Artist Q&A | Joshua Olley

Black And White Photographs done by London-based photographer Joshua Olley

We have a penchant for the in-between; that powerful and mystic quality found in the balance between sensibilities, elements, or states of being. This is what draws Elena to the work of NY and London-based photographer Joshua Olley, whose meditative, starkly beautiful images highlight the duality at play within and around us.

Olley has worked all over the globe capturing images that merge social documentary with dream-like narratives and visuals, always toe-ing the line between worlds. His approach is instinctual and methodical; through a hyper-vigilant observation, he is sensitively aware of the unseen. His work has been exhibited in places such as Art Basel, New York University, and the San Francisco Art Institute, and his first monograph was published in 2016.

Two of Olley’s works are now on view at Exhibition The Barn. Centered on personal themes of time and place, they offer a deliberate, dark counterpoint to the more vibrant works in the show, and speak to the complexity of the past year. With his image Suppa’s Farm, Olley asks, “What’s it like to experience life in limbo, knowing it’s limited?”, while Marguerite’s Living Room portrays the somber, austere interior of a home and the life that has been rooted in place there for over a hundred years.

Needless to say, we had to know more. Read on below for The Reveal: a conversation between Frampton Co and Joshua Olley.

Frampton Co: Tell us about the two photographs in Exhibition The Barn’s current show.

Joshua Olley: Marguerite’s Living Room is part of an ongoing series documenting my extended family, who left Sweden in the late 19th century to homestead the Palouse Prairie in Eastern Washington. They have been farming wheat on the same land ever since. Marguerite, whose living room this is, is 101 years old.

Suppa’s Farm is part of a series titled Tales from Valhöll. After my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I began thinking about the liminal state between life and death. What’s it like to experience life in limbo, knowing it’s limited? Tales from Valhöll is meant to create a visual environment that takes viewers through a liminal space. Creating this series was an attempt to process and understand my dad’s journey from diagnosis to an untimely death, a journey that was brutal and painful but simultaneously held room for peace.

Both of the images were taken on film, and digitally C-printed on archival crystal paper.

F CO: We’re fascinated by the transformative power color. How do you think about color as a tool in your images?

Olley: I’m generally more attracted to really diffused or flat light, which creates a more muted color palette. I find that bright colors can be distracting, and when I’m photographing in color, I’m usually looking to find a balance between color and the content of an image.

F CO: Does your photography “answer” something for you? Or is it an exploration without resolve?

Olley: The Suppa’s Farm image, and Tales from Valhöll series in general, in some ways leave me with more questions than answers. It’s an image that feels grounded in reality, in that it portrays a recognizable object, but the surreal composition and lighting leave you with a feeling of uncertainty. You can’t be completely sure of what you’re seeing or what is happening in the image. This leads me into more curiosity, more of the unknown, but I find there’s a comfort in knowing things aren’t always as they seem or we expect them to be.

F CO: Your work seems to have a very contemplative nature.

Olley: I’m glad to hear that, as it’s something I’m looking to evoke in my images. Many of my images can feel surreal; grounded in reality but photographed in a way that can be disconcerting. There’s often a distant familiarity that I hope evokes deep thought and memory in the viewer — a search for understanding not only within the image itself, but within one’s own experiences and the emotions we attach to that familiar reference point.


On view at Exhibition The Barn through April. Schedule your virtual or in-person viewing, and explore more works available from Exhibition.

"Marguerite's Living Room"

Joshua Olley

"Suppas Farm" from Olley's 'Tales from Valhöll' series

'The Palouse' series documenting the artist's family homestead on the Palouse Prairie

From 'Tales from Valhöll'

From 'Tales from Valhöll'

From 'The Palouse'

From 'The Palouse'

From the 'The Palouse'

'Cry Like a Man,' Olley's series exploring social and economic structures of the American West

From 'Cry Like a Man'

From 'Cry Like a Man'

From 'Cry Like a Man'

"Marguerites Living Room" on view at The Barn

'Losing a Life Source' investigates how unreliable access to clean water changes the landscape of a community in Mumbai

From 'Losing a Life Source'

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