Olivia Bolles from Portland, Oregon, was younger than most when she decided what she wanted to be when she grew up. Coming from an arts-based high school, she signed up for a video class but was wrongly enrolled into a photography course instead. Yet this mishap led her to develop a greater interest in it and soon afterward she started taking photos of her friends and posting them on Flickr, where she quickly gained a following. Now at 20 she has successfully showed in New York, and collaborated with big names like Converse, Hermes, and Adidas. Less than ten years since she started, Olivia Bolles has had a prolific photographing career, and she is just beginning.
Her photos are expressive, imbued with a rare innovation that highlights her mundane subject material. Among her influences are Annie Leibovitz and Nan Goldin. Leibovitz’s techniques in bold lighting and color combined with the realism of subcultures in Goldin’s portraiture contribute to the emergence of Bolles’ own distinct style. Her work manages to capture the Leibovitz use of colour for a visual lushness whilst nodding to the gritty realism of Nan Goldin’s works.
Her images manage to capture the extraordinary – an exuberance of the ordinary. There is a restless energy around many of her subjects, and pensiveness in her frames: she often uses direct-center framing despite instead of the more popular rule-of-thirds, which result in more interesting pieces.
Bolles has also experimented with colour, lighting, and overlaying images. She has recently forayed into short films along with her commissioned pieces and does not shy away from the possibility of one day making a full-length film, ‘I will make movies at some point.’ Her ‘United’ advertisement combines her strength in photography and enticing use of colors, close ups and portrayals of teenagers to create a dreamlike trance when combined with Michaelas’ entrancing melodic music. It is certain that Bolles has become a confident and capable photographer able to capture and portray emotions in an enticing bohemian almost dreamlike manner.
What Olivia Bolles manages to present is a view of America that people like to envision. Earlier this year at the opening of her solo exhibit in Brooklyn, New York, Bolles said of her earlier works, ‘You see how they can resonate with a lot of different kinds of people who have experienced similar things, at least in America.’ To her, her earlier photography shows ‘the social life of high school and the confusion of high school.’ Her subject is the time when “you’re kind of figuring out who you want to be, who you are, who you want to hang out with, who are your friends.” This searching and ‘figuring out’ is a part of her photographs.
This aesthetic of a youthful, carefree attitude ties in well with what brands like Converse and Hermes want to represent. As Kathy Sweeney writing for The Guardian says, “Beautiful youth is a marketing man’s dream”, and Bolles is perfectly able to capture youth that is intoxicated with carefree nostalgic undertones. Bollea photographs an ideal, a representation of youthful nostalgia that America wishes to be true, that it wants to recapture.
By Molly Forbes