Questions and answers with Olivia Savile Katz.

{October 2019}

Title: The Mojave Desert Mirage. Self Portrait Series
Home: Washington DC, United States

Give us a bit of background on the photoshoot concept.

Just on the outskirts of the Mojave desert, I noticed this strange expanse of cracked, salty white earth while on my way to Death Valley.

The vast emptiness seemed to beg for a subject.

I had headed to the desert to clear my head and recover from the end of a strange and brief love affair with a damaged actor.

I needed space and needed to create something beautiful from my aching heart. The best way I know how to cope with pain, has always been to create art.

The ground looked like someone had taken a gavel and shattered the earth into millions of little puzzle pieces. Like a visual expression of my heart.

There was something about it, desolate and expansive, with glowing pink mountains in the distance, and big blue skies, that captivated me. It was the perfect place to recover my creative spirit and dream up this self-portrait series.

Why did you/your client choose the final image compared to the outtakes?

This is such an interesting question because I often wonder if I am really choosing the best images from my shoots. I notice that I often only showcase imagery that feels “perfect” – ie, a beautiful facial expression, the lighting is just right, the clothing looks perfect.

But more recently I’ve begun to feel really limited by that. Sometimes the images that are less perfect, out of focus, or unpredictable in some way or another may be the images that carry the real magic of the shoot. So, I’m shifting out of only selecting the most perfect images and trying to become slightly more inclusive of the imagery I show.

But the final image from this shoot is pretty reflective of my perfectionistic nature by choosing the images that felt “just right”.

Any cheeky moments during this photoshoot that you'd be willing to share?

On my self-portrait shoots, they’re always a bit crazy because I make myself do things I would never ever ask a model to do. This shoot in the desert involved all sorts of uncomfortable situations. I walked for miles with all my gear and a mid-century chair into the middle of the desert in 110 degree heat. I then got dressed up in stilettos and a long sleeved black sparkling top and threw hair oil all over myself (I’d forgotten the body oil, and the oil was an important part of the effect).

There were 2 cars that drove by during my shoot and you could tell they slowed down to try and decipher what the heck I was doing. After running back and forth about 30 times to trigger my camera’s shutter, I got so tired and dehydrated that I had to lie on the cracked ground to catch my breath. I lay quietly laughing and asked myself, “I wonder, is this how I die?”.

What’s it like being on set with you?

I love taking photos so I’m typically my happiest when I’m shooting an exciting project, and I tend to laugh a lot on set. I want everyone to enjoy the experience and I also like to get the job done. So, I suppose I can be serious and focused when need be, and playful when time + the situation allows.

Do you prefer photographing with a big or small team on set?

I’m deeply introverted but have the ability to fool people into thinking I’m an extrovert. But the truth is, the smaller the team, the happier I am. I need as little distraction as possible when shooting and need to be able to hear myself think in order to do my best work.

Describe your ideal photoshoot.

We’re shooting in a beautiful location for a brand that is doing something seriously good for the world. I have a team that is organized, positive, and has their sh*t together. Everyone is in good spirits and we’re shooting awesome work in a spectacular place. There’s a lunch break where the masseuse comes in and we all get handed mai tais...I mean…ha!

What makes a photograph special, in your opinion?

I want to feel something when I look at any kind of art. I want it to affect me. To open me, impact me, make me think differently about my life perhaps. But what I really want is for it to touch my heart. An image that touches your heart is a powerful photograph.

Express what photography means to you.

This is a big question. When I found photography I felt like I had discovered some part of my soul that I had long been searching for. It’s become a way for me to translate my inner world to the external world, and communicate what dwells in my heart.

It gets me out of my introverted comfort zone and into all sorts of interesting and new experiences. I love that it puts me in connection with other people and it’s opened my world in a million small and big ways.

I feel such a sense of gratitude that I found this craft and that people seem to like what I do, because I care so deeply about what I create and the craft itself. I often wonder if I’m kind of having a mad affair with photography, since it keeps me up at night and wakes me up in the morning…and is often all I think about during the day. I love it with my whole heart and feel a little crazed by my desire for mastery and an insatiable desire to create.

Do you photograph full-time? If not, what pays the bills?

I went fully freelance with my photography 6 months ago. Not sure it’s quite paying the bills yet but I’m working on it. I am also a writer and would like to find more ways to bring the writing and photography together, to document and tell important stories–in the humanitarian realm.

Instagram and photography...need we say more? Give us your two cents.

It’s an interesting time to be a photographer. In the age of social media, we are inundated with imagery day in and day out. There has been a massive influx in the number of people pursuing photography as a career.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about Instagram. I get a lot of inspiration following other artists and seeing what people are up to. But I think it can also wear on one’s confidence and deep inner knowing when we are constantly filling ourselves up with other people’s stories.

In the past, artists created art, quietly in their studios + darkrooms. They had no audience. No instantaneous feedback or “likes”. They had to love their craft enough to do it when no one was watching or cheering them on. But they also got to create without the pressure of impressing people. Sometimes we need some insulation to be able to create our best and most honest art, not flooded with other people’s thoughts, ideas, fears, dreams, and voices. I think instagram can at times, be an impediment to our own creativity as much as it can fuel it.

As a photographer, it’s something I cannot (nor do I want to) banish from my life. There is a lot I love and appreciate about Instagram as a resource and a tool, but I also want to have dreams that expand beyond a 4 inch screen.

Any additional info you'd like to share about yourself and/or your photography?

I am thrilled (and just a little terrified) to share that next month I am moving to Sydney, Australia...on the hunt for my next adventure. I will continue to build my freelance photography business there and am also looking to move into more photojournalistic and humanitarian work. I’d absolutely love to connect with anyone involved in sustainability, conservation, indigenous rights, and also anyone in the creative community in both Aus + New Zealand. Also gladly accepting tour-guide and friend submissions as I currently know 3 people on the continent. Aussies (+ Kiwis) - say hello!!

We obviously believe this outtakes concept is brilliant, but why do you think it's important for outtake photographs to be promoted in the industry?

I think it’s important to share not only the perfect finished images from shoots (and life) but also include some realness in what we share… what happens behind the scenes and the process that it takes to get to the “perfect” shot. Otherwise, I think it becomes too easy to begin thinking that what we see on Instagram (or photographers’ websites) is the full reality and we forget all the work that it took to get that one shot.

There is absolutely beauty in a perfectly lit, modeled, and retouched image that went through the hands of 20 different people before it got placed in a magazine. But there’s also beauty in a portrait taken of a mother with her kiddo, at night in their kitchen, perhaps even a shot you took of a dear friend or sister. Maybe the child is even yelling his little face off. It’s honest. It’s not perfect but it’s honest. I’d love to see more of everyone’s outtakes, not just photographers, but everyone, sharing life that is real and unretouched on occasion. It’s good for all of us to remember that there are cracks in everything.

Share a quote you live by.

Courage, dear heart.
~CS Lewis.


︎see the outtakes
︎follow Olivia on Instagram

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