Interview with Photographer Edward Olive

HESO: When did you first pick up a camera?

Edward: Very late on, but I’m not looking back. I’m looking to keep taking my photos to the next level and to move all my old pictures just as far round the world as they can go. Sometimes I look back at old photos and think everything I did was **** or I could do it better now. Other times I see some value in the naivety.

HESO: You have a very distinct portfolio, including nudes, fashion, commercial and many of them have the look have the look of fine art photography, yet there is a sense of toy camera aesthetic at work here as well. Please tell us about the way you work on any given project.
Edward: As Helmut Newton said it not the camera that takes the shots, it’s the photographer. It doesn’t matter how the pictures are made. What matters is at the end of the day ending up with the best photo you can take. A photo that means something. A photo that objectively has value…a photo that will then go on to have a life of its own. It will have its own importance. There are people that come to look at it, those that buy it, those that put it on the cover of something years down the line.

To do the sensible, normal, accepted thing in any particular decade thing will produce the sensible “correct” normal photos you see from that decade. To take crazy technical decisions can increase risk and to use technology from other decades or that you invent or make will take you off the rails and either make you pictures that are a total a disaster or a huge success. The degree of risk you take is a decision you have to make in any venture, not just in stock-broking.

HESO: Photography as a degree of risk…somehow I don’t think you’re referencing the current digital technological shift. Do you prefer analog to digital photography or vice versa?

Edward: Terry O’Neill said he used film for people he cared about and digital for jobs that didn’t matter. I wouldn’t argue with him. He’s a genius.

Scan of silver gelatin darkroom print hand made by the photographer from expired black & white negative film hand developed by the photographer

Scan of silver gelatin darkroom print hand made by the photographer from expired black & white negative film hand developed by the photographer

I let people who hire me choose what suits them best. I don’t argue with people who want to pay me professional fees. They’re paying, they’re in charge. I like people to get what they really want. I like people to be happy. People know what they want. They come to me. I listen and try my best to do just what they tell me they like. What I personally think is best is of no importance to them.

Personally, I have no interest whatsoever in digitalizing any image I want to produce except at the very end stage, once the image is as I want it to be, just to scan the final handmade print. The scanning allows more people to see it on screens than is possible in real life and also clients can use it for all sorts of things that will give my picture new life or lives like book or cd covers or advertising campaigns.

Of course if people are still looking to byy high bulk at low cost in large numbers of realistic, descriptive, focused photos that clearly look like they are from this decade then I would be a fool not to take the money. I don’t get paid a million dollars a picture like Elizabeth Taylor but her view on the subject of money still has a lot of sense. Warhol was no fool either. I take digital photos if that’s what people want. If I didn’t they would just hire someone else.

HESO: Many photographs lack faces or obscure the person / people. Is this purposeful? To what end?

Edward: On the internet I put a very few of the pictures I produce each year. A variety from the different projects I have done. There are more and less descriptive pictures. There are photos that show or allude to the representation of people, things, places, ideas, feelings, concepts and moments in time. All the photos I take each year I store in boxes of negatives and prints and thousands of gigas of digitalized or digital files. Periodically I look through them all and put a few on sale or on public display depending on how I feel at the time about that type of picture. I take care not to release all the pictures publicly and often not until a year or two later because so many people who purport to be art photographers try and copy them as soon as they are on the internet and we have had to threaten legal proceedings against very large numbers of Spanish wedding photographers and videographers who have been using my photos in their websites to advertise their photography services. Surprising, shocking, immoral, illegal yet unfortunately all too true here in Spain.

HESO: So you are also a wedding photographer, is that correct? Which came first the fine art photographer or the wedding photographer? And do they overlap?

Edward: There will always be people who try to pigeon hole you or your work for ease of classification. There are many areas of creative arts and many types of photography. The difficult thing is to stand out above the endless zillions whether its weddings or nudes or whatever. To call what I do fine art makes me feel sometimes like a fraud or a donk when you think of genuine fine artists like Chema Madoz.

It is very sad that the very few who actually produce interesting pictures, the really gifted, often pass away early like Donovan or burn the lot because they are sick of the whole thing like Duffy. But this happens in so many creative professions. Looking back at photography books of Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix or John Lennon is very sad.

HESO: Some of your photographs seem like stills from a film. Do you like film? What particular genres? Any particular favorites?

Photograph © Edward Olive

Photograph © Edward Olive

Edward: I like film in the sense of the meaning of negatives or slide and love almost all films, papers and chemicals.

I use all sorts of things from hand developed 35mm, 120mm and 220mm black & white, slide and c41 films of all types, silver gelatin and RA4 papers, water paint, scanners and enlargers, digital and film cameras and lenses from 1920 to 2012, studio lighting of all types for the look that I am looking for any particular shot. Nothing I use isn’t widely on sale either still produced or second hand. All the tools and the fuels are available to everyone. It’s what you do with the paint and brushes that matter.

I am glad Nova, Paterson, Kaiser, Tetenal, Foma, Ilford, Fuji and Kodak still produce some genuine photography products for the enlightened few who still remain. One day there may be no genuine artisans left, just the generic producer of endless cheap fake plastic copies churned out for the masses. That will be sad.

I also like film in the sense of movies and if my pictures look like movie stills that’s great. I learned my first lighting and shot set ups on set working as an actor in TV, films and commercials. I still study the DOP’s every time I get an acting job. Very few stills photographers have the same level as good DOP’s.

HESO: Who are your favorite photographers?

Edward: Sometimes I look back at Jean Loup Sieff’s or Scavullo’s black & whites or color by Clifford Coffin or Guy Bourdin and think I may as well throw in the towel because it was all done far better 30-70 years ago. You look at so much Demarchelier now and see Avedon. You can look at Testino and see Horst or Beaton.

I love Richard Avedon. He will always be the greatest photographer.

HESO: What do you do when you are not working?

Edward: It’s hard to remember. I think I used to have time to travel without work, read, cook, have a social life, play sports and go dancing. But that seems a long time ago now. 

HESO: Any final thoughts?

Edward: There will be people who understand what I try to do and those that don’t. There will be those who look at my pictures with the knowledge and sensitivity of experts in photography and/or art and those who have never heard of Doisneau or Parkinson. There will be people who think my pictures are good, those that think they are bad and those that say they think they are good or bad for reasons that may not be impartial.

For somebody to say your work is great may mean for that person no more than its cool or nice. For another person the word great in relation to photographers refers only to Erwitt or Cartier Bresson and those that are truly great photographers. That is another concept entirely. Few in any generation will have any importance in the long term.

Edward Olive
+0034 605610767

This interview is part of HESO Magazine’s ongoing Summer Interview Series, where we interview photographers, musicians and artists about their work and what they think about the world of 2012. We may ask them similar questions, but the answers have been anything but the same old canned responses. Check out the entire series here.