In Conversation: Joshua Olley and Kyle Bradley

Our good friend Kyle Bradley approached me recently and asked if I was aware of Joshua Olley’s work. Sadly I had to be honest and say no. Once I learned about this amazing project, I asked Kyle if he would be intersted in interviewing Joshua for Aint–Bad. As an artist and curator, Kyle is just about as passionate about photography as I am, I knew he was the perfect guy for the job. So today we are excited to share the results, a wonderful conversation between Kyle and Joshua.

Joshua Olley is a photographer living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He is interested in the intersectionality of visual dialogues and humanitarian issues. He had his first monograph published in 2016 by Paradigm Publishing. HIs work has been exhibited in places such as Art Basel, New York University and the San Francisco Art Institute.

Losing a Life Source

Joshua Olley’s work aims to merge a lineage of social documentary with abstract narratives and visuals. An instinctual aesthetic appreciation, rooted in a hyper-vigilant observation of the world, has led to a fascination in social patterns, constructed identities and intuitive human behaviors.

What’s this project about in one sentence?

The project, Losing a Life Source in the Age of Anthropocene, explores the crumbling hydraulic infrastructure in Mumbai, the commodification and pollution of a vital resource, and the effects that all of this has on local communities.

What ideas and plans did you have before shooting began?

The first thing that I did when planning for this project was to find someone in Mumbai who had an intimate knowledge of the city and its communities. I was eventually connected to Shashi Kashyap, a Mumbai-based photographer, who was an integral part of the project. Before I made the trip I also spent a lot of time on Google maps, trying to get a sense of the neighborhoods and infrastructure. I wanted to be sure that I was going into each day with intention, instead of just wandering around with my camera.

Can you name a few documentary photographers / photojournalists you admire and talk a bit about how they have informed your work?

Darcy Padilla has always heavily informed my work, both in terms of her style and her intimate and loyal approach to the people she photographs. I’m also really drawn to Trevor Paglen’s work and the way in which he uses extensive research and a wide range of inter-disciplinary practices, along with photography, to inform and present his projects. I’m starting to explore video and installation and would like to include them in the final form of this project.

This project in particular was really jump started by Robert Nickelsberg’s work. I was working as an archivist for Bob before I went to Mumbai, going through thousands of his images covering different areas and issues from civil wars in South America to conflicts in the Middle East. Working with Bob really re-ignited my interest in pursuing a project that addresses an urgent issue in an informative and intentional way.

What are some differences between this project and your previous projects? 

Most of my projects are a kind of spontaneous documentation of what’s going on around me. I carry my camera with me in my day to day and find images in the world that mimic a feeling that I’m trying to capture. This project required much more planning. It forced me to think about the type of images that I wanted to take each day, planning ahead in a way that I’m not accustomed to in my photography. I also usually work in black and white, but for this project it felt important to use mostly color. My black and white images can be a bit surreal, and I wanted the images in this project to be more concrete and grounded in the reality of what’s going on in them, as well as the larger reality of the issues surrounding lack of access to water.

What I found equally fascinating and informative was the ways in which people collect, transport, and store water in these specific areas. What aspects of the water crisis do these kinds of photographs convey?

I wanted to capture the ways in which lack of access to water and hydraulic infrastructures affect people’s daily lives, and a big part of their daily lives are the time, energy and resources that they use to collect, transport and store water. One of the photos, taken in a community that lives along the two main water pipelines that supply all of Mumbai’s water, shows a contraption that someone made with a tarp used to funnel leaking water from the pipes into a plastic jug. For those of us with full and easy access to water these are the details that we just don’t think about. Water is a human right and the larger picture of the water crisis is rightfully centered around health and hygiene, but I also wanted to point to the daily burdens it imposes.

Can you talk about style and technical choices you made?

For the most part I used only one camera, a Mamiya Rz 6×7 with Kodak Portra 400, and focused on using ambient light in search of a particular color palette. I felt that the stout ratio of the 6×7 format allowed me to translate vast land and cityscapes into smaller images while maintaining the overwhelming scale. 

How are you feeling coming off this project and your time in India? Will you continue working on this in 2020?

I’m feeling really satisfied with the images, but my time in India has left me with a strong desire to continue this project in other areas and communities that are facing similar issues around water. It feels like a chapter of a much broader project and I’m antsy to get started on the next one.

To view more of Joshua Olley’s work please visit his website. To learn more about Kyle Bradley, visit his website.