What happens when a photographer steps in front of their own camera? Sarah Olivier recently embarked on a series of extraordinary self-portraits. We spoke to her about her life, and her increasing confidence as she finally grows into her own skin…
We’re talking to you today because of your rather breathtaking series of self-portraits. Can you tell us a bit about the decision process behind these? What inspired you to do this?
“In all the years I’ve been calling myself a photographer I hadn’t ever taken a photo of myself. I wanted to see what I could create with my own face. Somewhat daunting in itself, but I always enjoy a challenge, and I’m feeling braver these days.
“With age seems to come a newfound confidence, or maybe I just care a bit less. Also recently I had a flood of creative ideas and was simply too impatient to wait for an opportunity to pull together a team, and just wanted to execute the ideas immediately myself.”
Tell us about the first set, because they were really stunning (see top photo). Can you explain what the concept was here?
“A lot of my work has been vintage styled and very ‘pretty’, and I’ve photographed a lot of weddings, which I’ve made a decision to stop doing. Recently I’ve been interested in going into a darker, more fine art direction with my creative ideas and fashion photography.
“The past 18 months has also been difficult for me on a personal level, with a lot of stuff changing within my family as well as within me, and a lot of learning and understanding of myself. So I guess it’s inevitable that those emotions would display themselves creatively.
“Anyway, I’m notorious for planning a photo shoot to within an inch of its life, but on this particular day I woke up on a rare day off with no plans and just thought, “I’m going to do a self-portrait”.
“I didn’t overthink it, I just put up my backdrop in my front room, put up my tripod and camera, dug out a black cape and a feather cape I had, and went to the bathroom mirror and started to make up my eyes with black eyeshadow. Somehow I just kept going with the brush, and before I knew it I’d given myself a kind of black mask.
I don’t think I had an end goal in mind, I was just playing around and letting it develop by itself, which in itself is incredibly freeing
“It felt very refreshing to just be winging it for a change… and when I stepped in front of my camera I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I was just playing around and letting it develop by itself, which in itself is incredibly freeing and lots of fun. When I looked at the images afterwards, I could see them from a different perspective and realised I had created something that signified a sense of being partly hidden in darkness behind the mask, with the feathers giving a feel of rebirth, freedom and release. To me at least.
“The most recent set were inspired by my love of the post punk music of the early eighties, the electronic sounds and visuals that I was exposed to in my early teens. This era of music and imagery literally defines who I am and I wanted to see what I could create, if I could capture some of the feeling from that time.”
Is it hard being in front of the camera?!
“It was at first. It felt odd and I felt extremely out of control, but I think that was the point. I needed to learn how to let go and trust myself as a photographer, and this process taught me so much. It gave me an insight into what it’s like for my clients and models. After a while I just relaxed and got into it which is something that happens with everyone I photograph. It’s something I think every photographer should try.”
The portraits are winning lots of attention – where do you see this going? What do you want from this?
“It was very exciting to have one of the images from the first set accepted into an exhibition as part of the Artwave Festival this year. A very proud moment. I have plans to do a whole series of self-portraits, it’s an ongoing project with lots of ideas still in the development stage right now. I just want to explore where I can take it, what I can create, how I can connect my own emotional journey with interesting visuals and ultimately tell a story in a single image. And of course I hope to create artistic work that others can connect with through their own life experiences.”
How has the last decade changed you?
In the last ten years I’ve realised how futile self-doubt is. It’s taken me a long time to be able to feel that way
“In the last ten years I’ve realised how futile self-doubt is. It’s taken me a long time to be able to feel that way, but I’m so happy to get there. Ten years ago I went backpacking for three months on my own, after my divorce. That was probably the beginning of wanting to break down the walls of self-doubt I’d built around myself. It was also when I realised I wanted to be a photographer.
“I spent too many years thinking I wasn’t good enough to be great at something. Screw that. Aim high, at whatever age; know that you’re good enough and make it happen. Life is too short for anything else.
“It’s funny how things become clearer the older you get. It has for me anyway. I know myself much better now and I try to be kinder to me, as well as others.”
What’s in the pipeline now?
“I’m very lucky to have had a lot of my fashion work published; locally, nationally and internationally. It’s always as exciting as the first time, every time I see my work in print, and I’m so lucky to have worked with some amazing creative teams. I was on the team of photographers for Brighton Fashion Week for three years running which was a fantastic experience and served as an introduction to so many wonderful creative people.
“I have one more wedding to do in late December, and once the images from that have been delivered, I plan to start forging ahead with fine art styled fashion shoots and working hard on getting more work published to a bigger and wider audience. I would really love to work for a designer or brand on some fine art styled fashion campaigns, and my plan is to be published in British Vogue by the time I’m 50. No biggie! Ahem.”
Any final words for younger women out there?
“Find a way to love who you are right now. Because believe me you will look back and wish you had. Try not to spend time worrying about stuff, particularly what other people think of you. Because that’s their problem, and not yours.
“Be kind, be true, be honest, be thankful. Find a way to be happy every day, even if it’s about the smallest thing. Spend time with your family and/or those who matter. And spend time with you, because you matter.
“Make peace with any conflict in your life. Enjoy being young! But look forward to the clarity and peace of mind that comes with getting older.
“Wear sunscreen. Every day.”
Follow Sarah’s adventures on www.saraholivierphotography.com
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