Member Moment: Olivia Campbell

Film Club
Olivia Campbell is a Film Club Member who was featured in our University Student Show Emerging Perspectives! Her photos capture a beautiful quality of light and have a compelling composition. This week we decided to interview her to get to know her more and share a larger group of her photos with the community. Scroll down to see more!

Photograph of art supplies in a bowl

Photograph of the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia

PL: What got you interested in photography?

OC: I think I always had the interest. I took a photography class early in high school, but never had a film camera after that. I always loved capturing things on my iPhone, and I would have said its function was both art and memory-keeping, which my brain has never been great at. I didn’t pick up a film camera again until the spring of 2020. It was early in the pandemic and my friend sent me a Facebook post about a free Minolta. I went to grab it for my partner, who already had a Canon AE-1. I ended up keeping it. At the time, it helped me make sense of a lot of things that didn’t make sense while they were happening. It was significant to me that photography let me get close to what felt beautiful or meaningful while the world felt especially unsafe to be in, and people felt unsafe to get close to. Some of the photos in this set are from my first roll-- they mean a lot to me, and the context of early pandemic is inevitably a part of that.

Photograph of person eating outside with a sunrise behind them

Photograph of objects on a window sill

PL: What type of camera do you shoot with and what kind of film do you usually use?

OC: I shoot on a Minolta x700, primarily. I also have a Yashica TLR. A neighbor gave me a bag of expired film that I’ve got a fridge full of and am slowly working my way through, mostly because costs are so high right now. I’d say my favorite film stock is probably Portra 800. 

Photograph of light reflected onto buildings in city street

Photograph of someone's arm hanging out a car window

Photograph of someone's legs bent up while lying on the ground

PL: Some of your photos are also of people. What do you enjoy about photographing people? What is challenging about it? 

OC: It is a goal of mine to photograph people more, and to photograph more people I don’t know. I have a ton of photos of my partner, and of my close friends. I also have a ton of photos that are about people, but don’t have people in them. Whenever I’m with my little sister I take a lot of her— that shows up in this photo set. If I am being honest, I think what’s most challenging for me is more about the experience socially than my experience with the camera. When I feel comfortable enough with a person, it frees me up to be more creative, rather than to worry about whether they feel comfortable, or what they’re experiencing in the moment. I guess it feels like an inherently relational thing to take someone’s picture, and to some extent I feel like it’s on me to create something that captures them & their environment in a way that feels like truth. And, I think people who are getting their photo taken feel that same pressure, to look good, or to look right, or to look in line with the photographer’s vision, or whatever it may be. Those are some challenges, and I think that what I enjoy is the other side of that coin, where I find a lot of meaning in things that feel relational. And, I do think that having people in my photos helps me to elaborate on a story in a way that places and objects can’t quite get at.

Photograph of someone standing in a foggy woods

Photograph of the entrance to a deserted restaurant

Photograph of person playing the guitar outside

PL: Many of your photos have a strong and unique composition. When photographing, what are you thinking before you click the shutter?

OC: I do harken back to some of the basics when I frame a shot— the rule of thirds, watching for mergers and looking for leading lines. But, so much about it is a feeling in my body rather than any thought that I am having about the photo. When I go to actually shoot, the rules get stripped away and what I want the most is to stay true to what caught my eye and to what feels true or real or close to the experience that I am in. I get curious about how to give attention to whatever detail drew me to take the photo to begin with. I joke that I don’t really have good spatial reasoning, and I think it comes through here: I am more focused on how I feel than what I see. I really value when I have the luxury of taking a photo slowly, in a way that lets me feel for what is good or true, more than thinking cognitively about my framing and composition. I’m just not that technical of a person— as much as I want to be. I’m a feeling person. I have tools to get my life in order when I’m more lost in what I feel, and the camera is one of them. Maybe my process is something like: I start with some basic rules, I let them all fall away before I hit the shutter, then I see the end result and find they are oftentimes present anyways, because they’re rules for a reason— meaning, they put language to things we are attracted to as people.

Photograph from the top of a building in West Philadelphia

Photograph of someone holding a surfboard while standing in the ocean

PL: When taking pictures, what are some objects or elements or feelings within a scene that inspire you to take a photo? 

OC: Yeah, I love this question, even as I’m not sure I know how to answer it. Tangibly: architecture, light. Or a detail about something larger that tells the story of the larger thing. I have always been a person who is quickly romanced by their environment. Something in my world will make me pause or do a double take, and the camera gives me an excuse to revisit what made me pause, to stay present with it just a little bit longer, and to get curious about the experience I had with it and what story it is telling. In that way, photography is as much about listening to an inner story, or a story out in the world, as it is about anything happening for me visually. I take to heart the saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words. I used to write really long things about really small moments, and people would enjoy them, but there was always someone who would tell me they didn’t quite understand what I meant. I love to write, and don’t mean to knock it-- but I think that photos help me convey what I mean in a way that has always been more succinct than my writing.

Photograph of ordering counter at a deli

Photograph of someone wearing a bandana while sitting in window seat

PL: Out of all of these images, which photo is your favorite and why? 

OC: The one of my sister in the maroon shirt and the blue jeans with a t-shirt tied around her face. I love the composition and I love the colors. But, more importantly, the context of this one is that it was April 2020: I had gotten laid off that month due to COVID and was cleaning out my office, and this is shot there. It says a lot to me that I have not had words for these last 3 years: about safety and love and how it takes both distance and proximity to participate in either. And, I really love the detail of the toilet paper next to her. It reminds me about the continued presence of things that have felt scarce and desperate in the context of pandemic. The strong and steady composition feels supportive to some version of me who was present when this photo was taken. And, I don’t think you need to know any of that to feel like this photo has a strength about it. It feels solid, like a picture I can lean on.

Photograph of someone sitting in a car looking out at the view

Photograph of someone sitting by a bonfire


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