Yesterday evening I attended a talk by the Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur where she spoke about her career and how she developed it to where she is now. The talk was very inspirational and quite fascinating to see how she progressed in her photographic life.

Olivia spoke to us about how she started of by illustrating stories that journalists had written but she wanted to do more and make her own stories with her photographs. Olivia felt quite restricted doing this and as she explained that when we started to work on the Asian and European boarders doing her own work she felt she had ‘an amazing amount of freedom’ as she could now show her own stories. The project that Olivia done on the boarders was to photograph women of two different cultures, eastern and western. She photographed what she could on her journeys although some countries did not allow their women to be photographed and published. She was creating a large body of portraits from all the women’s houses she stayed in and was introduced too. When we were looking through these images you could see the differences between them, see the different cultures and how they all lived.

Olivia Arthur recently published her first book, ‘Jeddah Diary’. This book is all about women in Saudi Arabia, Olivia explained how sometimes the women would not allow themselves to be photographed as they did not want people to think badly of them. She said how some people always said ‘what would the neighbours say?. It seems as if they had to keep up this appearance not to be looked down upon. Some of the portraits are blurred, this is because some of the women let her take photos of them but then came back saying they didn’t want their faces to be shown. Olivia decided to re photograph the women but using the flash glare on their faces so it completely distorted their faces and you could barely recognised who it would be. When Olivia went back to show the women what she had done they were happy about it but also asked her if she could not blur so much so you could still see how beautiful the woman was, which this was quite a contradictory to the beginning where they didn’t want to see their face at all. I really enjoyed looking through Jeddah Diary as it felt like a very precious book, the material it was made out of was quite soft and gentle. As you went through the pages some images came quite small quotes or captions from Olivia’s thoughts of quotes from the women. I think these worked really well as it gave the reader a bit more information on the image, something to read as well as look at the image, but not a piece of writing big enough to take away from the actual photograph. Olivia said it was important to her for her readers to read these little bits of writing so that they took a little more from the photograph.

Towards the end of the talk Olivia spoke about how you have you love what you are doing, you have to love the story you are creating or else no one else will and no one will believe in it. I think that this was quite inspirational as for my other module I have to produce work that has a story to it. I really found this talk by Olivia Arthur very interesting and inspiriting. We were also told about Olivia’s exhibition space in london, ‘Fish Bar’ which I am hopping to go and visit when I return home to London for the summer.


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