Olivia Bee's Photographic Love Letters

Kaitlyn Battista
Oct 2, 2014 5:32PM

Unlike some other young contemporary photographers, Olivia Bee does not play the role of voyeur in her photographs. Her subject matter comes from her own life experiences. Her imaginative photos possess the magic of teetering between childhood and adulthood, and she has an undeniable signature style: a mix of dreamy romanticism and nostalgia. With the release of her limited-edition Aperture print Mayne Island, 2010, we joined Olivia to discuss the role photography plays in her life, and where she’s headed next. Her first solo show in New York, Kids in Love, is on view at agnès b. Galerie Boutique until July 27, 2014.

Aperture: I love the intimacy in your work. It feels like an honest exploration of growing up: there’s both innocence and exploration. Has photography helped you make sense of the last years?

Olivia Bee: Yes. I think photography helps me process things. Sometimes I get really sad and realize I’m having withdrawal from not getting film back for a while. I’m addicted to photography. It helps me process my life, explore things, show people I love and appreciate them, and love and appreciate my life.

A: Congrats on your show Kids in Love at agnès b! What’s it like to see your work presented in a gallery space as opposed to online, especially since you started out posting on Flickr?

OB: It feels amazing. It feels like I’m a real artist. Everything before has existed online or as a Walgreens 4-by-6 print. When I was looking at the show all hung up, I realized that they kind of looked like large drugstore prints, which I really like.

A: Aperture will be selling a limited-edition print of your photograph Mayne Island (2010). The photograph is of your friend Liam’s dad. How have your family and friends responded to your work, since they’re so often featured?

OB: Liam’s mom has one of the earlier editions of this photo actually, which she bought Liam’s dad for his birthday. It feels really special to take photos of the people in my life—to show them to them and get positive feedback. I think you could classify all of my photos as love letters to the people, places, and things featured in them.

A: Let’s talk about love. What, or whom, are you loving right now? 

OB: I’m so blessed to have so many people I love around me all the time. I have the best of friends. My family is amazing. My boyfriend is too. I’m really lucky. I am really lucky to have a really colorful life—even when I hate it at times, I love it.

A: Your photographs are nostalgic and dreamy. How do you translate these feelings into your pictures?    

OB: It’s not something I really think about. I never try to make a photo a certain way, really, especially with my diary work. They just happen.

A: What’s the relationship between your personal and commercial work? Do you approach the two differently?  

OB: I approach them a similar way, with care and respect, but my work for brands I do not consider love letters. I love making [those] images; I think it’s really good practice to work on composition and how to control an image when you are working commercially. But my personal work is my favorite work—like most artists, haha.

A: Back in 2012, you interviewed Joel Meyerowitz for VICE. Which other photo legends would you love to interview? 

OB: Annie Leibovitz. She had such a big influence on me so early. Also Gregory Crewdson. I would love to know how his brain works.

A: You’ve mentioned an interest in film alongside photography. What’s your favorite scene in a movie, and why? 

OB: I love the dream scene in The Virgin Suicides, and also the prom scene and afterwards when she’s left in the field. You feel it so much. And the color and use of light is amazing. Also the opening scene from Paris, Texas, and basically that whole movie. Everything is so precise and beautiful and intentional, but it can be messy at times, which I love. The way characters are spread across the landscape of the desert is something I’m kind of obsessed with.

A: Where are you living these days, and what’s your favorite spot to hang out?

OB: I live in Brooklyn. I don’t have a favorite spot; I feel like I’m still figuring that out in New York City. But I love the Rockaways. I’ve been at the beach a lot lately.

A: What are you excited about this summer? 

OB: Going on a trip with my brother, making a lot of great photos, going home to Portland for a while, going camping in the desert (if I don’t die). Going to LA and driving and listening to music loud.


Olivia Bee (born in Portland, Oregon, 1994) has shot campaigns for Hermès and Converse, and is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine and ZEITmagazin, Germany. Bee lives and works in Brooklyn.

Kaitlyn Battista