Interview: Victoria Oliver

I long for tangible connection and the creation of physical art from my heart and hands.  This is why I love film. It is magical, chemical alchemy.”

Victoria is a film photographer living in the Blue Ridge mountain area. Her work is beautiful and often inspires me to get out, explore, and shoot more often. Her instagram dedicated to her film work can be found here and, in addition, her instagram showcasing all of her work both in front of and behind the camera can be found here.

JM – Tell me a bit about yourself.

VO – I live in the Appalachian mountains, just below the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in a small town surrounded by forest service and national forest areas.  I have always laughingly called myself a Jill-of-all-trades, because my mind never wants to settle with only one project. I am always restless and ready to go. Seeking to reconcile my day job with my desire to be a gypsy born in another century.

VO – Want to hit the open road, climb a tree, or spontaneously take off to hike a mountaintop? I’m your girl!  But I will also spend hours reading a good book, working in my garden, or cooking plant-based recipes in my old sun soaked kitchen, surrounded by orchids and houseplants. With good music, always.  I am a jewelry artist, hiker, writer, painter, art model, and have only recently felt comfortable adding “photographer” to that list. As an artist I find it hard to credit my own work for fear of sounding too self-absorbed… but I was recently published in a magazine, so I guess it’s actually real now, right?? 

JM – For being somewhat new to film, your body of work is very impressive on both sides of the glass. What made you move towards expressing your work with film?

VO – Thank you so much!  I am incredibly honored and excited, because I respect your work so much.  Your website and interviews have been one of my most consistently read sources of inspiration since I started shooting film.  I think honestly it comes down to 3 things: budget, depth of connection, and nostalgia.

VO – Have you ever read about the differences your brain undergoes when you are immersed in nature, and away from modern technology?  I am very fascinated by this, and love getting away from digital devices and screens, but still documenting the beauty I see around me.  I have always loved old photographs.  As I tried to decide which fancy new camera I wanted, and frankly couldn’t afford; I realized I edited most of my photos to look like film anyway, and I was starting to follow film photographers, so why not shoot film?  I was so excited by this realization. Then, my first film camera was a gifted Nikon FM10, and I just grew really inspired with that.

JM – How would you describe your style?

VO – I long for tangible connection and the creation of physical art from my heart and hands.  This is why I love film. It is magical, chemical alchemy. I think that my style is a fledgling thing right now.  It changes depending on the light, the subject, and whether or not I am traveling. I am incredibly influenced by mood, and the feeling of the place I am in.  I would say that I am seeking to create work that is impulsive but thoughtful, adventurous, feminine, strong, and experimental.

JM – What is your favorite film? Do you have a favorite camera?

VO – My Nikon FM10.  My fascination only grows as I experiment with the differences a new film stock can create; so that may be an ever-changing preference for me!  At the moment I prefer Kodak film, because I prefer a warmer, less saturated tone to my work. I am very fond of Kodak Pro Image 100. That stock is always in my camera bag!  Even though it is a daylight balanced film, it has shown incredible flexibility for my shooting style. Also Kodak Gold. I know it is a cheaper, consumer-grade film, but the colors are just beautiful.  Recently I have been shooting Kodak Portra 800, Ilford HP5, Kodak Ektar, and Kodak UltraMax as well.

JM – What drives you to photograph?

VO – I have modeled for artistic projects sporadically since I was a teenager, and I started realizing I had ideas that I wanted to create for myself.   As a jewelry artist, I wanted to shoot portfolio images, and as a hiker, I wanted to document the beautiful places I traveled through.  Creating photographic art (especially with film), is almost like creating a painting.  Learning to manipulate and capture the light based on the film-stock you have chosen; visualize and pose your subject to convey a story, and then capture the angle and the composition to create drama and a sense of connection.  It is about creating something just a little bit MORE than the physical scene in front of you. And sometimes you throw all of that out the window and shoot just to capture a candid moment! For me it is about capturing a feeling.  Does that make sense?  

JM – What is a personal goal you have for your photography? 

VO – One day I hope to complete a book or travel ‘zine. As such, a huge goal for me would be to shoot enough film work I am proud of to sit alongside my words and complete that dream.  To build a compelling portfolio of work and the aesthetic to present my own jewelry designs one day, and to learn to develop and scan my own film.

“I tend to shoot what I connect with, and most of my photos hold stories and emotion for me.  So, “best” or “most beautiful” photo would be one thing, but ‘favorite'”

JM – Do you find yourself more comfortable as a model or photographer?

VO – Honestly, when I model I feel like I wear an alter ego. That alter ego is someone a lot more graceful and evocative than my down-to-earth, introverted self!  I can find a place of being very comfortable there, but I am more empowered and fulfilled as a photographer.

JM – What is your favorite shot you’ve ever taken?  What’s the story behind it?

VO – Ohhhhh, picking a favorite photo is very hard for me.  I tend to shoot what I connect with, and most of my photos hold stories and emotion for me.  So, “best” or “most beautiful” photo would be one thing, but “favorite” probably has to go to a really special photo I took for my brother.  When he and his wife welcomed their second baby, they were deeply involved with starting their own business, and could not afford professional infant/family portraits.  It was winter, and shooting film indoors was completely outside my experience. But I did a lot of reading, picked a great film stock (Portra 800), and went for it. Keep in mind manual focus with a 2 year old and a 1 week old!  I am incredibly proud of this image, and it means a lot emotionally.

JM – In what ways has your photography grown and improved since you started shooting film?

VO – My photography experience pre-film mostly consisted of detail shots for my jewelry work, snapshots on trips, and hiking photos on my phone.  I started working very hard to make my hiking photos just a little bit different and capture a unique style as I told my stories for a growing social media account.  Since I started shooting film, I feel that I actually have something of quality to offer, and that has given me the confidence to reach out to other photographers and models to collaborate, so practice, practice, practice.  Film is both effortless, because it is naturally beautiful but also incredibly hard! There are so many variables, and it really makes me slow down and focus. There are no screens to check, no bursts to make sure you caught the movement, and each shot literally costs $$, so I take it a bit more seriously.  But I also shoot a lot of experimental work just to see how it turns out, or to push the expectations with a specific film, and that has led to a lot of valuable lessons.

More of Victoria’s work can be seen below:

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