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Eva O'Leary

Mask, 2015

on reverse: a short interview with Eva O'Leary by Lindley Warren (in full below) 

Eva O’ Leary, is a photographer working out of central Pennsylvania and New York City. She received her MFA from Yale University in 2016. O’Leary was awarded both the Vontobel Contemporary Photography award in 2017 and the Foam Talent award in 2014. In 2017 she had two solo exhibitions at Meyohas gallery and Crush Curatorial. O'Leary was also featured in The New Yorker Magazine.

Lindley Warren There was a photograph that you posted on your Instagram in mid-November of a young woman in bright red lipstick and profoundly blue eyes. For some reason, I assume that this portrait was taken while you took a trip across America. I love this image and I am curious if there are others that (if my assumption is correct) you took during that trip? If so, are incorporating them into your work or was that trip more of an experience of research?

EO I made hundreds of photographs on that trip, I’m only satisfied with (maybe) one of them. I’m honestly not sure if the rest will ever see the light of day.... Although this way of working is somewhat familiar, a lot of my past work required an insane amount of leg work but only resulted in a single image. I think this trip was important for a few reasons, aside from producing physical work.  I graduated from Yale a month before and was going through some major life changes. A lot of things were up in the air, my practice, my personal life, where I wanted the work to go. I wasn’t sure what to do next but I knew I wanted to start a new body of work. The hours I spent driving and observing middle america really let me think through my process and unpack a lot of what I had done in school. A lot of the ideas and issues I struggled with on that trip, internal conversations and arguments I had with myself, they led to what I’m making now.  I’m actually contemplating making that drive a yearly ritual because it was a hugely productive time, more in process and planning than actually making images.

LW You’ve been posting videos online of your editing process, which show the incredible detail you’re able to get with an 8x10 camera. When I watch the videos I think of the complexities of being inside a female body. It appears as if you are examining these young women so closely. Perhaps by being able to zoom in so microscopically you might be able to gain a deeper understanding about what it means for yourself to be in female skin. Are you consciously thinking about these concepts?

EO For a few aspects of the project I had a fully formed conceptual idea going in, but other parts (like the kind of camera and film), made sense logically in relation to the larger ideas behind the work. The importance of the extreme detail was initially a gut instinct. But I think you’re right, it’s the opposite of high gloss commercial images, and the heavily filtered ones we see on social media. I think it relates back to the intense scrutiny we give ourselves and our ‘flaws,’ perhaps how they often seem amplified. I also wanted to light the subjects in a way where the pictures are beautiful and seductive, including the things they may consider flaws as deemed by society. I didn’t want to contribute to a sea of images that validate our urges to try to cover up and hide these things.

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