Interview: Edward Olive

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- What was your first camera?

I do remember having a little Canon ixus aps advantix thing at some point in the 1990’s that I used to take a few holiday snaps that I generally never got developed and if I did I never looked at and stuck in a cupboard and have now lost I think moving countries several times. I then bought a secondhand reflex camera from a flea market in Paris in the late 1990’s and shot one roll of film without knowing how a reflex worked before putting the camera in a cupboard and again losing it.

The first time I really got a camera was in 2005 when I got a dreadful Canon 350d digireflexcam and the “free” lens it came with to shoot my own actor’s book rather than having to pay out fortunes each year for the usual rubbishy headshots. Soon after I broke it from over-use and bought a Canon 5d digital with 85mm L f1.2 to shoot portraits without having the background in focus, something that seemed amazing at the time.

In 2006 I bought a Lomo lca vintage Russian point and shoot camera from a polish guy in McDonalds who brought them in from the ex-soviet block for a hundred Euros. I went to the local photography shop to buy some film but was stunned by the prices so I got some old film they were throwing out for a few cents each… A friend showed me how to put the film in and we went down into the Madrid metro to take pictures of my ex-girlfriend having to spend an hour pulling her skirt up to show her knickers in public while I tried to work out how to use the camera. (It is not advisable having relationships with me it generally ends in you having to show your g-string in public places and later on the Internet (and maybe one day in galleries).

I have progressed little since then, generally still using cheap old cameras and smelly out of date film that comes out how it feels like on the female friends’ knicker shots and the occasional rich businessman’s daughter’s wedding (that pays to keep me in cameras and film). All the haphazard lottery camera and film combos make up for the lack of ideas, lack of photographic training and zero Photoshop special effects knowledge. I sell pseudo art that isn’t real art at all under the guise of vip wedding photos and its really just random colors from 50 cent films all badly focused and often pervy.

- How did you become to shot medium format? Why do you prefer medium format?

I try most things.

I have used various medium format film cameras: Pentacon Six Zeiss, Mamiya m645 f1.9, Rolleiflex and Hasselblad v series, not to mention toy cameras and 10 euro vintage 6×6 cameras. If you have a strong neck they take super photos. The colors and contrasts particularly from Carl Zeiss t* Hasselblad lenses are very difficult to match with just 35mm film. The square format is also wonderful, particularly for portraits.

I haven’t yet used a medium format 35mm camera like the Hassselblad xpan that takes 60×24 panoramic pictures on normal film. I am sure it is stunning and breaks the overuse of the standard 2×3 rectangle in photography. Such changes in format are a new way of viewing the world for a photographer.

Using medium format cameras is for the camera-obsessed nerds like myself a whole new experience. The Hasselblad 500cm (or more expensive more modern equivalent) is almost worth the investment just for the thump of the shutter compared to a modern camera. But seriously, the concept of having only 12 shots before having to stop and reload is also very, very good discipline for the modern photographer brought up on the idea that you can shoot millions of photos, 4 per second on 16gb cards and just delete them all because it doesn’t matter. I, like many contemporary photographers, take far too many pictures and think far too little. No doubt large format photographers really learn how to think.

Of course the size, weight, often lack of autofocus (they do now have it on newer more expensive cameras I have never used like Hasselblad H1D), often slower lenses (not the case of Mamiya m645 1000s f1.9!) and lack of aperture priority exposure can mean medium format cameras are not so easily useful for all jobs. Shooting a wedding only on a Hasselblad would be tough even with my dozen a24 and a12 220 and 120 film backs. That toughness though would mean an incredible reportage full of thought, the highest quality and huge size.

Recently I have opted for shooting exclusively off compact auto point & shoot cameras often with zone focus like the wonderful 25 euro eBay Olympus xa2. Even here changing films can slow you down so I have a special belt with 12 of them on and use two or three at a time until I run out of bullets and have to duck down to reload and mark all the rolls with the camera used indelible marker (to make sure I can identify any 1970’s camera with light leaks or sticky shitter before it ruins my wedding business and puts me in court). Whilst a medium format system with interchangeable backs can be great for swapping from black & white to slides mid roll, shooting little cameras all loaded with different negative & slide film at once gives a great variety of different photos without the need to take neck steroids.

All real film cameras are super though. They are just all different. I have far too many. Its ridiculous. I should sell a few but I just can’t do it. The only one I could sell was the utterly dreadful Lensbaby. I knew I would never use it again. Ugghhh.

For the record – I hate all digital cameras and only keep them for work purposes.

At date of writing (2009) there is still an over obsessive fashion for evildigicams often combined with horrifically unsubtle overuse of computer programs that produce fake looking pictures that either seek to imitate real film (badly) or just damage the eyes of the public in a kind of new millennium lack of artistic taste all hdr, fake contrast and some awful black vignette tool that has been abused to death by the blind followers of current fashions. A digital photo can almost slip through in the blogger world of low resolution small pictures just on the Internet. Of course in the real world of full size prints mf real film is just another level. I only use digicams for work and only when, unfortunately, I am not given the budget possibilities necessary to do the whole thing on real film. I shouldn’t do large numbers of digital photos for reasonable prices but until I really make it I compromise/sell out in order to eat and subsidize the personal projects. I try to make the digipics subtle and as near to real film as I know how, but it still saddens me to see I took a decent shot on a digievilcam I would have loved to take on a favorite film. I almost console myself with the money and thinking perhaps tomorrow I will be better than today and put it down to learning for the future.

- Where is your favorite place in the world?

To be quite honest I travel so much to shoot weddings I am just happy to be able to have some time off at home; to go the outdoor pool here in Madrid (they still have topless girls in just like the real beach so its not all bad); to go the gym and perhaps if I get back early on Sunday from Saturday’s foie gras (not again blurrrgh yuck) and Taittinger/Laurent Perrier/Moët (always welcome) wedding photography trip in time to go to salsa class I am happy. A real holiday would be nice one day (without very rich people all dressed up to take photos of for a change).

Of course this is speaking of physical places. I know where I want to be with my photos and I won’t stop until I get there however hard some people try and hold me back. I also know where I want my photos to be.

When they nominated me as one of the ten finalists in wedding photography in the Hasselblad Masters 2009 I was happy for about 24 hours, which is a long time for me. 2 days later I was thinking again where I want to be and where I want my pictures to be. I don’t think they’ll let me win the Hasselblad Masters because they seem only to value the work of those that seem to do digiphotos with computer effects, but whether I win or not I want to look beyond. Perhaps I want my pictures to be in places more than I want myself to be in places. Ridiculous probably. Obsessive certainly. I just keep my foot on the gas and see where it will take me or my pictures. Maybe nowhere. But its worth a try.

I certainly know where I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be back behind the desk as commercial lawyer again however smart the suits were and however fancy the offices looked just off the Champs Élysées etc etc. I still sometimes have nightmares about it. Maybe one day they will steal my cameras and people won’t buy my photos but I’m not going back to being a nine to fiver in an office commuter braindeadom watch tv and go to be early for worker diy on weekend in family saloon in middle England small towner.

- How do you relax?

I will relax maybe November to February when I have to shoot fewer rich couples’ wedding photos. Until I hand in each job and know the clients are super happy relaxing is difficult. Just getting hours in the day not doing some work related thing is hard. Often the only exercise I get is cycling to the lab. Still I shouldn’t complain in a world financial crisis – to make a living off something that actually means something to you – is to be very lucky. I may not have much time to really relax but at least I can sleep well at night without worrying about how to pay for my next meal or the paypal bill for yet another stupid camera I bought that I don’t really need.

Perhaps the best way to relax is to spend time at a lady friend’s new house that doesn’t yet have a computer or internet installed but does have a lady friend who wanders round in underwear and knows what you like to find in the fridge to keep your energy up for nocturnal activities. It’s the simple thing in life that are the best.

- Who are you favorite photographers?

I get bored easily and tend to go through phases.

I go through camera phases. At time of interview I am point and shoot obsessive. By the time people read this I will be equally absurdly obsessive about some other photographic process or style. I get bored with my own photos and try and reinvent periodically. This means also consume large amounts of photographic stimulus, books, photographers, galleries etc. At any one time certain photographers who perhaps share my obsession at the time with certain things photographic appear to be just incredible. I then go onto someone else.

A couple of months ago I was looking at Mario Testino a lot, particularly his black and white informal photos like in his wonderful “Front row back stage” book. Then I got a copy of Elliott Erwitt’s “Unseen” from Amazon USA which is a kind of vaguely similarish (in certain ways no doubt Magnum purists will shudder at the comparison) black and white 35mm film natural social photography except with more humor, contradictions, plays on words, social comment, poverty street life, grime, real life…. Suddenly I thought Mario was very elegant yes, natural yes etc etc but not Elliott Erwitt.

Inspired to look more closely at the work of the Hasselblad Masters 2009 judges I was struck by how much I liked Douglas Kirkland but the photographer who really stood out for me was Anton Corbijn. I had previously known his U2 work but really loved his book “In control” which compiles backstage shots of the actors from the feature film he directed about Joy Division. The reality created of gloomy grey working class England is just stunning as if it is both nothing and everything, the mundane and the extraordinary.

Sometimes I seek out the work of photographers who are well known to kind of justify how I want to shoot, as if that they too did it like that validates what I do. I don’t want to just think I am being dumb shooting people looking glum, sleeping, frowning with stress or staring blankly into space in my wedding jobs. I like the strangely out of place (according to conventional views) expressions. Without wishing to compare what I do (because to would be like blasphemy) to Henri Cartier Bresson when I found his published collection of querky contemplative portraits “An inner silence” I thought that’s it – if clients don’t like my wedding pictures it may be because they aren’t good but not because they are people staring into space. It was as if that there had been someone else thinking the same things that I was meant it wasn’t so ridiculous trying to sell something quizzical in a wedding photo industry dominated by the smiles (not all of which are real in the work of some wedding “photographers”).

It is difficult when you get the feeling that you are alone in thinking something, to try to flow against the current. Looking at the works of the now rich and famous photographers (or sadly now deceased) can help. Equally though looking at the works of the not yet famous that you can actually exchange views with on the internet is invaluable. The support of other photographers on sites such as flickr is just wonderful. You find some artists who are truly great and not yet known outside cyberspace such as Catalunya’s Jorid Gual.

5 Comments to “Interview: Edward Olive”

  • What a talkative guy!

  • Fantastic and inspiring….

  • He´s the best, his images are really inspiring.

  • The whole papragraph about “Where I don’t want to be” is just brilliant and makes me want to run a million miles from corporate England right now.

    You gotta love Edwards work, sheer brilliance.
    Love it.

  • Thankyou for your support for my photos.

    Kind regards

    Edward Olive

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