Olivia Rohde on her passion: Photography
Great photos are dreams. And memories. And art. While these days, an abundance of pictures is taken - and uploaded somewhere - every day, it has become even more difficult to stand out in the world of photography. But there are wonderful people with amazing perspectives out there! An upcoming talent in the world of fashion and portrait photography is Olivia Rohde from Copenhagen.
In our series Time For Creative Souls, we listen to inspiring creative people that have their very own expression and a unique aesthetic point of view. We talked with Olivia about her beginning as a photographer, her favorite motives - and these rare moments of authenticity that are so difficult to catch in a portrait.
Dear Olivia, when did you start as a professional photographer?
Well, if professionally means not having school and assignments on the side, but having actual work jobs, then that must be around two years ago. I got my Bachelor in photography in June 2015, and right after the summer holidays I decided that I should start my own company. I thought it should be done right away, so I shouldn’t walk around wondering too much about what I should become. So I started right away.
And while you were studying, you didn’t do any commercial work at all, or was it just limited?
My school was, and still is, very committed to commercial work. It wasn’t all that artistic, but it was still very creative. The schools I went to before were more artistic, abstract and conceptual while this school, Mediehøjskolen, focused more on brands, target groups and so on. You can say that it was more about how you can survive as a photographer, and how it is one thing to be able to take a good picture, but another is to know about brand identity, target group and communication between graphical designers and art directors.
My school believes that if you are to survive the photography business, you need more competences than “just” to take a good picture. Everyone can take a good picture. There are so many people who take great photos and are very talented because we are becoming so visual – also because of Instagram -, so in order to compete, you need to be able to sell yourself on a different level. You need to be able to sell a picture, but I believe that if you offer the whole package – finding locations, casting and all the other stuff that is also a part of photographing, then that will make a difference for your customers. I also think and believe that I take better pictures if I’m involved in the entire process, and I actually think that it is really funny and exciting. I find it difficult to meet up at a shoot, take a picture and then go home. I like to be involved and engaged in what I’m going to shoot.
Are there many photographers who, like you, get involved in the entire creative process?
I think that many might do it without knowing that they’re doing it. But I do it very deliberately.
Many photographers have a specific expression in their pictures that is typical for them. Which expression is typical for Olivia Rohde?
What I have noticed about my style is that no matter whether it is a photo I’m posting on Instagram or a commercial work-related photo, it is important for me that the photos contain something authentic. I’m not particularly fond of, or good at, taking very staged photos. I really like the immediate and spontaneous photo, where you get a feeling of a “right” atmosphere without too much posing. I can see it in my photos now. Even though I have done a lot of fashion photos, I now have a hard time doing it because I feel like it is way too correct. I really love fashion photos, no doubt about that, but when I’m the photographer I feel that the photos have to contain something authentic and real. So right now the word “authenticity” is what is most important for me. It’s just my opinion of course, but I prefer to take picture of a model and seeing her as the person she is, instead of her as just a model. This is very interesting because it is so difficult. I think this is related to Instagram, and the way that everyone tries to show themselves in a “I’m-just-who-I-am”-way, so the authenticity probably comes from us finding a good way to sell ourselves.
I think you can see this in Cover, Eurowoman and magazines alike, that they often choose a type to be a model instead of a model-model. And that is because they like the character and type the person is. Not hat he or she isn’t really beautiful – but you notice more the character of the person first instead of their beauty. I find this really interesting, and I think there are a lot of visually oriented people in Copenhagen that know this, who understand that we should focus on the people and characters rather than what is “beautiful”.
You have already worked together with some brands. How is the process about finding together as a brand and as a photographer? How much do they want you to keep “your own style”?
That depends on how the collaboration begins. If I initiate the contact I have the advantage to be able to say “this is how I think we should do it”, and then I will send them some mood boards and maybe an idea of the collaboration. In this way I also take responsibility, and if they say yes to my way of doing it, they say yes to the whole package. I don’t just send an email with a link to my webpage, asking if they like it – I don’t believe you will get very far with that approach.
When entering a collaboration, I believe it is essential to have found out beforehand what kind of photographer you would like to be in the specific situation. And you need to say it and sell it before entering. I think people get a lot of look-at-my-stuff emails, but that is hardly enough, especially when thinking about the world today and how many talented people are out there. You need a basis for what makes you creative and great at what you’re doing.
I think a lot of the big fashion designers and brands have become aware of the young and creative people. And just as much as they need a fresh input in their business, I also need them to gain experience and have someone who sees the potential in me. It goes both ways.
Are there any brands in particular that you would like to work with?
It depends on whether you talk about Denmark or other dreams. We probably all have some pretty big dreams. But if we’re talking about Denmark then I would like to work more with fashion photography. For me there are two genres that I work with; portraits and fashion.
Within the fashion world I would very much like to make a huge collaboration with Baum Und Pferdgarten. What I like about them is how they dare. And they are just such cool ladies. The teamwork and understanding for fashion, colors and materials is spot on! And I think they manage to be very commercial in the making of more mature women’s clothing – looking at the prices at least – but at the same time they are so provocative. This is not meant as sexually provocative, but more in how they challenge us to look at their clothes and getting a feeling like “oh, that’s another way to do it”. So, looking at their color palette and their universe, they are the ones I would very much like to work with right now. There are many other brands that I would like to work with, but I think this collaboration could be great. Really, really great.
Shots from the Baum Und Pferdgarten show in summer 2016
Do you have a favorite motive? And what is the hardest motive to get perfectly done?
Portraits. Especially right now. I’m very exited about it! I don’t really know why, but it might have to do with the authenticity again. The thing about portraits is how to find this authenticity. And people are not very good at this in general – unless you meet someone who doesn’t care at all – because they have a specific image in their minds about how they think they are supposed to look. It is difficult to break down this barrier and see how the people are when they are themselves. It’s a lot to ask of them, actually, and it can take a long time before the right picture is taken. But this is also what makes me like it so much. It requires a lot of talking and that you trust each other and being comfortable in the settings you’re in.
When I show my customers the portraits I’ve taken of them I always get really nervous. Luckily, many have been super happy with the result, which is why I now dare to call myself a portrait photographer. Many of them actually also thank me, because they rarely get a photo like this. I’ve taken this with me, and can tell myself that I might be pretty good at this.
Where do you get inspired?
Well, if we continue talking about portraits, then my source of inspiration is Instagram. I use it to find people – also people I don’t know – and I’m doing a larger portrait series of people I’ve found on Instagram. With portraits, it’s also very much about finding some personalities that don’t look like me. It is actually a really tough question… There are all sorts of things that inspire me, and it just sort of pops up. I also find a lot of inspiration through Pinterest. I get my inspiration sorted here.
Different magazines also contribute with loads of inspiration. I just haven’t bought any magazines in a really long time. I realize now that it’s actually close to being scandalous! But I’ve been collecting the same three magazines for many years now, and then I buy a new one occasionally.
The first one is The Gentlewoman, which I absolutely love. It’s genius, really. One thing is the aesthetics of the magazine, but they are also spot on with their concepts – what they take pictures of and how they do it. I think it’s done almost to perfection. It is also very classic and well proportioned, and they know how to show women’s fashion in a very beautiful way. Another magazine is Double, which is actually a little weird, because it’s physically long and narrow. It is also a fashion magazine. I find a lot of inspiration in this, because they have such a special way of showing their photos. Thanks to the weird format, I look at the photos differently than I normally do. I think I get inspired from these two magazines because of their very thought-through concepts. A third magazine that I like is Dazed, but this has more to do with the way they make beautiful images. They are good at making cool editorials.
Olivia in front of her photographies at CIFF in Copenhagen
What is the hardest part and the best part of being a photographer?
At the moment, I think the hardest part for me is that I’m doing everything on my own, and everything depends entirely on me. This means that I need a really strict discipline to get results. It is difficult but also really exciting.
The best thing about being a photographer is then when you have the discipline, put in hard work and then end up getting something in return. I feel that now. I’m in a period where I can see that my hard work is paying off. The investments I’ve made the last year with some unpaid work at times is paying off. So together with what I said before, the hardest part is to get it all together in one big picture – economically and so on. It’s unpredictable to be freelance.
I also think that you get rewarded for the work you put in it. Almost 9 out of 10 times I’ve done a job, they’ve come back to me. This supported my goal of becoming a photographer, because it has been tough, but I’ve seen that I can survive that. A year ago I wasn’t even sure that that was what I wanted, but now I know. I think it will continue to be hard work, and I don’t think it will ever be like “I’m just gonna stay on the sofa today”, but I think I will find a balance in working really, really hard, but also getting so much more out of it. So the best part and the hardest part go hand-in-hand.
The thing about portraits is how to find this authenticity.
And people are not very good at this in general – unless you meet someone who doesn’t care at all – because they have a specific image in their minds about how they think they are supposed to look.
How did you combine your work with your studies? Is it a bit of back and forth or do you manage to do both next to each other?
It was really difficult for me, and I’ve also noticed that many of my friends who are somehow creatively educated are having a hard time figuring out how to sell themselves. I think that this is mostly because you are studying and don’t have the education to sell yet, and the competition within your fellow students is also big. So while I was studying I had a really hard time finding jobs because I wasn’t skilled or confident enough. I knew how to take good pictures, but I didn’t know how to compete or sell myself.
I did do some work, mostly for my mom or her friend. My mother has a clothing brand for children and I still do work for her. I helped her a lot with her visual identity. Her brand has been around for 25 years, so she is pretty established, and working for her has made others see me and open their eyes for my work. I think in winter it was the fifth time that I shot her collections, and I now see many other brands moving in the same direction as my mother and I. And that must be the greatest compliment you can get. Although it was a little weird in the beginning, but then I started thinking that I did this type of picture first, and that is a positive thing.Around six years ago, on children’s fashion fairs, the images and look was very polished and controlled, but now it is nothing like that. The expression has changed completely, and I think that my mother and I have been a part of that change along with some other big brands. Christina Rohde, which is the name of her brand, has really been a first mover and has dared to jump out into social media more than other older brands have. In my opinion this is something very important if you are to survive in the business.
What are your next projects?
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been working on a series of portraits, from which I’ve already posted some photos on Instagram. It’s photos of some pretty wild, young characters around the age 16-19 years, whom I’m deeply fascinated and they have left a huge impression on me. About a year ago I was in a period where I didn’t enjoy photographing, because I only did it for others and I was very focused on jobs. So I decided to do a personal project, where it was only myself involved, and not having to compromise with anyone. Then I found these amazing characters and met with them independently around Copenhagen. They are absolutely amazing. They are the nicest people and the craziest characters. They are really extreme, but at the same time the nicest and most humble people I’ve ever met.
Thanks so much, Olivia!
➸ More pictures? Discover Olivia's newest work on her Instagram account or discover her current portfolio on her website.
Discover our interview series Time For Creative Souls! You might also like our interview with illustrator Mathilde Friis Olsen or artist Emily Grady Dodge.
Interview by Mermaid Stories
Photos: Courtesy of Olivia Rohde