Film director, fashion and celebrity photographer and NFT artist, Oliver Ojeil, has earned his way to several publications and international awards during his career. Oliver, named one of the world's top portrait photographers by Portrait Photo Awards publication, chatted with Portion below about his love for photography and creating an emotional connection through each piece.
Hi Oliver! Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your work? When did your interest and career in photography begin to flourish?
Hey! I started my career out of college directing commercials and music videos, which then led me to start a production and post production company specialized in visual effects and 3D animation. After a couple of years of directing Ads and running the facility I got bored with the corporate side of things and wanted a more pure and personal connection with art, something I conceive and create from scratch without outside input and interference in my own creative vision, which is something very common in the world of advertising. I had always been mesmerized by classical and renaissance paintings and I found myself always attracted to photographers whose work evoked a painterly feel be it technically or in the photo’s mise-en-scene. One day, I still don’t know why, and after years of shooting landscape and street photography, I picked up my camera and took a few portraits under natural light and right then and there I felt such a passion and effortless connection with fashion photography and portraiture that it took over my life since, becoming a kind of delightful obsession.
Your artwork, “Hydra,” is incredible in how it captures a woman’s enigmatic gaze. Can you please speak on the significance of this piece? What was the creative process like and what was it about this portrait that made it the right fit for Portion’s Photography collection?
Thank you, I’m glad it touched you. Hydra is a very intimate portrait to me, it feels with the way the hair is suspended and gaze is fixed as though we stepped into time, froze an instance of it, and extended that fraction of existence infinitely. I wanted by adding motion to the photo (transforming it from a still into a looping 3 dimensional film) to recreate that endless loop again and again, in a way create a hypnotizing experience between the viewer and the subject, and the more you stare at it the more it draws you in; from your eyes to hers you’re stuck and mesmerized as the film loops in that suspension.
That is beautiful! Can you tell us a story about one of your favorite portraits you’ve taken thus far in your career? What about the work resonated with you most?
That’s a tough one! I don’t exaggerate if I say almost every portrait I publish in a certain way becomes a personal favorite, partially because I torture myself so much with perfection and the fear of repeating myself that by the time I finish a piece it already feels very intimate to me, and that feels it lives on. I find it amazing though how sometimes totally unplanned shoots and unexpected experiences end up creating work that went on to get exhibited around the world and become a collector’s favorite. It’s amazing how far simple ideas and simple shoots can go, this is something that I never expected when I was starting off and I used to think that you need to over search and over-prepare and over gear up etc. to create something of value, but some of my most known works happened candidly with a simple pose, in a test shoot, and under natural light, somewhere in a field or near a window at sunset. That’s about it.
Wow, your skills definitely show through each photo. What tools, lens and software do you use? How long does it take you to craft a piece? Do you usually start with a clear vision/goal, or does a piece take shape as you work?
Currently I’m using Sony mirrorless bodies with mainly a 35mm and a 50mm although I’ve been experimenting recently with wider lenses for portraiture. After my shoots I transfer the photos on my iPad to lightroom then do my shortlist in my favorite coffee shops over a cappuccino, and from there I do a quick color pass then I move to photoshop as I dive deeper into the process. I used to spend hours early on trying different techniques and approaches to color and processing, so I experimented a lot, but recently I’d say post production takes me about 30min per photo from minimal natural retouch to color grading. I often do sleep on work after I finish it and I find myself always tweaking stuff (that probably no one will ever notice) before I finally publish it. I usually start with a simple guidance choosing where I want to shoot and what type of light I will use and from there I let the model and light inspire me on the spot. I don’t prepare mood boards or shoot lists and prefer to just run with it and I found that type of approach, though it puts pressure on me every time, it turns out pretty fruitful and I’ve never felt a creative block during a shoot working that way.
How do you envision your pieces to be used? Is there a deeper meaning that you want your audience to interact and interpret from each NFT?
Emotional connection. That’s what I strive to create through my photography. When you first look at a portrait I want it to touch a part of your soul, to let your mind wander and create a deep and sensitive connection with it. The ability to create film-based NFTs have made me revisit my photography creatively and question/explore how I can transform a still image into a moving one, and this has been quite a process! Now as I shoot I incorporate some ideas into the concept knowing how I will translate it in motion later in post production. I have also been developing and testing a moving-light technique to static subjects and after honing the process I created an NFT project with Jeremy Meeks using it. I can’t wait to publish it and share it with the world.
We can't wait to see the new NFT project! What inspires and surprises you about the emerging world of NFT photography?
I never thought photography and the role of photographers would emerge once again as it has through NFTs lately. Outside commissioned shoots it has always been a struggle in modern art to sell and/or exhibit your work, largely due to the overload of information and people becoming desensitized as they view and process thousands of photos per day, every day. NFTs have somehow brought back a certain aura to photography (and other art forms surely) but for me specifically, the ability to create and translate photography via motion has widened the static creative approach I had for years, and now each photo has the potential of becoming like a vignette from a scene in a short film, all thanks to the limitless horizons the emergence of NFTs has brought.
Lastly, as an experienced artist and portrait photographer mainly focused on fashion and celebrities, do you have tips for emerging artists? What advice do you have for people at the beginning of their journey into the world of film, photography or NFTs?
First find your vision and a unique voice. Believe in yourself and your vision. Study the classical masters, go to art museums and surround yourself with Beauty. Do your bed in the morning and keep your goals in check. If you don’t have a goal list how can you revisit how far you’ve come (or not) as you move through your journey. Be judgment free and kind and open to other artists and remember that before the digital world, there was a tradition in art where artists came in together and fed on each other’s work inspiring one another and from there art movements emerged and art progressed and evolved. I feel we’re stuck in an era that isn’t innovating much artistically and I’m glad to see technology is driving artistic innovation once again. Hope!