Olivia Bee started taking pictures at 11 when she meant to enroll in a video course but ended up in a photography class. She became obsessed with the medium, and started posting her photos online — which is how teen style blogger Tavi Gevinson discovered her. To Gevinson, Bee perfectly captured a teenager’s sense of incredible longing.
When Gevinson started editing the online magazine Rookie, she knew she wanted to work with Bee. But Gevinson wasn’t the only one. When Bee was 15, she shot her first ad, for Converse. Since then, she’s shot for brands like Hermes and Apple and publications like "W" and "The New York Times Magazine." Her first book, “Kids in Love,” just came out.
The two have since become good friends, and Gevinson and Bee sat down in Studio 360 to talk technique, working as artists while still being teenagers, and some of the downsides of social media.
Tavi Gevinson: You’ve talked about pictures that feel like memory. How do you use technique to evoke that sense of nostalgia?
Olivia Bee: Evoking nostalgia has a lot to do with technique — with the colors you use, or using grain. But I think you have to be a really good editor. You take five rolls of film and you pick one. Which one evokes that emotion that you’re trying to go after? Which one has the composition but also the intention and the memory behind it?
People are always asking me if I feel I missed out on being a teenager because I was documenting it. Do you feel that way?
I get asked that all the time. No, I don’t think I could have just been there. I would have freaked out! I have to make stuff out of what I’m doing or else I just can’t live my life.
You and I were talking recently about changes we’ve made in how we use social media and how healthy these changes have been. Talk about what you’ve started doing and why, and the effect it’s had.
Every time I post an Instagram, I delete the app off my phone. And then I download it again when I need to post an image for my photo account. I think having followers is this perspective that’s maybe not super-healthy. I don’t want to see what everybody’s doing all the time because it takes me out of my own zone. I don’t want to read the comments about something that’s really close to me. Part of making work and giving it away is having it live in the world, and people will have an opinion on it. But I don’t really want to read these things all the time. It’s so much noise.