Previously working as a tattoo artist, Olivia has now dedicated her career to photography and retouching. On the side, she creates some of the most entertaining visual narratives with her Shiba Inu sidekick, Zelda. Check out her charming story below.
Say hello to Olivia:
Where are you from? Where have you been?
I’m originally from Alabama and lived there my entire life, but I moved to Seattle six years ago after falling in love with the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, my travels have included Russia, Spain, Dominican Republic, France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Scotland, England, Italy, Mexico, and a considerable amount of time in Canada. Some of those trips were for school, some work-related, but I’ve been very lucky to have traveled primarily for the adventure of it.
You previously worked as a tattoo artist – do you still dabble in tattoo artistry?
I first completed my year of apprenticeship in 2005 while I was going to university and then tattooed until I graduated in 2009 and continued on into 2011, before I stopped completely and transitioned into photography and retouching full-time. Once I was out of the industry, I quit tattooing altogether, but was never able to bring myself to sell my machines; I still have them to this day.
Zelda seems really cool – tell us about the visual narratives you two create.
Ha, my relationship with Zelda is complicated! Shiba Inus are notoriously aloof, and sometimes, emotionally cold dogs. I often found it difficult to find things to do with Zelda that she would actually get excited about or want to participate in. Sitting in for light tests for my shoots in exchange for treats was one of the few things she was consistently enthusiastic about, and I ended up with countless photos of her in the process. When I went through a period of extreme social withdrawal and couldn’t bring myself to set up collaborations with actual people, I found myself motivated by creating images that involved only the two of us, and it helped me as it was a creative outlet that was entertaining, but also enabled me to remain reclusive.
What types of photography do you do?
Over the last couple years, I’ve almost exclusively shot macro beauty portraiture. I bought my macro lens after I lost access to my studio space, which is where I used to shoot a greater variety of imagery. I bemoaned only having the confines of my apartment to shoot in for the longest time, but it eventually led to me refining a very specific skill set, and I no longer feel limited by the lack of “official” studio space. I think a lot of new models and makeup artists I collaborate with are often shocked when they first see that I shoot out of my tiny studio apartment, but I’m a firm believer in letting go of pretension and working with what you’ve got. If you’re producing something quality in the end, who cares? It’s made me have a greater appreciation and respect for artists who are working with less, yet still generating top notch work.
What is the strangest situation you’ve ever faced as a photographer?
This may not be strange, but it is definitely the WORST situation I’ve faced as a photographer. A long time ago, I was shooting some lifestyle images of an American Idol contestant and his girlfriend at a park in Capitol Hill. At one point, she kicked off her high heels so she could run in the grass, and she immediately ended up stepping on a used hypodermic needle she then had to pull out of her foot. It was horrifying!
How has your editing style progressed over the years?
I definitely think I’ve come a long way! Several years ago, before I had learned Photoshop or studio lighting, I was more heavily into high contrast black and white images that accentuated grit and noise. Then I did a 180 when I gained access to Photoshop and waaaaaay overdid the retouching on so many photos. I’m deeply embarrassed by much of my older work, but time goes on and you (hopefully) learn, progress, and refine your skill sets. That being said, I’m sure that the photos I’m producing currently will one day horrify me in equal measure! I often fantasize about wiping the slate clean and starting over entirely from scratch.
How do you continue to improve upon your techniques? Do you have any favorite resources that you frequent to keep your skills sharp?
I love staying up-to-date on new imagery by following artists I’ve been impacted by. Some of my favorites, off the top of my head, are Elizaveta Porodina, Oriana Layendecker, Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, Baldovino Baldovino Barani, and Ruo Bing Li. Critically evaluating what it is about their imagery that I’m so affected by and how they achieved that definitely helps me grow as an artist.
Who do you want to give a shoutout to?
Fox Chalker is my ride or die! She’s been such an amazing model over the years by trusting me to experiment and just being able to rock literally anything, even the floofiest of wigs and silliest of hats. She has become a creative muse of artists across many mediums over the years, and she is definitely my longtime number one.
How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?
Agh, I’m the worst at this! Which is why I love working with assertive models who are comfortable with themselves and know how to work the camera on their own. I’m always so focused on the little technical details of things or obsessing over the light that it’s difficult for me to invest a lot of energy into micromanaging the model as well. I strongly prefer those who can sit down in front of the bright lights and just bring it with no external goading on my end. I’m intensely introverted and definitely not a natural “people person,” so I have trouble with that, unfortunately.
What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?
Always, always, ALWAYS step away from what you’ve been working on for a minimum of 15 minutes before you submit or publish anything. Giving yourself a fresh set of eyes to review your work is so crucial. I can’t count how many times in the past I’ve kicked myself for uploading or sending off something that I hadn’t separated myself from first. You get so in the zone when you’re editing that it’s ridiculously easy to over-process or completely miss otherwise obvious issues.
What’s one of your biggest fears?
I think one of my biggest fears is literally never feeling satisfied with anything I create, always doubting myself and seeing all the things I hate about my work and wish I had done differently. I understand that this is how many artists feel about their creations, but it’d be nice to be able to look at my work objectively from time to time without the haze of loathing and self-doubt always clouding my perspective.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?
I’ve always wanted to try sandboarding in a desert somewhere! I used to go snowboarding each year when I was younger, but I’m not particularly fond of snow or the cold; I’ll take sand and warmth any day.
For anyone that wants to get in touch with Olivia, here’s some contact information:
Olivia, thanks for the real interview – it was a joy getting to know you! 🙂
If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!