Olivia Davis is a Film Club Member whose work was featured in last year’s Best of the Year exhibition and is currently featured in our Member Show Seasonal Reflections: Summer. This week we decided to interview her to get to know more about her interest in photography and see a collection of her photos.
PL: What got you interested in film photography?
OD: I only began taking photos consistently during COVID, when I was spending nearly all of my time working and living alone. I wanted to capture and remember the absurdity of the moment and the ways I was spending it, so I started out very much ‘diary-style’ and intuitive as a novice. I spent a lot of time at first studying light, shapes, and framing at Laurel Hill Cemetery. It’s a very quiet place without a lot of people or distraction where I was able to explore and test different ideas. I think that origin informs my style with a tinge of solitude, trying to find moments of quiet within some very crowded places. I’m always searching for little portals, doorways, and objects that create an illusion of escape.
PL: What type of camera do you shoot with, and what kind of film do you usually use?
OD: I shoot using a few different light-weight inexpensive cameras. I consider myself a bit ‘anti-gear’, and prioritize cameras that are light/plastic so that I can keep them on me more easily and often, and capture moments in motion when needed. There’s nothing worse than some dude coming up to you and grilling you about what you're shooting on….haha.
I do enjoy switching up film from time to time, and recently have been loving Cinestill 800T. Whenever I travel (especially alone) I bring along a compact tripod so I can capture evening shots and the occasional timer selfie.
PL: How would you describe your style of photography? What or who are you most inspired by?
OD: I’m inspired by early modernist women photographers Tina Modotti and Diane Arbus who were shooting from an instinctual but naturally elegant point of view. They didn’t come to photography from a technical perspective, but worked hard to learn, and I think that makes their work all the more distinctive.
PL: Out of all of these images, which is your favorite and why?
OD: My favorite shot from this year is the portrait of the Land’s End Lobsterman. Taken in Maine, I find the composition very affecting with the native plant framing and rocks in the distance, and the Cinestill tint accentuates the setting of the coast beautifully.
The statue on Bailey’s Island was commissioned for the World’s Fair of 1939 with the intent of representing the state, and a local lobsterman was chosen to model for the sculpture. It has a beautiful attention to detail in the wrinkles of his clothes and veins of his arms, and if you look closely you can see coins left for good luck inside his breast pocket.
PL: You mentioned some of these photos are part of a couple series. Can you tell us more about them?
OD: One series is of several statue portraits that I’ve been slowly collecting. I find these frozen figures looking down on us in silence so alluring to capture. Looking into their origins is like a mini history lesson; there are so many monuments to bizarre, moving, and tragic stories all over the place. I enjoy the practice of trying to capture their character and the places they inhabit within a still-life portrait.
The other series I included came from a trip to Wildwood, NJ this Summer. It’s hard to believe but they’re taken on Memorial Day weekend during some intense morning fog. They have this beautiful painterly, ethereal quality that I really love. It’s a place I grew up going to a lot, and felt lucky to capture a side of it that we don’t usually get to see.
PL: You mentioned you are taking a darkroom class. How has working in the darkroom expanded your view of photography? Has learning to print in the darkroom helped you in the shooting process as well?
OD: I am just now beginning to compile a portfolio of work that I’m proud of and have been taking a darkroom class to gain some deeper insights crafting images from start to finish. The act of analog light, color, and cropping choices feels very elemental and comes with a huge pay-off when you finally get a print right. The experimentation side is a lot of fun as well.
It’s definitely special to take time out of a busy week to spend a few hours analyzing and perfecting just one photo. It’s made me feel a deeper connection to what I create, improved my eye, and it also feels great to have an encouraging teacher pushing me to try things I usually wouldn’t.
There’s a sign walking into the darkroom that says “You don’t take a photograph, you make a photograph.” and that’s basically become my motto!
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