Marc Olivier. He is probably not someone you have visited often as he is not in the ‘Mommy-turned-photographer-circle’ that so many of us travel in…
I can’t remember how I first found his blog, but I remember clicking there the first time and LOVING all that he shared. Get a cup of coffee, and get ready to save some websites today because Marc shared tons of valuable information in this interview.
How old are you?
My last birthday I thought I was turning 45, but then I did the math and realized that I was actually a year younger. It was better than finding spare change in the sofa.
Do you consider your profession to be that of a teacher or a photographer? Or both?
How long have you been teaching?
I've been teaching since my sophomore year in college. I was living with my Dad in France for a while and attending a French university when I decided to write a letter in very formal French to BYU telling them I wanted a job as a student instructor. I had already signed a contract before they realized I was only a sophomore. That lucky break helped me work my way through school teaching French. So I lived the double life of pretending to be serious about my French major while spending all my time in the Music Dance Theater program. As graduation (and my wedding date!) approached, I decided that becoming a professor would give me job stability (it did), a chance to learn as a career (best job perk ever!), and loads of free time to do theater on the side (2 out of 3 ain't bad).
Where do you teach? Do you love it?
After seven amazing years in Seattle and a year teaching in Versailles, I ended up back at BYU. Utah was the last place my wife and I imagined ourselves, but once the locals replaced us with smiling robotic replicas of our former selves we grew to love it —Or is that the plot of "The Stepford Wives"? Seriously, I really do think it's a great place to teach and to raise kids.
How long have you been a photographer?
I started doing portrait and wedding photography professionally in 2002, after someone broke into our apartment in Paris and stole all of my equipment. When I replaced my stolen equipment I went digital, which gave me the courage to do weddings. Without the immediate feedback of digital, weddings would be way too stressful.
Where do you photograph? I try to photograph wherever I am, but I have to admit that I always prefer Paris. My favorite photography is street photography, and there is always something happening in Paris. I like the chaos of city life. I like crowds, public demonstrations, the quirky scenes of daily life, architecture, etc. I have never been interested in landscapes that are untouched by humans. For a long time, I did nothing but portraits in Utah, because I thought of it as a landscape state. But fairly recently, I began to embrace Utah's cities on their own terms instead of wanting them to be Paris. I think I can enjoy photographing anywhere now.
I try to photograph wherever I am, but I have to admit that I always prefer Paris. My favorite photography is street photography, and there is always something happening in Paris. I like the chaos of city life. I like crowds, public demonstrations, the quirky scenes of daily life, architecture, etc. I have never been interested in landscapes that are untouched by humans. For a long time, I did nothing but portraits in Utah, because I thought of it as a landscape state. But fairly recently, I began to embrace Utah's cities on their own terms instead of wanting them to be Paris. I think I can enjoy photographing anywhere now.
Do you shoot something every day?
I wish I could say "yes." It is a goal of mine, but sometimes I don't feel like lugging my camera around. I would like to believe that if I had a Leica M9, I would wear it like a necklace and never take it off.
What kind of camera and lenses do you have?
I use a Canon 5d Mark II. My most-used lens is the 24-70mm f/2.8L lens followed by the 70-200mm f/2.8L lens.
What did you start with?
How quickly did you move up in camera bodies?
Now, I tend to get a new camera body about every other upgrade. When I upgrade, my wife and oldest son get the hand-me-down cameras—never a sad day for them.
Tell me about your journey to becoming a professional photographer:
I've been taking photos since I got my first camera at age 7. I have always loved photography, but I never once considered it as a potential source of revenue until about 10 years ago. Really. Not once. I was too busy singing/dancing/acting and teaching French to even realize that I could get a degree in photography. There are tons of holes in my knowledge because I am a complete autodidact with photography. But I'm in good company because most of my favorite photographers were self-taught.
How many people do you think you have photographed at this point in your life?
I guess I've photographed hundreds, but keep in mind that I can't even keep track of how old I am.
Who is your favorite model?
It's hard to choose one, but as I think about it I realize that my most memorable portraits tend to fall into the extreme ends of a spectrum: they are either of the people closest to me or of complete strangers I photograph in the streets. Some of my favorite "portraits" of family are just snapshots, such as one of my wife comforting Max when he was barely a toddler or another of my daughter Eva walking along the shops at Palais Royal in Paris and suddenly turning back to look at me, her natural pose nearly identical to a professional model shoot I stumbled upon just two days earlier. But while the model had to walk the same 5 steps over an over, Eva's pose was spontaneous. (Incidentally, my favorite shot of the model is one I took of her legs while she was taking a cigarette break. The first thing she did was kick off those uncomfortable shoes she was modeling.)
Can you tell me your most memorable portrait?
One of my favorite portraits is from a series I shot in 10 seconds during the Paris techno parade last year. In an attitude of gleeful menace, a group of teenagers advanced toward me as I took photos and slowing walked backwards. They flipped me off, threw a few punches and kicked, but it was (in my opinion) just barely on the safe side of the fine line between posturing and outright danger. I kept my own reaction playful and cut things off just as a foot nearly grazed my lens. I loved the adrenaline rush and the energy of the experience. I don't know the people in the photo, but for me it is a portrait of playful violence that is such a strong component in the life of a teenage boy.
What both ends of my "memorable portrait" spectrum have in common is an authenticity and spontaneity that I have to work a lot harder to achieve in a more formal portrait session. In all of those cases, a memorable photo captures a fleeting moment in a relationship. Daddy's little girl wins out in the favorite model category (and we are overdue for a formal shoot), but I am such a people person that I also love trying to understand complete strangers through photography.
I absolutely planned on doing a teaching blog. I wanted to have a place to share ideas for free without trying to commercialize anything. I figured that giving things away generates good karma, right? My aim is to inspire and help photographers of any skill level and to push myself to try new things in the process. There are plenty of people out there who know more than I do, but most of them aren't giving away their secrets.
How old are your children? Do any of them love taking pictures?
My kids are 15 (Max), 11 (Lucas), and 5 (Eva). Max used to do every "monthly special" on my blog. He has a natural eye for unique perspectives. So does Lucas. When we were in Paris last fall, Lucas did a series of photos at the military museum Les Invalides called "the last thing you'd see." He took photos from the point of view of a person about to get trampled by an armored horse or about to get a spear in the face. Morbid, but very funny.
My wife is our real family photographer. She documents daily life and most events. Our family photo wall has just as many of her photos as mine. I think both my wife and I are happier hiding behind the lens.
If someone has a nice camera, and a understanding of photoshop, do you think they should automatically start doing this for income?
If a person is driven by need or desire to earn money from photography then I don't even think that good equipment or photoshop are necessary. I've seen very cool Etsy shops with polaroid snapshots. If you work creatively within the limitations of your tools you can carve out a place for yourself in the market. I wouldn't recommend doing weddings with a point-and-shoot, but I think a good eye is more important than expensive supplies.
My biggest advice for someone thinking about doing photography as a business is "don't quit your day job." I am lucky to have the luxury of a stable job as a professor. Besides the fact that I love teaching, my "day job" gives me health insurance, retirement benefits, and the freedom to only take on photo projects that I want to do. If photography were my only source of income, I would have to take a different approach and I fear that I would enjoy it less.
Do you do your taxes for your photography business?
The first thing I did was register with the state and get a business license. Because I'm a sole proprietor business and I limit my jobs, I deal with every aspect of the business personally including—alas!—the monthly taxes. The year-end stuff, I leave to the pros.
To Yale or not to Yale, that is the question.
I was finishing my B.A., doing quite well, and the department chair interviewed me and told me he thought I should go to Yale:
"I'm not sure that's what I want, and I doubt it will work well for my fiancée if she wants to keep taking classes."
"Well, she'll just have to understand."
"Well, that may be how your marriage works, but it's not going to be how mine does."
After that exchange, the chair only referred to me as "Michelle's fiancé" and wrote me off (until he ended up hiring me 8 years later). So if this illustrates anything it is that I tend to be impetuous and outspoken. My approach to grad school was not about finding the best school, but about where I wanted to spend the next four--uh--make that seven--years. "What schools do they have in Seattle?" I asked a friend. "Which one of those is the best?" So I went to UW. It was great. I loved it. I probably got more personal attention than I would have at Yale. The professors were happy with me, and as I neared the end of my M.A., all the professors were telling me I should go do my PhD at some Ivy League school (one went so far as to contact some friends at Princeton to set up a scholarship). All the professors were basically saying UW wasn't good enough. All except one. He said, "A pedigree will help you for maybe 4 or 5 years. Ultimately, what matters is what you produce, where you can be happy and productive." For me, that place was Seattle. So I stayed and chose that professor as my dissertation director.
Wow, that was a long story. The point is, I have never regretted those decisions. I think you should factor in your whole life (quality of living, family, etc.) when making decisions. But do I tell my students to follow my example? Hell, no! I tell them what I did and why it worked for me, but then I tell them to go to an Ivy League school. I'm not trying to set myself up as a model to follow, but I don't mind giving conflicting advice so the student will consider all options.
How did you come up with the idea of the ABC's of Paris? Do you find that concept shooting helps you shoot more often?
I don't think that the ABC concept is original, but the origins of my ABC Paris project are very much a part of my personal experience. We were living in Paris for a year. Our son, Max, was a precocious 1-year-old. One day (he was probably 18 months by then), we were playing with his blocks and out of nowhere he started identifying all of the letters. He had somehow learned the alphabet on his own. I had just finished doing a series of photographs about ironwork and needed a new project. The ABCs just seemed to make sense. The intellectual side of my inspiration was Victor Hugo's idea (in Notre Dame de Paris) that "when you know how to see, you can see the face of the king in a door knocker." In other words, the city itself has its language. We are less literate today than the peasants of the Middle Ages when it comes to "reading" buildings. ABC Paris is like an alphabet book for adults—a primer on the art of reading a city.
I love concept shooting because it gives me structure and order. I like the quote by photographer Stephen Shore that "Where a painter starts with a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and selects a picture." I think that having a concept is a helpful way to make selections.
What is one photography blog you gain inspiration from that you would like to share?
I like the blogs of all the photographers I interview, but if I had to choose I would have to say that Elaine Vallet's blog s the most inspirational because her work is stunning and she thwarts expectations about the training and equipment a person supposedly needs to be a great photographer. She doesn't have top of the line equipment, formal training, or mad Photoshop skills, but her work would make any of the famous French humanist photographers proud. Given that she is a teacher who lives in Paris and photographs because it is her passion, I feel like she is a kindred spirit. I was lucky to have her give a guest lecture in a photography class I taught in Paris last fall.
Do you have any other resources or thoughts to share?
For retouching, I think the Retouch PRO (Retouch Pro forums are a great resource.
For a good laugh, I like Photoshop Disasters
For the legal side of photography, I like Photo Attorney
PDN pulse is a good resource for keeping up on photo news.
And then there's my love/hate relationship with Photojojo I think they are fun but sometimes a bit smug. I like to call photojojo my nemesis, but the fact is, they don't know I exist.
For people wanting a beginning Photoshop book, Matt Kloskowski's Layersis the one I wish existed back when I was first learning.
Check out Marc’s blog:
Be prepared to be amazed!