Interview: Olivia Bee

PHOTOGRAPHER PRODIGY OLIVIA BEE, SeenHearKnown.com

Olivia Bee is one the best talents we’ve come across in a long time. She’s a 19-year-old, blonde dream, and once your eyes fall into her photography, well… You’ll be lost.

written by CHELSEA MOORE

Olivia Bee is one of the brightest new talents in photography, with shoots featured in Vice and Rookie and campaigns for Hermès and Roger Vivier. This young, Portland-raised photographer has quickly cemented herself into the editorial and commercial photography world. With a dreamy, nostalgia-inducing style, it’s easy to see why Olivia Bee has become a staple in the photography world. She’s also incredibly down to earth, loves Roberta’s just as much as the rest of us, and digs hanging out with her friends. She’s given a TED talk about following your dreams, is working on more and more commercial and editorial campaigns, and lives in Brooklyn. Oh, and did we mention she’s only 19?

SHK: YOU STARTED PHOTOGRAPHY WHEN YOU WERE 11. HOW DID YOU GET INTO THAT AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE? 

OLIVIA BEE: I went to an art based middle school in Portland, so we were able to, like, work in the dark room as 11-year-olds, which was really cool. Yeah and just sort of living in Portland, having parents who are very supportive of the arts and that kind of stuff, which really helped.

DO YOUR PARENTS HAVE AN ARTISTIC BACKGROUND?

My dad like does reggae music at night and my mom makes jewelry and stuff like that… So they’re both very artistic, but that’s not their background.

AFTER GETTING YOUR START, DID YOU TAKE MORE CLASSES, WORK WITH ANY MENTORS OR JUST KINDA EDUCATE YOURSELF? 

Umm… Yeah I just kinda kept working at it, kept really liking it and my dad gave me a really shitty camcorder for Christmas one year, and it also took digital photos, so I was using that a lot to take digital pictures. I was just going to Da Vinci, which was the art based middle school and I just kept doing it, really liking it, putting things on the internet, and then when I was 15, Converse approached me and asked me to do some photos for them.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PROJECT THAT YOU’VE WORKED ON?

Well I have a commercial coming out in just a few weeks in Paris and that was definitely my favorite project I’ve worked on. It was like something I worked on for about a year, and a lot of my time and energy went into it.

SO, WAS THAT A DIRECTING PROJECT OR WAS IT JUST PHOTOGRAPHY-BASED? 

It’s both print and TV.  For the first year it’s just in Europe for the second year it’ll be in the States.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW? 

I’m working on some editorial stuff, I mean, also just focusing on the commercial coming out. I’ve got a couple of advertising things coming up.

SWEET! YOU’VE TENDED TO FEATURE A LOT OF YOUR FRIENDS IN YOUR WORK…

I think there’s a lot. It adds a whole dimension to photos when there’s a relationship between the subject and the person taking the picture. And I also just like shooting my friends a lot better. There’s a level of intimacy and comfort.

WHERE (ELSE) DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? 

I mean, I’m inspired by like all the things that happen, all the time. But then, also, there are a lot of photographers that inspire me. My favorite directors… I love Sofia Coppola. And then just like stuff from the ’70s, photographs of my parents. Stuff like that.

SO YOU’VE BEEN AT THIS FOR ABOUT EIGHT YEARS NOW. HOW HAS YOUR WORK CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? 

I mean, I think definitely, when I first started taking pictures, they were horrible. [Laughs] And they were really sloppy. And I took pictures of things I wouldn’t be embarrassed to take pictures of. I think I’ve become a lot more brave with my camera, but also, just having a more sophisticated eye… My voice, I think is the same. Even when you look at my first photos it’s the same voice it’s just, like, coming through in a different way and it’s just more grown up and more sophisticated. And then also, like, the obvious, I shoot commercial stuff now and I didn’t when I was 11. But I still shoot personal stuff and I did when I was 11 too!

WE’RE CURIOUS… WHAT PROMPTED YOUR MOVE TO NEW YORK AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN HERE? 

I moved a year ago. I mean everything in the world happens in New York, and Portland wasn’t really doing it for me anymore. It’s kind of like where people, young people, go to retire. And Baltimore is like the worst place in the world, that’s where I lived before New York, so I never really wanna go back there.

[LAUGHS] SO WHAT PROMPTED THE MOVE TO BALTIMORE? 

I had a boyfriend who was moving. But then I moved to New York, fell out of love with my boyfriend, fell in love with New York. [Laughs]

AH, IT HAPPENS. NEW YORK HAS ITS WAY OF STEALING YOUR HEART. SO WHY DID YOU CHOOSE BROOKLYN? 

I just think new things are happening in Brooklyn, also it’s cheaper than the city and you can have more space. I like to have space, so I have a big loft situation with kind of like a treehouse-castle place that’s my bedroom and I share it with my roommate Alyssa. I just like having a little fantasy land and not just some apartment on 14th and 8th, or whatever, you know?

THAT SOUNDS REALLY RAD. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE SPOTS IN THE CITY? 

My favorite spots… Um, what are my favorite spots? [Laughs] I mean, Roberta’s is amazing. I live right by Roberta’s so that’s a constant thing. There’s this mexican place I order from way too much called El Fogon, which I really like. Um… I find myself in shitty bars a lot in Bushwick because there’s nothing else to do.

But I also like, I mean, Cheap Storage is a cool place to go see music. I don’t love Silent Barn, but sometimes there’s some cool stuff there. The Brooklyn Bazaar has been cool. I like the honky-tonk bar in Williamsburg, Skinny Dennis, it’s like a nice country bar I like to go to. I just like hanging out with my friends. I just have like a lot of friends who live around here, it’s really great.

VIDEO OR STILL PHOTOGRAPHY? 

I like both for different reasons. It’s like a different structure among which to tell a story, and I think they’re both really important. So, yeah, I love both.

OKAY, SO WHAT’S ONE REASON STILL IS BETTER AND ONE REASON THAT VIDEO IS BETTER? 

Still is I think better because it’s about picking one really certain moment and being very precise about it, and video because you can show movement.

AND WHAT’S YOUR NEXT STEP? DO YOU WANT TO PUSH FORWARD WITH EDITORIALS, DIRECTING, FEATURE FILMS, ETC.?

I think I want to do a short film that I’ve written. To write a short film that’s good, and make it.

ULTIMATELY ,IS FILM THE DIRECTION YOU’RE LOOKING TO GO?

Yes. I’d love to do [feature films] eventually, but I just don’t think that I could do it now.

TELL US ONE THING WE SHOULD:

SEE: Check out the photographer Synchrodogs.

HEAR: You should be listening to the band The Memories.

&

KNOW: Your voice is your own so don’t let anyone else figure that out for you.

 

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The creative portfolio of journalist Chelsea Moore

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