Olivia Bee is a photographer and director from Portland (Oregon). Her magical and beautiful imagery revolves around the youth, the ephemeral and the oneiric. She took her first camera at the age of 11 and with 14 years old, due to her Flickr site (where she showed her photographs), Converse hired her to shoot a campaign. Nowadays she is 21, she lives in New York and has worked for many important companies and magazines. Quite impressive. We talk with her to know more about her work and her life as a young photographer.
How is a normal day in Olivia’s life?
There kind of is no normal day in Olivia's life (laughs). I thrive off inconsistency, adventure and exploration. Two weeks ago I was in Lebanon shooting a commercial job, then I came home for a weekend to take care of some things and go on a lottery ticket run with my best friend and walk around the city and break into the graveyard. Last week I was on a cruise ship in Finland, and today I am moving out of my apartment in Brooklyn.
So you don’t stop moving around! I have read that since you moved to New York it has been difficult for you to find the magic places you could easily discover in Oregon. Are you finally used to the city? The places where your photos are taken seem to play an important role in the atmosphere you create in your pictures.
New York and I have a tough relationship. I don't think I'm supposed to be here right now. I don't thrive here or feel like myself. But maybe that will change in the future! I'm moving out tomorrow. I think LA is going to be a hub for me soon. But I'll be back to New York. Bicoastal is an important concept for my happiness right now. But I travel so much that I'm not going to have a home for a bit. I'm excited to live out of a suitcase again.
When we look at your photos, we feel like the technique is not as important as many photographers maintain – however, they are full of expression and feelings (and some of us think that this is what really matters). How do you feel about it, considering you are a self-taught photographer?
I think it is more important to know how to take a picture than to use a camera. Break the rules before you learn what they are. A lot of the time it appears as if I have zero technical skill. I like to feel things. Although lately I've gotten a little nerdy. But it's good.
Are your pictures as spontaneous as they look? How does your creative process start and flow?
When I was 17, my work was a lot about documentation of youthful magic. But that stuff happened every day without anyone having to try. Being out of high school and being out of the northwest a lot changed that -- I had to start setting up a universe for honest magic to exist within. I like both ways of making photos.
What do you think when you look at your early photographs, has anything changed?
The integrity is still there, and the intent, the appreciation and the love. But they are growing up.
So what about you? Have you changed?
I have grown up immensely, I think. But I know where to put the parts of me that are still like a little kid. I’m learning my human layers. My friend London O'Connor and I were having a conversation about being artists and how you should always create like a child. I think this is super important. Your business aspects can grow up and how you handle things and your emotions too; but I think when you create, you have to remember why you started. You have to look at the world with the eyes of a child, you have to respect what you need as a kid in a creative sense, and be stubborn but also open – that's a tough balance.
We know Ryan McGinley is one of your favourite photographers (and also ours) and you met him, are you still in touch with him?
Yeah, Ryan is wonderful. We met in an airport on the way to LA once, and I go to his shows when I am in town obviously! He is great. It has been a long time since I've seen him, though!
How does an advertising campaign run? Do you usually do the art direction? How autonomous are you in terms of creativity?
People hire me for me and my vision, so a lot of the time I do get to be heavily involved in casting, locations, styling, etc. For some clients or things where it is very controlled it's not always the case, but that's just how it goes! I am as involved as I possibly can be.
You set up an exhibition in Madrid in Galería Bernal, how was your experience in Spain?
Ah, I love Spain! I had been to Madrid once before and also loved it. We filmed the Anaïs Anaïs perfume commercial in Barcelona two years ago and it was magical there. The show was also amazing.
And are you planning to come back? We would love to see you around.
I don't have any current plans, but I would love to!
What are you working in at the moment?
My book, personal projects, writing!