[J]oshua Olley is a photographer working out of New York City. His black and white photographs collectively form a highly-stylised social documentary rich with diverse characters, a profound sense of chaos and underlying humanity. From blown out cars, to snake wielding women, open roads and sun-baked beachgoers, Joshua’s work captures landscapes, events, people and places.
Alternating approaches to framing ensures the images shift between the abstract and representational. Throughout, though, a deep human interest and compassion for his subjects remains. See more of Joshua’s work below and follow him on Instagram here.
Hi Josh, what people, places and spaces do you like to shoot?
My work is rooted in a lineage of social documentary. I want to capture aspects of society and life that are often hidden, and moments that are overlooked in the preoccupations of our individual lives. I love the idea of photography slowing down time, freezing an instant and allowing you to dissect it. I’m fascinated by social patterns, constructed identities and intuitive human behaviors.
What draws you to shooting in black and white?
There is so much more latitude with black and white film compared to color film. With black and white film you have a huge amount of control when developing and it’s much more malleable which is fascinating. I have nothing against color and find it beautiful when done right, but for me it can be a little distracting from the actual imagery.
"I want to capture aspects of society and life that are often hidden, and moments that are overlooked in the preoccupations of our individual lives."
Your images make for a very diverse portrait of America. Are you conscious of any political overtures in your work whilst you’re shooting?
I’m often conscious of political overtures when I’m shooting, although its hard to analyze that or think too much about the implications in the moment. My own political beliefs do influence which subjects I am interested in shooting. I don’t think that artists can, or should, leave politics out of their work at times in which people’s rights and humanity are being taken away. America is diverse and that needs to be shown, especially when many people in our country are so actively trying to suppress that diversity.
How do people react to you taking their photographs?
I normally try and build some sort of relationship with my subject, even it is just making eye contact or them seeing the camera. It’s a odd feeling having a camera pointed at you so I respect when people feel uncomfortable. I’ve of course run into a few confrontations but most of the time I get positive reactions.
What’s your favourite memory of taking a photograph?
I was walking through a valley in Nepal and came accords these kids swimming in a river. They invited us for a swim and said that for good luck we must swim down and grab a rock with our mouths and bring it to the surface. After we completed the ritual and were drying off I looked up and the kids with standing before me in this perfect formation, just staring at me. I got their portrait and kept on walking.