In the Studio with Olivia Locher
Olivia Locher was born in 1990 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She has resided in Manhattan, NYC since 2009. Locher is known for her sarcastic approach to studio photography with a heavy focus on color and concept. Her photographs are grounded in dreamlands and consciousness, while Olivia herself is generally dreaming. She breathes carefully and dances very rarely. She is represented by Steven Kasher Gallery in NYC.
RFP How long have you been in this space?
OL This space, I've been in here for two years and it's kind of a weird space. This neighborhood is so strange.
RFP Where did you move before this?
OL I was in the village forever. I had my own space for like, I guess, seven years. I love the village. My building got bought out so they kind of made everyone leave and I ended up here.
RFP Can you describe how you grew up? What was that like? Was it, you said rural?
OL I grew up in Pennsylvania, sort of near Pittsburgh. Brandon [her brother] was pretty influential because there was a strong punk scene where we grew up. Brandon is six years older and I was home schooled. So, I was a space cadet, basically. I really just hung out with Brandon's friends and would go to punk shows and kind of got wrapped up in that scene. But with that scene it was kind of like anything's possible. Do you know Ed Panar? He's from our home town. Which is a random story.
RFP Cool. I love that.
OL Yeah, and he shoots there all the time. He was doing a really cool show on public access. It's on YouTube. It was called Us Guys. It was, wow, like the local paper wrote about it because it was shocking. It was just him and his friends going around and doing crazy degenerate stuff. He was a little before Brandon’s generation. And then there was this punk scene. So, there were a lot of DIY art shows which inspired me to make photos and put them on the wall and, you know.
RH That's the perfect environment for that.
BL I think we were talking to someone recently about being from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Johnstown's famous for the Johnstown Floods.
OL Yeah, that's why the Red Cross was developed. It was the biggest natural disaster in American history, our town. Our town got flooded three times. I think it was the Carnegies who had vacation homes in our town and like the Fricks. The dam broke and it flooded the whole town and all the money left the town and now it’s just a really depressed place. After the ‘70s flood it could never get back on its feet again. Growing up, you always kind of knew that there was this force greater than you because there's always a wave ready to wash you out completely.
BL It felt like it was so disconnected from everything else or the rest of the world. I think it kind of allowed you, just growing up there, to daydream and do your own thing. If you wanted to have fun, you had to create your own fun and generate your own happenings. As Olivia said about having this strong DIY scene and people making stuff happen because if they weren't making it happen, nothing was happening.
OL People have really strange creative habits there too. There were men in their sixties doing crazy stuff that's super creative and would fit in really well with that outsider art world but they - it's just their practice. Like one guy thinks he's predicting the weather. He builds these really intricate helmets that go up to the sky. They go up like 20 feet in the air. They're huge. And he thinks he's talking to extraterrestrials and it's really wild stuff. Nobody in the town would consider it art and everyone would just look at that person like, “oh, he's a little off the rails.” But the objects he makes are really beautiful. It's a town that caters to that.
RFP How often do you get to go back?
OL We go back a lot just because Amtrak's connected to the town. You can get on a train here and be in our town in like seven hours.
RFP That's really convenient. Do you make your work in here?
OL I do everything here. My east village space was about exactly the same size so when I was looking for an apartment, I was just looking for a bedroom. And then Brandon helped me move in and the plan was to live alone but I was like, let's just live together. Because he's my assistant for everything.
RH And in New York, sharing a room is always way more feasible financially, anyway. It changes everything.
OL It's great when when it's your sibling. You have this language developed.
RFP You have a wonderful collection of photography books. What are some of your favorites? Do you want to pull a few out?
OL Oh yeah. So I love Elad Lassry, and I love Matthew Barney. I have all the Matthew Barney's for the most part. I kind of went deep in trying to get all of them. We were extras in his movie.
RFP Really? Which movie?
OL River of Fundament. I think we ran into you at his recent opening. Brandon got this book signed. That's his very first book. I bought that book on eBay from the woman who did costuming for Cremaster. She, I guess, parted with her books. When I googled her name I was like, why are you selling this? And she sold it for 20 bucks. So I'm like, you are really breaking up with Matthew here.
Let me see what else I like. This Sonic Youth book is cool. Have you seen this book at all? It comes with records. I became friends with some of those guys in the band. That book's signed by Kim and Thurston. That was before their break up. That Sun Ra book's cool too.
RFP So where are your books? Are they in here?
OL They're not out yet. I haven't seen them yet. [They're out now!]
RFP Who is the publisher?
OL They're called Chronicle books. The book’s I Fought the Law.
RFP What was the work of yours that was perceived the warmest by the most amount of people? I remember when you started doing a certain kind of typological work. It just caught on.
OL Yeah it was weird. I Fought The Law went super viral right away. It's funny, because the images that went viral, I later cut from the series because they were like pre-thoughts. I was just kind of in Pennsylvania shooting whoever was around. I originally shot that pitching it for Vice. I was only going to do like a ten pages editorial type of thing but they didn't think it was sexy enough. It ended up turning into my long term project. So it was good that it wasn't very sexy at the time.
RFP Let's talk about your poster. What's the story behind it?
OL I shot that in 2012 and I was in astronomy class. The professor at SVA was talking about a way that you could look at the sun without burning out your retinas. You hold binoculars and shine the sun through and it projects on the paper. You could see the sun spots and, yeah. So I went home and found our old binoculars and I'm like, let's run out to the yard and see if we could see it.
RFP That's cool. I like that a lot.
OL Yeah. What you do is, you tape up the one end of the binoculars so it only shines through one lens. But that's one of the funny things I took from that class. How To was my thesis project and then I abandoned it and now I'm coming back to it. It's fun to come back to it with fresh eyes.
interview by Romke Hoogwaerts