Interview #17: Laurence Philomene Olivier

6/14/09

CUS: First of all, the most standard question in the book: how did you get into photography?

Laurence Olivier: I've always been into photography. My parents gave me my first camera when I was 5 years old, and even before that, I used to help my father develop his photographs in the dark room he’d made in the basement. I used to take pictures all the time, but it was an unconscious thing, it was just a part of my life, like eating breakfast or reading a book. I realized that I wanted to be a photographer when I bought my first Blythe doll last year. I started taking pictures of her with my dad’s dslr and it just felt right.

 

CUS: Tell us a little about where you live.

LO: I live in Montreal, Canada. I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s lovely, but so small. It will always be home, but I don’t want to live here forever.

 

CUS: Do you have a favorite photographer?

LO: I have a lot of favorite photographers. Tim Walker, of course, Loretta Lux, and people from Flickr (Eleanor Hardwick, Chrissie White, Mike Bailey-Gates…). I recently read a book called «Vitamin ph : new perspectives in photography», it featured 120 photographers such as Olaf Breuning and Anna Gaskell (two of my favorites). I fell in love with it. I love avant-garde and surrealism.

 

CUS: What did you have for breakfast this morning?

LO: A home-made vanilla milkshake, and fresh cherries.

 

CUS: If you could photograph any person (past or present) who would you choose?

LO: Probably Marie-Antoinette. Her life fascinates me.

 

CUS: Do you believe that with the rise of digital photography the phrase “everyone can be a photographer” is true?

LO: Well, yes, technically, everyone can be a photographer, everyone can a take picture. Can everyone be an artist? Now that is a different question... I think some people just have it in them, this desperate need to create something.

 

CUS: What kind of camera do you enjoy using the most?

LO: Most of my pictures are taken with my Nikon D-80, and I really love it, although if I had more money, I would use my film camera more often.

 

CUS: Do you always have preconceived concepts of what you want to shoot?

LO: I do, even though I sometimes end up doing something completely different from what I had in my mind. I really rarely go out to take pictures without having any idea of what I want to shoot.

 

CUS: Do you have a favorite subject you like to shoot? And why?

LO: I love shooting dolls. Taking a picture of a doll is so much harder than taking a picture of a human, because photography is all about capturing life, and dolls aren’t alive, and that’s where all the challenge is. I also love to shoot my friend Jeanne, because her face is so expressive, she looks like belongs to another decade.

 

CUS: How much time do you generally spend on a shoot?

LO: It really depends on how much time I have, but I generally spend 2 or 3 hours on a shoot. However, I do spend 15 to 30 minutes taking pictures everyday, when I don’t have time for a big shoot.

 

CUS: What is your most treasured possession?

My Nikon.

 

CUS: If every photograph should contain one key element, what would it be in your opinion?

LO: Honesty or great light. Both, if possible.

 

CUS: What’s playing on your iTunes right now?

LO: Diamond Day, by Vashti Bunyan

 

CUS: What sort of themes do you try to explore through your photographs? Is there any one in particular in which you try to convey often?

LO: Childhood dreams vs. reality, and loneliness. I’m not afraid of growing up, but I’m afraid of losing the feeling of being a child, the endless imagination.

 

CUS: If you could go anywhere in the world to take photographs where would you go?

LO: Japan.

 

CUS: What is the thing you like the least about photography? The most?

LO: I love showing people how I see life trough my photographs. The only thing I hate about photography is when a shoot doesn’t turn out the way I wanted because of things I can’t control, like light.

 

CUS: What are some of your favorite films?

LO: The Secret Garden and A Little Princess (my favorite films from when I was a kid), Sofia Coppola's movies (Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie-Antoinette), Wes Anderson's movies (especially The Darjeeling Limited), Big Fish, le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, The Pianist (that movie really moved me, the first time I watched it I was in Amsterdam, and I spend the night crying), Everything Is Illuminated (I really didn’t like the book, though).

 

CUS: Tea or coffee?

LO: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

 

CUS: What’s your fondest childhood memory?

LO: I don’t really have one. I remember building little houses for the fairies in my backyard, and watching cinderella in the morning when my parents where still asleep. I remember the feeling of being in an MRI really well, I remember how panicked I was.

 

CUS: What is your favorite photograph that you’ve taken, and what’s the story behind it?

LO: This one. I took it in a little diner near my house. It was sunny outside, that day, but also really cold, we went inside and ate hot dogs, and for a moment, everything was ok, nothing mattered anymore. I also love this one.

 

CUS: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you on a photo shoot?

LO: Weird things happen every time I take pictures. People have laughed at me, I was attacked by a dog (twice), I was told I couldn’t take pictures in numerous places, I often have to force my friends to model for me and do things such as dressing as a princess in a supply store or staying outside in the middle of a snow storm...

 

CUS: If you could be anyone for a day who would you be?

LO: Someone who’s really old. I want to know what it feels like.

 

CUS: What have you always wanted to photograph but have thought was too hard or difficult to execute?

LO: Someone dressed as a rabbit falling from the sky. Someone dressed as a siren dying in the middle of a really big street. I would love to do a series of people in costumes dying in really odd ways. I would also love to take pictures of a really old house full of weird furniture and little girls playing hide and seek inside it. I’ve always wanted to take a series of pictures of everyone I know waking up, or going to bed, or brushing their teeth, something like that.

 

CUS: Where does your inspiration usually come from?

LO: It comes from everywhere. Yesterday, for example, I saw a girl in the metro who had the most intense eyes I’d ever seen. She had long, dark hair, and she didn’t have eyelashes, and her eyes were black, and the way she stared at things, I swear it gave me chills. I instantly pictured her wearing a black Victorian dress, in the middle of a poppy field. That’s how I get my ideas. They just pop into my head.

 

CUS: Who, or what, is your biggest influence?

LO: Two years ago, when I was in Paris, I went to see an Anette Messager exhibition. It really changed my life. Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst, and illustrators such as Nicoletta Ceccoli and Mark Ryden also inspire me a lot.

 

CUS: What are five things you can’t live without?

LO: My camera, my dolls, cheese, my laptop, and my best friend.

 

CUS: What are your other hobbies besides photography?

LO: I used to be really into cooking. I read, I write, I roller-skate.

 

CUS: What is something that no one knows about you?

LO: I’m really afraid of the dark. I don’t have blinds in my room so there’s always a little bit of light. I can get really panicky when I’m alone in a room without light.

 

CUS: What is your favorite time of day to shoot?

LO: Just before sunset. I also love pictures taken at sunrise, but I really rarely have enough energy to get up early in the morning.

 

CUS: Where is your favorite place to shop?

LO: My favorite shop is in New York, it’s called Toy Tokyo. It’s full of weird Japanese toys and it’s extremely small. I could spend hours there. In Montreal, I usually shop downtown, at Urban Outfitters or Chapters.

 

CUS: What advice would you give to your fellow up-and-coming photographers?

LO: Do whatever you feel like doing, whenever you feel like doing it. That’s how the best photos are taken.

 

CUS: Do all your photographs go through some sort of post-processing treatment? And if so what kind of effect do you try to produce through Photoshop/other post-processing tools?

LO: I try to use Photoshop the least possible. I usually adjust curves, colors and contrast, but that’s it. I used to edit my photos a lot but i’m less into over-photoshopped photographs lately (except when it’s extremely well executed).

 

CUS: What are your plans for the summer?

LO: I’m going to spend 2 weeks at my best friend’s house, in a really small village 4 hours away from here. Her house is 100 years old and there’s a river and a forest in her backyard. I’m really excited about it, I have tons of ideas. I’m also going to create a website and, hopefully, make some money and buy a Kenner Blythe.

 

CUS: Where do you see yourself in 20 years? Do you think that photography will still be a big part of your life?

LO: In another country, with someone I love, and hopefully, still taking pictures. I’m pretty sure photography will still be a big part of my life, because it’s always been, but if it isn’t, I just hope I’m going to be happy with my life.

 

CUS: Our last interviewee, Jane Crout, wants to know: do you think that photography is a dying art?

LO: I definitely don’t think so! I think it’s a growing art, it’s evolving a lot.

 

CUS: Last but not least, what would you like to ask our next Interviewee?

LO: Are you self-taught or did you take photography classes ? And if you did, how did it help you ?

 

Laurence Olivier, b. 1993 from Montreal, Canada
laurencephilomene.com

 

Images provided by Laurence Olivier. All rights reserved.