The Emergence Of Wunderkind Photographer Olivia Bee

Adolescence is often one of the most alienating but also most adventurous phases in anyone’s life. So it’s great to find a photographer like Olivia Bee, who reflects the world just as she sees it. Dreamy hues, romantic colours and a carefree narrative are elements that are ever present in her work. Her truthful, non-judgmental style has attracted fans across the world.

At the age of 15 she was handpicked to work for Converse, and by 17 her work was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. Now at 22 she is on the cusp of becoming a truly important name in the world of photography and potentially also film in the coming years.  We sought out Olivia Bee to talk to her about her latest book Kids in Love which came out in April.

You’ve said for the most part you are self taught. Do you remember that moment that kick-started your passion for photography?

When I was in 9th grade I got my heart broken and I bought this big white dress and it kick-started me photographing myself in this world I had created out of the Oregonian landscape. There was a blizzard in Portland and me and my heartbreak just blended in.

On a random Google search your age tends to come up a lot as a underlying point, the media seem to love the word “prodigy.” Time even called your work precocious. Do you think this is lazy journalism?

Maybe not lazy, but it is interesting. People love to question young talent — “It’s a mistake she’s doing well right? Who are her parents? They must be in the industry.” It’s an easy thing to talk about and being really talented really young definitely gets people talking, especially when a lot of the time, you’re the one getting the jobs.

We love the most recent book Kids in Love. Can you tell us where it came from?

This book features the work I made from age 14-20. I was photographing the world around me and the world I made up. I didn’t know it was a book until it was finished.

Can you walk us through the shots that mean the most to you in your book?

Every image in that book means something big to me, and the narrative they piece themselves into, together, tells the story of my youth through my foggy love-centric teen eyes. Every person in the book (besides one image of kids crawling out the window — please tell me who you are!) means something to me. It’s been such a privilege to get to photograph these people through the years, one vulnerable moment to the next. The book wouldn’t be possible without the trust and love we have exchanged.

Would you say that the colours and style you use are typical of the your time and generation? Or would you like to think your building your own narrative/universe?

I am an artist making work in 2016 so I think we all have something in common, like in the ways we promote our work on social media, but I do believe I am building my own narrative and universe because it is so personal to me. Even my stylized self portraits where I dress up in these romanticized cliche universes and narratives, they are innately mine, comprised of emotions I’ve had and then blown up into something ridiculous but beautiful. I push it. And I just feel my colors. The way color has its own narrative in my work is also very important and I don’t think people can really copy it. I draw a lot of inspiration from painting. I always want my photographs to look less like photographs and more like a sun drenched polaroid of a painting of a diary entry… or something like that.

Can you direct us towards some blogs, websites and Tumblr’s you’re loving?

My friend Drew runs I love how messy and beautiful it is, very much like channeled thinking. We have similar taste in a lot of art so I always appreciate it. I also just found @PaoloRaeli on Instagram the other day and I think his vision has so much promise. Excited to see what he makes next.

You once said “I feel like everybody’s Instagram is supposed to make them likeable and fuckable.” Do you think people are perhaps not giving themselves love more so than other people?

Yeah, social media can create this reliance on others’ approval which is really dangerous. How are you going to own your own experience if you’re just hoping others like it?
I can’t handle too much social media all the time. I delete apps off my phone pretty regularly (and then redownload when I post something). And then when you have time to yourself (I need a lot of time alone) and you’re just looking at what other people are doing, you’re not really decompressing or reflecting upon your own experience or having time to yourself. I don’t like feeling like shit because I wasn’t there. I want to own my own experience.
There’s also this notion of having an online persona and living up to that in real life. I find this especially in New York and Los Angeles at parties or whatever. This kind of thing sparks my social anxiety and is a big reason I’m way happier waking up somewhere random on a road-trip.

Fast forward ten years, where are you what are you working on?

Hopefully I will finally be making a fucking movie.

Kids in Love is out now through Aperture.