Olivia Rose is a multi-award-winning director and photographer based in London. Since beginning a career in portrait photography over a decade ago, Olivia’s work has been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery and Somerset House and appeared on the pages of Vogue, i-D and Elle. As a director, she has worked with Spotify, Nike, Skepta and Jorja Smith.
After graduating from London College of Fashion with a First in Fashion Photography in 2007, Olivia’s portraits have appeared on the covers of the Guardian Guide, Brick and King Kong Magazine and in the pages of Elle and i-D magazine. She regularly shoots fashion editorial for i-D and British Vogue, preferring to street cast her subjects rather than using industry models in an attempt to broaden representation.
In September 2016 Olivia published the Penderyn nominated and Amazon best selling book ‘This Is Grime’ to wide critical acclaim. She was one of only 100 photographers selected to show work across the country in the British Journal of Photography’s ‘Portrait of Britain’ 2018, and, in 2019, the National Portrait Gallery acquired six of Olivia’s portraits for their permanent collection, including those of Stormzy, Skepta and Jorja Smith. Her commercial clients include The Barbican, Napapijri, ASOS and Nike and she has taken press shots for everyone from Tom Grennan to Kano, Grace Carter and Ray BLK.
With over a decade of experience shooting portrait photography, Olivia began directing in 2018. Her first commission was a commercial for Spotify and Jorja Smith and she has since made shorts for Elle x Nike and music videos for Skepta, 6lack ft. Future and Ty Dolla $ign ft. J Cole. Her video for Jorja Smith’s ‘Blue Lights’ won Best UK Urban Video at the UKMVAs in 2018. As a creative director, Olivia recently worked on Kano’s critically acclaimed, award-winning album ‘Hoodies All Summer’.
In addition to her photography and film work, Olivia is also a tireless advocate for equalising representation within the industry. She frequently mentors young people and works with local community initiatives and regularly appears on panels and podcasts.
Olivia’s outstanding work and constant commitment to creating a truly inclusive industry makes her without a doubt one of the most respected, and important, photographers and directors of her generation.
Where are you from, where are you based now and can you tell us a little about both?
I’m from the suburbs of London, but I moved into the centre of London at the first possible opportunity! There’s something about the silence of suburban nights, that always made me feel like I was living in a zombie town.
I prefer noise. I’m now in deep East London and somehow, hearing traffic and drunk people and sirens in the night time, makes me feel less lonely.
What draws you to the subjects you shoot?
I like people who emanate a vibe. My subjects tend to give off strong energy, even if they are introverted. I like complicated people with conflict in their eyes and imperfect faces…
But my fascination with people in general, beyond the photographic, is fuelled by my own need to be loved. I think there’s an “artist- muse” dynamic when I’m shooting that is cultivated by both myself as the photographer, and by the unique character traits of my sitter.
Portraiture is often telling a story that gives an insight into that person, is there a shoot that sticks out the most for you?
Skepta has always shot very authentically and I think that shows in the final images – he gives as much as he holds back and I think my portraits of him reveal that tension; the revealing of the self whilst also holding something sacred.
Is there somewhere or someone you have always wanted to work with?
Bob Marley RIP. He was so natural in front of a camera and I think truly understood the art of the photographer and documentation. Plus I’d love to have smoked a spliff with him and reasoned about the state of the world.
How did photography enter your life?
As a photographer’s daughter, it was destined to be. A genetic eye. But I didn’t come to that conclusion easily.
Photography was in my life as a young kid with memories of my dad and the printer in the dark room. But when he left the family house, he took the photographs with him. So I closed the door on photography forever… until it entered my life again, despite the strong resistance! In the end, I realised I had to stop fighting it. It’s in my blood.
And if you could shoot any period of time what would it be?
Now. I don’t want to dream of another era, I want to document this one that I am experiencing. Though I do sometimes fantasise about the images I could have taken, had I accepted my fate as a photographer earlier in life.
Have you had a favourite career moment to date?
When Drake walked in on me, half-bent over an armchair, in an empty backstage green room, trying to get that good good selfie lighting! I don’t know who was more shocked, him or me. 😂
Socially, photography has played a bit part in bringing different culture to the masses, where do you see the future of it?
It’s not photography the medium but the interpretations and cultural eyes of the photographers that will change. Now in 2022 so many styles of image making have to live together in harmony. All are still relevant and all will still evolve
Through photographic creative processes. Cultural evolution has spoiled us with urgent instant documentation, fuelled by social media. But that low-fi run and gun, Tiktok media, co-exists with photographers like myself; concerned with composition and quality, shooting on film, handling negatives, framing the print.
For me, in this digital world, going back to the physical object (even if it ultimately gets digitised) gives my work additional layers of meaning.
What were your earliest inspirations and what led you to pursuing photography as a career?
Well my father is a photographer and I do remember the smell of a the dark room and knowing images were sacred as a child but as time went on, I really rejected the idea of photography. It wasn’t until I met a special tutor at University called Itai Doron that I really believed I could succeed and enjoy myself whilst doing it. He made me realise my eye is unique and I should lean into it.
Can you tell us a little about your setup?
My favourite camera is a Mamiya RZ67 and I go between 90mm and 50mm lenses but people often ask me this and I remain firm on the fact that even with the exact same camera, lens and film as me, your images will still look different because so much of an image is in the eye of the person shooting it.
If not working as a photographer / director what do you see your self doing?
I’ve always said I’d love to be a florist because receiving flowers is always a good thing!!! I’d like to be in the business of making people happy AND I’d get to work with my hands, with the smell of roses in the air! Or I’d be a lecturer to inspire young people coming up through the industry.
What will we be seeing from you next?
Short films and higher education. Watch this space.
Where can we find you online?
“Olivia Rose is leading a new wave of photographic talent who are championing personality and character via the unknown and the unique. Channelling her innovative aesthetic through her photography with fearless vigour, Olivia is not only confronting the industry with the idea of imperfection, but also with issues of racism and classism attached to her work – issues that continue to flourish in institutions and society today.” Charlotte Harding for British Journal of Photography