Oliva Bee’s new bohemia

Olivia Bee started taking pictures in her early teens, one of those rare precocious talents who already had the basics nailed before most of us had figured out how to make our lava lamps work. And when I say basics, I mean being commissioned to shoot commercials for Nike and Converse by the time she was 17…

Having emerged during the peak Tumblr years, Bee has continued to carve a name for herself with candid photographs that capture the intensity of youth; the fragile nexus of love, and the yearning for the wild. Her photographs are often situated within nature, away from the obvious limitations of the city and the responsibilities that lie therein.

With a knack for powerful juxtapositions, Olivia Bee’s photographs have a corpuscular quality that capture individual moments in time but which together weave a wider narrative about the transient nature of youth. With a beautiful new tome, Kids in Love, out now, Twin caught up with her to talk hanging out in Oregon and the future of the Internet.

 

Starting with Kids in Love – your photographs embody a fantastic energy. What’s your process when shooting?

Kids In Love came about because I was taking pictures of the world around me — I wasn’t really trying to make anything in particular, other than the things I gravitated towards. When it was finished, I knew, and I knew it was a show and a book. The energy in Kids In Love came from the universe that I existed in and made for myself when I was a teenager. I was observing that universe.

What was it about the camera that you were originally drawn to?

The ability to create and make art simultaneously; to directly document your experience.

What I like about Kids In Love is that you immortalise the transient state of youth through movement and these wonderful juxtapositions with the natural world. Was this an aesthetic that came naturally to you? How did your style develop?

I mean this just came with living in Oregon, living in nature but being around kids my age and exploring that universe. In Oregon you just go to the river and to the mountain and to the beach and to the forest, that’s what you do for fun and that’s where you get drunk. it was just part of every day. Green was my studio.

OLIVIA BEE 3

You started working professionally when you were pretty young, did you ever feel that this inhibited your ability to develop creatively? Was there less freedom to make mistakes, experiment etc.

I always kind of did what I wanted and didn’t think much about it. There were times I’d get feedback from people who were selling my work saying what i was doing was less marketable, but i’d just be like, “dude. i’m just documenting my world.” It was (and is) a natural process for me to document. I still experimented and made plenty of bad pictures.

What is it about intimacy that interests you as a subject matter?

It is so innately human.

Olivia bee

Instagram has bought this generation a whole host of really exciting creatives who otherwise might not have had the capacity to promote their work to a global audience, but do you ever feel that sheer scale of the platform – and its millions of contributors – might come to negate the power of a singular image?

I’m getting less and less satisfied with the internet. It’s all controlled by money at this point and our information is getting sold so that companies can market for our demographics. It’s terrifying. We have to fight back and play that game to our advantage. My work belongs in galleries and in books and in theaters — not just the internet. I get depressed when my pictures I love are just on the internet and then they’re gone or stolen because people think the internet is an equal playing field and ownership is lost.

Also with the internet, people skip over movies, books, tv shows, people, and minimize them into one single image on their tumblr when they haven’t seen that movie, tv show, read that book, or researched that celebrity. Everything is aestheticized. Even the notion of “liking” or “loving” something or someone has been aestheticized. Authenticity has been aestheticized. People have to remember what’s real and I really do think a big part of that is existing in your world and participating and reading and talking to people and watching movies in the theater and on tv and going to museums and being in nature if these kinds of things are available to you. That shit will keep you human.

OLIVIA BEE 10

Who and what are the major influences for your work?

My life and my emotional experiences. The wonderful people i surround myself with. Nature.

What do like to listen to when working?

Right now I’ve been listening to a fuck ton of Leonard Cohen. I just discovered Emily Eeo when I was in a coffee shop in Portland and have been playing that over and over. The Lemon Twigs are wonderful too.

What’s your favourite camera to work with?

That’s a secret 😉

OLIVIA BEE 8

What’re your plans, concerns and hopes for 2017?

Time is a marker that we created — it doesn’t actually exist. It’s fluid. So I don’t always believe in setting goals for certain periods of time but I do feel that with 2017 and the upcoming Trump presidency it is especially important to stand up for the things you believe in. I want the people I choose to be in my work, especially in fashion, to be more diverse, and I want to write a book? Or a movie? I want to quit low balling and I want to stand up for myself and the ones I love more! Also establish some sort of place to live in the future in nature.

OLIVIA BEE 9

olivia bee 15

olivia bee 16

#Unlike: the rise of the satirical voyeur

From Father John Misty's Instagram feedFrom Father John Misty’s Instagram feed

Like or unlike, instagram is one of those things that most find themselves indulging a morbid curiosity for. Stalking people’s lives; admiring stranger’s outfits; perving on the lightly buttered sourdough toast and poached eggs that a colleague had for brunch: these images are fascinating and forgettable yet totally addictive. The phrases associated with Instagram – ‘upload’, ‘likes’ – are part of the vernacular, occupying a scared place in our brain as an easy route to short-term satisfaction (and with each like triggering a small shot of dopamine, it’s no surprise). And, as you refresh-refresh-refresh the feed, lusting after obscure images of feet or grass or sunsets behind concrete jungles you fall further down the rabbit hole; it’s all you think about, you become obsessed with it, conversations and dictated and distracted by it, moments tarnished and immortalised.

Conspiracies of how the whole network has been created to subdue and distract the masses aside, there is an interesting counterculture to the Instagram phenomenon, and it’s happening within the platform.

As with Facebook, everyone knows that Instagram is a curated space which doesn’t reflect the reality of a person’s life. Individuals pick and choose the best moments of their everyday lives to draw out a certain character trait and to carve out an identity within the confines of these images. It is, by nature, a conscious process and there is no spontaneity or impulse attached to the act of taking, uploading and writing a caption to post to your followers. This illusion extends to product placement with major celebrities, bloggers, vloggers and wannabes being paid to feature items which render their lives more extravagant and more desirable. In short, the medium has become a circus, a warped reality that people escape to for procrastination and when they want to damage their self-esteem.

It is unsurprising that in light of this there has been a counter insurgency against the farce, bright and brilliant minds working within the platform to subvert and mock the medium and make users realise how ridiculous they are.

au-al-0391-1001-01

Working against the enemy within the enemy lines is a satirical method as old as time. In 1728, Alexander Pope mocked the printing press by writing The Dunciad, describing authors revelling in their own shit amongst a wild chaos of fast literature.  Almost 300 years later our contemporary satirists are taking to Instagram to make their apathy and disdain towards a self obsessed generation visible. Singer Father John Misty is a notable example of recent months, layering irony on irony, endorsing a random array of products such as Ted 2 and SmartWater, much to the delight of his loyal and rapidly expanding cult of followers. With every post Father John Misty (real name Joshua Tillman) hones his reputation as a sardonic and indifferent cultural figure playing above the circus of commercialism which is inherent in his job.

Father John Misty’s Instagram account illustrates a wider phenomenon of ‘realness’ online. In rebellion against the slick and polished accounts which many users so desperately strive to attain the anti-likers are deliberately curating mediocre posts in an attempt to push back. Filterless pictures of Tesco own-brand pitta bread smeared in Nutella will be accompanied by over-zealous hashtags and pasty, cellulite-covered legs pictured puckering in pouring rain will run with facetious captions about summer holidays.

A London-based zine run by Charlotte Roberts and Bertie Brandes have gone one step further. Set up as an antidote to soulless fashion magazines which perpetuate airburshed myths their Instagram rejects filters and devotes a lot of time to touring T-shirts which have ‘New Labia’ written on them. Fashion at it’s ‘In -Yer-Face’ finest.

Meanwhile the cult of the ‘Green Queen’ food bloggers is also coming up against some much needed scrutiny. A hidden Instagram gem, Deliciously Stella recently made a splash with a fiercely satirical profile that rallies against the almost identically-named, and wildly popular healthy living sensation. With admirable conviction, Deliciously Stella has thrown herself into depicting her “shit, unhealthy life”, with posts that include a face smeared with ketchup, sweaty post gym shots and a recipe of avocado and Haribo fried eggs on toast.  Her account comes on the back of an array of Instagram accounts – such as Cookingforbae – dedicated to the most unappetising plates of food out there. However this is one of the first which is curated with almost the same dedication and thought as her vegan counterpart.

au-al-0391-1001-02

These are representative of a wider group of individuals who have looked out at the world and decided that they don’t like what they see. Picking apart their surroundings in the simplest forms inspires and enables more people to do the same; to poke holes in the social construction that we exist within today. They are refuting the idea that life as presented on instagram is either aspirational or attainable: real life is grubby, dirty and gloriously imperfect.

Yet there is a problem inherent in this model. The satiristic voyeur needs the platform he mocks to spread his message in order for his commentary to be valid at all. The ironic statements are swathed in further irony as a result. For with every sardonic caption, with every image of ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ that is validated by the likes of his followers the Instagrammer becomes more marred by the platform and more addicted to the glory; he inhabits a fragile nexus between disdain and dependence.

Where next for the satirical voyeur?

Image has been dragged to the front of an individual’s perception of self. In this new world, identity is formed by external factors, allowing inhabitants to embrace narcissism to extreme degrees. For the satirist to truly succeed, then image must remain secondary to substances and validation of their world view a by-product as opposed to a driving force. In short, those looking at the self-obsessed nature of this generation must revolt against the instant gratification that comes with the tiny dose of Dopamine and embrace the long slog of looking upon the world and doing something differently. To paraphrase what Michael Jackson preached, you may start by looking at the man in the mirror but if you want to make the world a better place you have to take a picture of yourself, then make a change.

First published on Imperica, 8 June 2015