We envy the few couples that look further then these one in a million pictures and end up with Edward Olive. Because Edward Olive is not just a wedding photographer. He’s not just a photographer, but embodies the struggle of a great artist who is yet to get the recognition he deserves. Refusing to water his style down, his photos are raw, pure, grainy, erotic while remaining the delicateness and finesse of someone who puts thought in every aspect of his work. Just have a look at his photostream and you’ll notice that your heart pounds faster. Please enjoy this feature with one of our favourite, if not favourite artists: Edward Olive.
“Couples love their sh*tty own wedding photos that nobody else could stomach looking at for more than 30 seconds unless you knew the people“
Born in Ireland you now reside in Madrid. Got tired off the rain?
Today is march. Its 24 and wall to wall sun here in Madrid. Its 10 in the UK.
Tell us about the beginning days of Edward Olive and photography
I got into this by accident. I just bought a canon 350d and tripod to shoot my own acting book and the photos came out surprisingly well without knowing how to work the camera. I shot actor and musician friends and the people from my neighborhood until in a shop one day shooting a portrait of the owner I got an offer to shoot his daughter’s wedding. I had no clue how to shoot a wedding so I just did what I liked and none of the usual posed fake photos.. tough uncles smoking cigars, red hot female cousins dancing, little kids running around… I put the photos on the internet and that was it. Somehow I became a professional.
“I had no clue how to shoot a wedding so I just did what I liked and none of the usual posed fake photos..”
Wedding photography, the first captures of endless happiness or the last captures of freedom?
No idea. Some thoughts that spring to mind: I shot a wedding that lasted 2 weeks… and the other woman was a guest.
I shot another where the groom and friends are still locked up having been taken by heavily armed military police in ski masks during the wedding police video allegedly taking with them 300 kg, 1.9 million and other things in the raid too : http://www.abc.es/20081007/madrid-madrid/detenidos-banquete-boda-miembros-200810071412.html
Couples often are looking for ‘traditional’ wedding pictures and sometimes don’t understand your work. How do you deal with this?
I agree now to just a very few family group shots. Say 6-8.
Anyone looking for the typical lined up posed fake smile photos all day has to hire someone else. Life is short and I am lucky enough to be in a position where I just don’t need that kind of job any more. I keep my highrolling costs down to buy artistic freedom and time off to do other things. I have done all posed in lines weddings. It made me unhappy and it could potentially damage my career long term if the photos ever come to the light of day.
“Somehow the church atmosphere makes people much stiffer and formal. A drink, cigarette and girlfriend in the hand soon loosens them up a bit. “
I try to get the 6-8 group photos I agree to do over with as quickly as possible not just so I can get on with the real photos… the tears, laughter, hugs, red hot female guests in short cocktail dresses… but also the quicker you shoot them the more natural and fun they look. I try to do them in the drinks reception rather than posing in lines on cathedral steps. Somehow the church atmosphere makes people much stiffer and formal. A drink, cigarette and girlfriend in the hand soon loosens them up a bit. Even then a quick politically incorrect joke can get that flash of natural better than anything. I shoot 3-4 photos a second and aim to get a little spark in that almost normal wedding photo that just makes me almost think it has some value.
You choose your art over your financial income. Is it still hard getting by?
I am lucky in that in 2008 I worked far too much and didn’t spend it. In 2009 I am also very lucky I have enough weddings I don’t need any more. This is just a perfect position to be in. It means I can pick and choose the weddings I accept.
“Still I admit I don’t yet drive an Aston Martin. Nor do I own a superyacht. These would be welcome additions to my mountain bike.”
Many couples are very affronted when they call to ask for a quote and before any discussion of prices are interviewed (or perhaps better said grilled) as to what they think of my photos, what they are looking for in their pictures etc etc. Only if they have bothered to spend time looking at the pictures; have really been captured by what they saw and only if they make it clear that they want me for what I do can we proceed.
It may sound arrogant but its just to keep sane and keep up standards. If I have to shoot generic rubbish all day long term it will not pay off and will make me throw in the towel. People will say that Edward Olive isn’t as good as he thinks he is. Look at the photos they look like normal photos to me. It also guarantees that clients are actually happy with what they receive.
“Real film grain from a Fuji Neopan 1600, motion blur, shallow depth of focus from f1.2 L lenses, creative framing and unposed portraits is just often totally alien to them.”
Many couples especially in Spain think that just photos in black and white is a little radical. Real film grain from a Fuji Neopan 1600, motion blur, shallow depth of focus from f1.2 L lenses, creative framing and unposed portraits is just often totally alien to them. However to make any attempt at art its essential to have creative freedom. Even when you have creative liberty its hard enough to take decent pictures.
You would be surprised at the number of people who contact me every day to ask for quotes who have never even bothered to look at my pictures or think about who I am. Often when they are on the phone and made to open my web while talking to me there comes a quick stony silence of horror. The world of art and the world of commercial, fashion, wedding, journalistic photography is usually totally at odds.
At least they realize the danger of having “artistic” photos before they are taken. As ex UK commercial litigation solicitor it avoids court cases later.
We never get tired of the pretty ladies with few clothes in your photos, will you ever get tired of taking them?
No. Life is short. There are few pleasures.
Who and what inspires you?
I don’t really look at photographers for inspiration. I have never studied and have never had a mentor. I like listening to music, reading, going to the theater, travelling… whatever … for inspiration. Today Frank Sinatra, both for its music and its photography. If I could do wedding photos like Frank can sing that would be just perfect.
“He is way less compromising in his work than I am and has way more talent. “
That said my favorite photographer here in Spain and in my opinion number 1 by a long shot is Catalunya’s Jordi Gual. This guy makes his own photographic paper for home done prints from mixed emulsions and art paper. He develops his own slide film in his bathroom. He is way less compromising in his work than I am and has way more talent. He is perfect to put me down to size and motivate me to try harder, be better and push limits further.
I have also always liked Toshihiro “Tommy” Oshima. When I first found his work on flickr I thought, ah it looks a bit like mine but like better, much better. Now I see we are very different but he can certainly take some incredible pictures.
In weddings if I start to get lax thinking I know how to take a few nice pictures I look at Joe Bussink I soon realize I am still small time commercially and lacking artistically.
Jeff Ascough also takes some really, really super wedding photos even if he does use modern digital cameras now.
Looking through my shelves I would include amongst my favorite books:
Platon’s “Republic”, Anton Corbijn’ “U2”, James A Fox’s “Boxing”, Helmut Newton’s “Works”, William Claxton’s “Steve McQueen”, Mario “Testino’s Let me in” and last week’s purchase Henri Cartier Bresson’s “The silence inside – portraits”.
I would however add though that whilst these photographers are all incredible, they are aided by having some really wonderful: A list models who both pose fantastically and draw attention to their work. I would also say that I believe that Jordi Gual and Tommy Oshima, who are way less well known, are in no way inferior. Only when we can take objective views of photography and photographers can we really understand what makes a photo great. It is incredibly important to be critical both of ourselves and even of the greatest photographers. Taking successful pictures of super models in underwear or world leaders is easier than becoming famous for shooting the unknown.
Is your experience as an actor an influence on the way you look at visual communication, and the way you look at photography?
Yes absolutely. I am not really a photographer. I should be an actor except I am usually an unemployed actor.
To shoot people you need to understand the difference between fake emotion that looks fake and real emotion / emotion that looks real. I strongly recommend reading the works of Constantin Stanislavski regarding method acting and feeling rather than showing. I don’t stand for over acting in my photos. I don’t care what I get as long as it’s real. Kids are easy. So are old people. Most people between 14 and 60 find having their photo taken very hard. It’s much easier with professional actors, singers, dancers, politicians… public figures in general. They may not know Stanislavski but they know how to project. Several years training in drama and years struggling in castings, films, TV, commercials brings a totally different outlook to the transmission of the interior to the lens.
“imagine you are in a photo shoot” i said (in french) to the french wedding guest to help him as a direction for his portrait after he had been having a few problems getting the hang of it (much to the amusement of the other french wedding guests)”
To a lesser extent it also assists in knowledge of how to light, rehearse, set up a shot, use cinema as reference, camera technique, long days and moments of intensity etc etc. I never studied lighting but I have done enough shoots as an actor to have seen how to light just about any small scene. I have never bought fancy studio lighting but I made some from junk and things from the everything for one euro Chinese shop that works just fine. Of course all the ideas were copied from the lighting, tubes, Kelvin gels, reflectors, tripods, polystyrene, wooden clothes pegs I had seen on set. People who work in commercials and cinema are have the absolutely highest level of technical knowledge of lighting, color, shots, angles, makeup, sequences of shots. Many look like builders and swear like builders. We don’t think of them as artists but they are above me by a long way.
We see a lot of black and white work from you, and also some color. What makes you shoot black and white over color, and vice verse?
In a wedding it’s not like shooting a commercial where wardrobe, models, film and set are all combined with a limited color range. In weddings especially mothers in law go for orange, purple and green. It can give me a picture with too many elements. I cut things down to just the tear in the eye that interests us, the hug in the far right corner… whatever…. by working with shallow depth of focus and either monochrome or dominant colour colour photography.
“In any event digital colours don’t look real. In film it’s a lot easier especially in medium format Hasselblad v series 6×6 or Mamiya 645”
In any event digital colours don’t look real. In film it’s a lot easier especially in medium format Hasselblad v series 6×6 or Mamiya 645. Colour saturations, tones, contrasts and textures are way better than the super clean too perfect looking shots I get from say my Canon 5d mkii. The Canon 5d mkii is way improved on textures, highlights and soft colours over the original 5d but it’s still not the real thing yet.
This year I will be shooting more colour film in weddings. Hopefully they will be more at dusk and less at midday. I much prefer higher kelvins if I can get them. The problem in weddings is I don’t choose the time of day. I also don’t control the lighting in venues. For example in Madrid the Ritz is wonderful at night and has soft garden and table lighting but many lesser venues have flat yellowy overhead lighting that makes things really hard especially in colour. It’s not the quantity I look for it’s the quality of light. Many clients just think turning up the lights will help. Probably the contrary would help me.
Which are your favorite items to take on the road with you?
In my personal life:
- Any Hasselblad V series camera with 80mm f2.8 t* and 50mm f4 t* a load of a16 645 and 124 220 6×6 and a12 120 6x6x backs + lightmeter. They are way my best photos.
- A Mamiya m645 is close behind.
- A few old metal 35mm cameras like Pentax Spotmatic or smaller Olympus om2 are great with 50mm f1.4 or 1.8 lenses and perhaps a wide angle.
- A Lomo lca is cool except mine is broken.
- A Holga or Diana with black tape for sunny days is cool too.
- You can’t take too many.
At Christmas I took a Hasselblad, a canon a2 (eos 5 film) back to England and both broke on me leaving me to steal my Dad’s Olympus om10. Now I always travel with 4 minimum.
In my weddings:
I take less risks and more weight and travel with a Hasseblad, a Canon eos 5d mkii, a Canon eos 5d, 3x Canon eos 5/a2 (film), an 85mm ef f1.2 L, 50mm f1.2 L, 24mm f1.4 L plus a 50mm f1.4 and something else like a 14mm f2.8 L … not to mention laptop, harddrive, 3 x16gb cards, 3 x8gb, batteries, cables, chargers, wheely Lowepro camera bag, Hugo Boss Black Label silk suit, and leather soled Salvatore Ferragamo shoes (leather soles are better for dancing merengue with red hot female guests).
I would add however that a Canon eos 300 f1.8 50mm is just fine. I have fancy fixed focal length L lenses for the same reason as the fancy suits – to look fancy. Outside work these things never leave a locked safe. Far too expensive and fragile.
Many photographers think they can’t take good photos because they have low end equipment. To that I would say in digital these cheapo yet still expensive non full frame multiply by 1.6 lens cameras with horrible digital noise at 1600-6400 with fake colours are indeed horrible, but in film cameras it’s the film that acts as the sensor and hence any reflex film camera is great. On ebay there are lots under a hundred dollars with lens. They may not impress millionaire clients but they take great photos.
You seem to have changed the ‘boredom’ of digital for the pain of analog, why?
“Digital is easy, quick, cheap, safe. It produces huge numbers of perfect photos. It’s perfect for standard professionals and tourists. It is ultimately however disappointing. Too perfect. Too clean. Too safe.”
I only use digital for work when we don’t have the budget to shoot the whole thing on film. Or safety backup at work when shooting film.
Film is the real thing. 35mm is wonderful. Medium format film is just another level. My personal preference is for square 6×6 (or 645 or 4.5×4.5 can be fun too).
Since the day I got my first film camera (9 months after my first digital camera) I have never ever taken a digital photo for myself. Only at work when the client wanted digital or budgets were not what it needs to spend 5 weeks scanning and rubbing out dust from scans in Photoshop. In my personal life outside work its film or nothing… and preferably Hasselblad (also Rolleiflex, Mamiya, Pentacon Six… occasionally).
Digital is just a marketing con by Japanese companies wanting to make people spend money. Its just a con.They secretly know film is far better still but they won’t admit it.
On ebay you can get a vintage medium format masterpiece of a high end camera for far less than a plasticcy bottom end reflexdigievilcam.
What is your favorite weapon of choice?
In my opinion Hasselblad v series film cameras are the world’s best cameras. I have three, two of which work. I broke one submerging it in the sea too many times like for some of these: Hasselblad+Sea on Flickr
“the nude ladies love the shutter sound in shoot I don’t know why”
They are heavy, slow to focus, only f2.8 light, no auto focus, no light meter built in, mine have no auto film advance, often only 12 shots per roll, pain in the rear lab development, special 120 film… bah awful… but they shot this for me. I don’t argue with results.
But not only is the whole experience of taking the photos is much nicer (the nude ladies love the shutter sound in shoot I don’t know why) the results are just much better.
Other cameras only have any sense for low weight, speed, lighter lenses, af, cheap easy development, for a change…
There is only one camera for me though. The photos from my other cameras are just not the same. When you open up the pictures in the computer in full size its just another world… especially in colour. I just don’t know how to do Hasselblad colours except with a Hasselblad.
If the CFYE delivery guy stood on your doorstep, what should he bring you: a crate with cold beer or a box with expired film?
Beer is fine, especially if its Guiness, stout, bitter, real ale, Midlands, Yorkshire, German, Belgian or Czeq real beer but it gives me a beer gut unfortunately. I used to be a full fat foie gras and champagne consumer in the posh weddings until I got lard *rsed. I have lost 9 kilos and am not going back.
Expired film would be good. I am looking for some way past its sell by date 400 35mm slide film and Ilford 3200 in 120 black and white film at the moment.
I would add however that you can’t knock all new films and dismiss them as too clinically perfect. Lucky film in 35mm and 120, Shangai GP3 in 120 and Era 35mm all from China are way freaky even brand new. Perfect for the less than sane photographer.
Do you experience a lot with the different kind of film that’s available on the market, maybe even get freaky with the chemicals for cross processing?
I shoot anything, from the best to the worst. All film is good film. Cross processing can be risky but if it works its funky. I would add however that you still need to shoot a good photo. There is too much xpro lomo on the www that is just not all that.
I also use the cheapest lab to develop my film. It has the oldest chemicals and the funniest effects. The local pros turn their nose up at it.
Generally I buy whatever film is cheapest… and always out of date (with the exception of Chinese films that are bad enough already without going out of date as well).
I also use the cheapest lab to develop my film. It has the oldest chemicals and the funniest effects. The local pros turn their nose up at it.
Since I lack creativity and ideas and have almost no Photoshop knowledge I leave things to a certain extent up to the chemical lottery. It thinks for me. Its either fantastic or nothing. Anything in the middle has no interest for me. Except at work where I tone things down a bit.
Please elaborate on your approach to shooting photos
I Shoot first think later… or I just don’t think. I shoot off lots of cameras and films at once. I try to get some nice ladies preferably with few clothes in the photos – they will be better. I take risks. I don’t care. But don’t listen to me I know nothing. I am faded and repeating myself now
Do you have any goals set for yourself in 2009?
At first I just wanted to get through a global crisis financially.
Now that’s not a problem I want to have a good time… relax, go to the gym, work on my abs, sleep in the mornings, go out dancing salsa, go to the outdoor pool that has topless girls, ride my mountain bike, eat out….
If I do all that the photos come out just fine.
Clients come too. The more you relax and don’t care the more clients sense success. Clients like success.
This interview with Edward Olive, wedding photographer based in Spain, is the first in a series of articles we have written on Edward.