Laurence Philomene Olivier is a Canadian freelance photographer mentored by Ivan Shaw (excutive photo director at Vogue). Her dreamy, pastel-hued images are easily recognizable and contain a much-coveted aesthetic. Her work in portraiture and artistic photography has garnered Laurence fame on Tumblr and Flickr, from both the right people and the wrong groups. Her photographs carry a surreal, intimate and personable aura to them that make their viewers feel an instant connection to the often-vulnerable subjects as Laurence captures them in solidarity. Her work is – and should be – an inspiration to young photographers across Canada and beyond.
MJ: Were you self-taught, or did you take classes?
I was originally self-taught, I started taking pictures on my own at 14 and kind of went from there. At 17 I decided to go to college for photography, so now I also have that training. The program I did was very commercial-oriented and although I’m glad I learned the business side of photography/freelancing, now that I’m done with school I feel like I need to un-learn everything and start photographing more instinctually like I used to.
MJ: A lot of your photography has a dreamlike quality to it. Is that a deliberate choice, or do you just naturally gravitate toward that hazy look?
Yes and no – often if I think a scene looks boring I will purposely try to make it more dreamy, to add some interest to the image. But in general I just tend to gravitate toward pastel colors so it just kind of happens. Color is really, really important to me so if the colors in a photograph I take aren’t exactly the way I want them, I won’t publish that photograph at all.
MJ: Tell us about some of your favourite subjects to shoot.
I love doing all sorts of different shoots so it depends, I love meeting new people when I do commissioned shoots so that’s always great. I used to photograph my friends a lot, mostly girls, mostly outdoors, but as the years have passed I’ve gravitated toward photographing more and more boys. I love shooting young men in particular and dressing them up the way I want, usually in dresses or nude. I also like shooting on colored backgrounds, dolls, fun objects, my girlfriend, etc.
MJ: You’re quite popular on Tumblr, for a good reason! Do you like the sort of exposure that you get from other Tumblr users?
Yes, absolutely! I used to have a huge flickr following when I started out but then everyone kind of migrated to Tumblr, and I love being active on there, posting about my day to day life and getting immediate feedback. And I’m just really thankful for my followers in general because they’re the ones supporting my work, buying prints, coming to my exhibitions, etc.
MJ: Some of your photography raised a bit of an uproar. How do you feel about that?
I think there’s two instances where that’s happened; one was when I took pictures of my friend Graeme and the modeling agency he worked with didn’t want me to publish the pictures because they didn’t fit the “image” they had in mind for him, because he was wearing a skirt and make up in the images, and I decided to post them anyway because to me they represented what Graeme is all about.
The second instance is when I posted a picture of my girlfriend “freebleeding” when we were skateboarding; she was wearing a pad but it fell off, leaving her with menstrual blood running down her leg. The picture got blown out of proportions, with “men’s rights activists” reblogging it calling us disgusting for creating the “freebleeding” movement (which we did not, I truly just posted that picture for fun and had no intention of starting a movement or whatever, they just assumed that it was a feminist movement for some reason). I still get messages about it every day telling me that “freebleeding” is degusting and that I am going to hell and whatnot. At some point I think the picture even got around 4chan, and all of those kinds of sites. Basically there’s a lot of people out there who think my girlfriend and I are horrible people because of that picture, mind you most of these people also define menstrual blood as “toxic waste” and have never experienced having their period so I don’t care about their opinion at all.
MJ: What is the main message you want to get across through your work, or do you focus on certain themes for certain photo series?
A lot of my work is about gender identity(ies), femininity, self-exploration, etc. I think that’s a running theme through pretty much everything I made nowadays. I don’t know that I have a specific “message” that I’m trying to deliver, I just like to make interesting imagery, and try to make it as meaningful as possible. Then again I also like to take pretty pictures just for the sake of it sometimes.
MJ: Do you consider yourself successful?
Yes and no! I’m don’t think I’m successful in a commercial sense; I barely make any money. But I get tons of messages every day from people loving my work, from magazines wanting to work with me, people wanting to buy prints, etc. and that does mean a lot to me. I don’t think I’m successful yet but I think I’m getting there.
MJ: How would you encourage an aspiring photographer to pursue their goals?
I’d say just keep taking pictures! Take a lot of pictures, post them online, show your work, get in touch with people whose work you admire. But most of all photograph what you love.
MJ: Where do you see yourself ten years from now, not just in terms of photography, but your life and how it might be affected by your career?
In 10 years, I’d love to own an art gallery in Montreal with my girlfriend – that’s the main goal I’m working toward. There’s nothing I love more than organizing exhibitions and that’s what I want to be doing for the rest of my life, along with continuing to shoot personal and editorial work. That’s really all I want, and it’s what I’ll be saving all my money for over the next few years.
To see more of Laurence’s work, visit her Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/laurencephilomene) and Tumblr (http://laurencephilomene-photo.tumblr.com) all feature single shots, photo series, and photo diaries for your perusal. To purchase one of her prints, check out her Etsy (https://www.flickr.com/photos/laurencephilomene); and to see her portfolio, go to her personal site (http://laurencephilomene.com).