set in Spain, California, and the Caribbean. Whilst many creatives aren’t fortunate enough to be granted the same access or economies to travel, it’s an experience we can tell Oliver doesn’t take lightly.
Every project of Oliver’s has careful consideration behind it, even if most of the places he lands in are from an outsider’s point of view. It makes sense that his ultimate goal is to put some of the work into a book form. “It’s something I’ve gradually been working on and hopefully I’ll have something ready by the end of the year,” he says. And, as ever, he’s off travelling again for more inspiration – this time in Spain. “I feel like I can make work anywhere really, it just needs to be somewhere fresh and unfamiliar,” he goes on. “Given the uncertainty of the current situation I decided to focus temporarily on quality of life and hopefully a sustained period in Spain will help me to perfect my language skills in the process.”
Oliver Eglin: Le taureau III, Seville, Spain, 2019 (Copyright © Oliver Eglin, 2019)