The Suburbs Are – In Praise of Olivia Bee and Arcade Fire
My first thought upon encountering Olivia Bee’s work, and later Olivia Bee herself, was filled with jealousy. Only sixteen years old, and already lauded in certain photography circles. My second thought contained scepticism, and perhaps apprehension. Only sixteen years old. Would she be able to at least keep up this level of photography? Would she be able to grow and mature into a really talented and fascinating photographer, putting out a wide diversity of material? Or would she turn into a one-trick pony, not being able to live up to her early fame and being relegated to the forgotten depths of history, like so many other artists? My third thought therefore was tinged with relief, happy that I am not in her position, having to live up to such great expectations at such a young age.
Olivia Bee in a way is a typical product of web 2.0. Shot to fame by putting her pictures on Flickr, subsequently picked up by commercial enterprises keen to show off their hipster credentials, she photographs everything and everyone in her teenage world and shares it via the web with the rest of the world. It is therefore fascinating to find out that she uses an old-fashioned film SLR, very much like the one I chucked out last year when I finally crossed over to digital. Keeping in mind she uses film, it is astonishing to realise how much control she has over her exposures, how well she captures the light, the colours and the moments. It is even more mind-blowing to realise how quickly she processes and uploads her images onto the web.
Would she be able to grow and mature into a really talented and fascinating photographer, putting out a wide diversity of material? Or would she turn into a one-trick pony, not being able to live up to her early fame and being relegated to the forgotten depths of history, like so many other artists?
Looking at Olivia Bee’s pictures, I cannot help but wonder whether they should be accompanied by a soundtrack provided by the Arcade Fire. Olivia Bee captures youths growing up in a very dreamy, very sunny, suburban American landscape. However, the images are characterised by a slightly sinister undertone, just like the Arcade Fire’s songs. The pictures are already evoking nostalgic feelings, a sense of loss and melancholy, even though they depict the here and now. Bee seems to be cherishing and mourning each and every moment, because she knows they will not last much longer. Unlike her photographic career, hopefully.