A single stiletto balances on a cliff’s edge; a body blends into a semi-circle. A warm light hits just right; a woman’s hair falls in knots. The sun balances between two shoulder blades, the shutter clicks. The whole world is made up of fragments just like these. These are small still-lives: brief moments that effortlessly fall into one another. Like, the way someone’s head might nestle into someone’s shoulder, almost perfect but not quite – or, coming across a pile of objects balanced beautifully atop one another, completely on accident. These moments are Olga de la Iglesia’s speciality. Olga is a photographer and fashion director based in Barcelona. With work moving broadly between shapes and colours to women and hair, it was a challenge for me to even attempt to unpick the inner-workings of Olga’s mind. I could speak to Olga for hours on end and never surface; it’s beyond impossible to get to the bottom of her brain. In saying that, though, I could speak to Olga for hours on end and never tire. I was lucky enough to attempt to scrape her surface and ask her a few questions. So we talked about womanhood, still-lives, and hair as weaponry. I left only wanting more of the world beyond Olga de la Iglesia.
What originally drew you to photography as a medium?
I cannot recall a specific moment. When I left school and started at the University of Arts, I had my first class of “official” photography, in which we took naked self-portrait photographs. I remember telling my best friend: I want to be photographer.
You also work in art direction – I’ve seen that you often work with fashion in this area. What do you like most about exploring fashion through photography?
For me, there is no exact limit between being behind the camera or on the set. I think of my ideas as whole; from lighting to how it is going to be practically developed. I really like playing with materials and textures as well as creating still lives or ideas on set.
What I like in exploring fashion through photography is that it is a fairly open field and any artistic idea can be applied. I enjoy so much when a commission is not commercial and I have a lot creative freedom.
Your work tends to fall into portraiture: what draws you to the people that appear in your photographs?
Human beings themselves. I’m interested in our behaviour, our personality, our way of working, enjoying, suffering. Our way of living and being. The physiognomy of human beings is something that seduces me a lot: sometimes I go down the street and simply someone’s face —its moves, its forms, everything— they seem spectacular to me.
Your photographs are often of women. I feel like your portraits of women really capture a certain lightness within them – what’s your trick to capturing the essence of a person, through an image?
As a woman, I am more attracted to photographing women, simply because I feel that by being one of them I can more easily understand their essence. In order to portray the essence of someone, I just need to look into their eyes, sense this mutual tranquility. We both need complicity. Our energies need to join in that precise moment.
In your series ‘woman’, you focus on hair: “Hair is what raises a woman to be the most feminine […] Hair is the first censorship when a woman is censored”. What inspired you to create art around this concept; surrounding hair?
Hair is something that, in a woman, dictates a lot who or how we want to be. We can communicate many things through hair. It is a weapon, it is alive, it is changing, it gives identity or removes it, we can change it with ease and above all it is something that covers our head, where we keep one of the most important organs – the organ that makes us work; our whole body. I like to imagine that it was probably invented to protect us from the sun, and its usefulness or use has been changing something merely ornamental. It is the body part that most resembles the clothes, it is something that gives a plus to things you want to say about yourself and your personality, you can express yourself through the hair just as we do by how we are dressed. So as an important tool of human communication, I think it is important to mention it.
Do you think the environment of Barcelona influences you as an artist?
Of course. My friends, the Mediterranean landscape in which I grew up, those artists who lived here and are world-famous. I went to a school designed by Gaudí, in the street where I grew up there are buildings of very famous architects. Spanish or Catalan culture and aesthetic have surrounded me my whole life, and I am really fascinated by them.
Your photographs often highlight certain objects – you frame an inanimate scene like a still-life; the kind of image someone would traditionally paint, you capture with a photograph. I found this particularly noticeable in sets like ‘persona’. Do you construct these still-life scenes, or come across them?
This is exactly how I began to photograph in my early days: objects and still lives found at random through life. Things out of their ordinary place capture my attention. I always loved weird things in public spaces, things in spaces they don’t belong. I have lots of photos of things like that – those random things abandoned near containers are a great inspiration for me. This happens even more in places with fewer rules —countries that we usually call the Third world— this world of stranger objects stacked or discarded appears way more often in front of my eyes and I enjoy the random beauty people create without even noticing it.
What makes you want to photograph a certain object, or scene?
It’s too deep into my way of looking at things. I am not aware of it. Still, I think that of course there are certain shapes, vibrant colours, and surreal situations that create the perfect situation for me to be attracted and shoot.
In your series ‘persona’, you wrote: “Everyone is Nature: Person and Nature are mixed up until the lines that separate them are lost”. I feel like this concept really emulates a lot of your work – portraiture held up by nature. Could you speak more about this?
The human being is pure nature. We are made of the same matter as plants, rocks, mountains. All the rest are things that we created to make life easier and more complicated at the same time.
This is the reason why, in my photographs, I highlight a lot of these places, objects, machines: these products are supposed to be made for our welfare. The more we produce the more we destroy the earth we live in, so everything ends up being a loop of creation and destruction.
I think we would be much happier by living with less things and above all, closer with all that is made of our same cells, nature. Cities isolate us from ourselves, from who we really are. We lose thousands of things along the way: about ourselves, our reality, the great workings of the world.
What are you working on at the moment?
Last month I was in Africa, developing a project that will probably take me years. I also have many editorials in my hands and other commissions that I have to do to pay my bills. Above all, I am working on myself. And also other secondary things like how to reach tranquility and a balance between my mind, my body, and my emotions.