London is awash with budding art students, designers and photographers all fighting in the Dick Whittington conquest to make their fortune and establish their name. One lady implanting herself into the industry is Olivia Richardson, a young London-based photographer/filmographer who uses both digital and analogue cameras and has dabbled in everything from studio work and portraits to streetstyle, bands and backstage coverage.
What stands out for me is the racey, seductive and even macabre nature of much of Olivia’s photography. In today’s artistic world pushing boundaries is an increasingly tough goal; there’s so much ‘controversial’ work out there, we ask what now is controversial? Is it now controversial not to be controversial? But that’s for another day. My point is you could say it’s a fine line between creating something provocative and something merely derivative or pretentious.
Achieving ‘provocative’ and not ‘pretentious’ are Olivia’s ‘Beautiful Stranger’ photographs. Dare I say it, these shots of model Vika @ M + P, styled by Kelly Thomas, are as stunning as they are repulsive. Haunting: Olivia achieves an almost faded portrait painting effect, evoking Renaissance times and exploring the deathly beauty of the human physique, corpse bride style. As if in a life-after-death state, Vika’s grey skin is almost indistinguishable against the light grey curtain background, as is her witchlike beehive hair. Striking: the colour pallet of gothic greys and blacks adds to the overarching aura of living dead, only to be pierced by the model’s enhanced olive green eyes and blood red lipstick. In the same vain, Olivia shot Phoebe Merryweather in a long gothic gown clutching an oversized, antique key. This black and white piece has been edited with exquisite care to bring through the textures and tonality of this gorgeous but melancholy and desolate image.
Similarly impressive, but more contemporary in terms of presentation, is Olivia’s work for The Mark Magazine showcasing fashion designer Gabriella Marina Gonzalez’s SS14 collection. In an iconic image, Olivia has taken black and white shots of her model in a bath with a dog, editing the image with upped contrast to create a patent two tone effect. In fact, the black and white contrast is so stark that the model looks two-dimensional, her blanched skin camouflaged seamlessly into the white bathtub. This technique of washing the models’ skintone into a white background seems to be Olivia’s USP; it’s as if she freezes her models into ice statues, be it in her portrait, music or fashion work, such as her photographs for the Pelechecoco campaign.
Although Olivia’s work is dominated by female models, her photographs of male model Jose Wickert @ AMCK are also worth a look in. In contrast to the ghostly greys she favours in other pieces, these effeminate shots bring out the pastel pink of Jose’s skin and the peach of the woman’s silk scarf he wears tied around his neck: the fluidity of gender.
Finally, Olivia’s photography appeals thanks to her inventive use of exposure and layering, which again brings a ghostly quality to her work. For example, her black and white image of a young man in shorts – boxers or trunks? – on a beach is particularly interesting. Olivia layers one transparent image over another in a multiple-exposure effect. The result: a giant-sized model in the foreground and his mini-me in the background, both rendered blurred and illusory by the ephemeral, layered beach landscape around them. Finally, something special for keen fashion followers is Olivia’s behind-the-scenes shot of stylist Savannah Baker. Playing with the exposure, Olivia blurs the casually-posed – and now four-eyed – stylist, exaggerating her gorgeous curly hair and quizzical gaze.