Artist in focus: Olivia Rose

Artist Olivia Rose reveals how she achieves authenticity in her portrait photography, why being called an artist is scary, and what makes her happy in her art.

Although she does not limit herself to one artform, Olivia Rose is particularly known for her photography: she believes that portraiture is the ultimate photography. From her home studio in London, Olivia Rose talks about her work and identity as an artist. She discusses how she got started and how she began to make her mark as an artist.

In this video, she reveals the equipment that she considers essential for photography and her sources of inspiration. She also talks about the magic of shooting on film. She describes how she creates an atmosphere in her portrait photography, and how she makes a connection with her sitter, discussing her portrait of grime artist Stormzy.


  • My happy place is when it’s me and a subject, not too much tech, not too much fluff around me, and then I get to have that personal connection with the person that I’m photographing.

    I am Olivia Rose and I am an artist. I’ve never limited myself to just shooting on a camera. Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved drawing and painting, anything that is using my hands in a creative way and expressing myself.

    I am an analogue photographer. So that means that I don’t shoot with a digital camera and, for me, that has always been part of how I really fell in love with photography.

    When I was at university, a tutor called Itai Doron really helped me to change my perception of who I was, within photography. He said to me that I needed to stop worrying, that I was different from everybody else, that I was actually a person who was standing out from the crowd. And those are words that I have really taken through my whole life with me.

    When I’m taking pictures, I don’t want to know what I’ve taken immediately. When I shoot film, I get to take it to the lab to be processed. They then put the film through the darkroom and there’s a whole process of magic and chemicals and science and when I go and look at those images, I’ve had some space from the moment when I took the photograph and so it’s like a surprise. Sometimes they’re not all perfect. In fact, most times they’re not all perfect. And something really important to remember, is that you’ll make just as much rubbish work, as you’ll make beautiful work.

    Obviously one of the first things you have to do is learn the rules of photography, like what settings to use, and I think as an artist, if you just follow the rules, it’s quite easy to become the person that doesn’t stand out. You have to learn the rules in order to break them.

    For me, inspiration comes from your journey through life. It’s the sounds, it’s the smells, it’s the people. It’s all of the experiences that you have. I don’t think I ever grew up. I know that I’m an adult now, but I still don’t think I’m a grown up. There’s all sorts of things in my house. It’s a weird and wonderful mystery land of things that I’ve collected, little dinosaurs and little figurines.

    When I’m on set photographing somebody, I would say that about 90% of getting a good picture, is actually creating a good atmosphere. When I am getting ready to photograph somebody, I don’t really like to research them. I tend to just let them tell me who they are. Even if we only have a really small amount of time to get to know each other before I start taking pictures.

    A lot of photography to me is about creating a feeling that I can then see on somebody’s face. So, for example, somebody like Stormzy, when I first photographed him, I remember he came to the studio and he had his socks and his sliders on and he had his whole tracksuit and there was actually a moment where he was sat on a chair and that’s one of my favourite pictures I’ve ever taken of him. It really felt like an authentic picture of him. He was lost in his thoughts and wasn’t posing for the camera. That’s always what I’m trying to achieve with my camera I think, is seeing as much of an authentic picture of a person as I can.

    Portraits are the ultimate photography. In fact, if I could never take any other kind of picture again and all I could do was portraits, I would still be happy.

    So, my camera bag is very heavy. I’ll also always pack lots of rolls of film with me. Normally too many rolls of film and I also take a light meter with me. It’s super important for me to be able to measure the light around somebody’s face when I’m photographing them.

    I have a backdrop, it’s that one. And it was painted by my mum, and it is one of my most important things that I take around with me. I’ve actually taken it all over the world. This backdrop’s been to Jamaica, Amsterdam, Bermuda, it’s been everywhere with me and it’s kind of become an Olivia Rose thing now. It’s one of the things that I think people recognise in my photography and it’s funny because it’s actually a really traditional kind of backdrop and I don’t think I’m that traditional of a person. So, I think there’s something nice sometimes about having something that shouldn’t quite suit you and using that as one of your tools when you’re making art.

    Being called an artist can be scary. It’s a big word that covers a lot of different mediums and there’s a lot to live up to I think, when somebody calls you an artist. So, to me, it’s more of a mindset than necessarily about what you’re creating. It’s about having a freedom of thought. It’s about being brave enough to pick up pencils, or paint, or a camera and create something with that.

Learning objectives

  1. Gather inspiration from the life, work and creative practices of a contemporary artist.
  1. Explore the creative practices and techniques of a portrait photographer.
  1. Consider how to make creative decisions in portrait photography.

Watch and discuss

  1. How does Olivia Rose make a connection with her sitter? Why is this important?
  1. Olivia Rose aims for authenticity in her portrait photography. How important is authenticity to your artwork? Why is this?
  1. To what extent do you agree with Olivia Rose’s views on breaking the rules of photography and using traditional tools in unexpected ways?