As a gal who spent most her spare time in high school at Wendy’s, it’s a wonderful privilege to come across a young female as talented as Olivia Smith.
At the ripe-old age of 16, this young photographer from the Central Coast of New South Wales is not only a total craft-ess behind the lens with a ridiculously lush eye for detail – she’s also produced two zines, keeps a steady flow of images and prose brimming on her blog, all while—perhaps the greatest feat of all—attending high school.
I’m pretty besotted with Olivia’s images; they’re dreamy but not whimsical, honest but not defiant and, all in all, special. I spoke to Olivia about her art, her dream-future and the importance of creative outlets as a young person.
To begin, your photography is beautiful and I wish we had been friends when I was in high school! There is a wonderful synthesis of softness and tartness to be found within your work. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your practice?
Firstly, I’m thanking you dearly! That’s such a sweet thing to say and it means a lot to me. My name is Olivia, I’m sixteen years old and I am kind of living in my own bubble. I live on the Central Coast of New South Wales, but travel down to Sydney almost daily for school and to see my friends. I love taking photos and I’m trying not to care what people think of me. I think the biggest thing that influences my photographic practice is the people I’m surrounded by whilst travelling down to Sydney every day. Certain parts of Sydney can be so diverse, filled with people and stories that really inspire me.
Your subjects, they’re so varied and seem amalgamated only-ish by age. Who do you choose to photograph and why?
The people I photograph are very diverse, yes; they all come from different backgrounds and all have different outlooks, which I love. I truly believe that youths are capable of anything. People my age are extremely underrated and their voices are continually unheard, at school, at home, and at work. Really, we’re all fighting for equality and some agency in different ways. I chose to photograph these people as a way for their voices to at least be considered because really, all our voices and our opinions deserve it.
You’ve also created two zines. Could you tell me a bit about this project?
I started making zines early last year. It was a project I started after attending a Zine Fair with my friend. I got really inspired by all the wonderful artists and I thought to myself “I really need to do this.” I knew it would be a cool way to express my art, so I made it happen. My zine is titled ‘Dying Mystique,’ and so far consists of two zines: Introduction and Young Hearts Run Free. All the photographs included are from a six-month period, taken on 35mm film.
I never thought I would be still taking photographs and making zines, but I’m really happy that I am.
On your blog, you write about Julian Baker and owning (and naming!) your own social anxiety. This is totally beaut mechanism that I’ve since tried, so thank you. How do your emotional tribulations inform your art?
My social anxiety is sort of like a bittersweet labyrinth that I know I will never get out of. It can make me nervous when meeting up with new people to shoot but can also give me that push to keep going. It’s like my own little internal marriage of perseverance ring. It’s not much of a mental illness to me anymore, but more of a reminder to keep calm and carry on.
You’re currently at high school. How important do you feel it is for you to have creative outlets as a teenager/young person?
Personally, as a teenager, I feel as though I need to have a creative outlet to express my opinions and my art. It’s super important to me because, without these outlets, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today. Making art can be a bit of a risk, however, I also know you can’t break the rules without knowing what they are first!
In your opinion, what does your dream-future look like for female/female identifying artists? And what can we—the public—do to help you?
In my ‘dream-future’ I hope that girls will be able to make art and express themselves without getting second-guessed. There is too much negative criticism towards girls having simply fun and doing what they want. If I had a dollar for every time I was accused of being ‘egotistical’ towards my art or being yelled at by a guy for skateboarding home from the bus stop, I’d be rich. In my opinion, I think society all wants the same thing – unification, to come together and be happy and at peace. If we all work together and stop feeling anguished by and against each other, I truly believe that is possible. In my opinion, the afterlife for women is going to be all of us lazing on big soft clouds, painting, having fun, and getting what we seriously deserve –peace.