How I Got Into Photography

Olivier-Cindy.Kitten-Photo-1606Professional photographers always get asked: “So, how did you get into photography?”  When I answer that I started in high school with the local newspaper in 1973, the next question is often “How old are you, anyway?”  As I look back on my first tentative steps in a picture-making career I must first give credit to an amazing group of people at the Greater Plaquemine Post where I started.  The editor, Gary Hebert, was a visionary who pushed his paper to be bigger, bolder, and better than any other newspaper in the state, year after year.  The Post dominated Louisiana Press Association awards so much that one year I was assigned the job of shooting grip ‘n grin awards shots, I think because the Association knew Gary would be bringing more trophies back to Plaquemine than any other editor.  (That year was also my first trip to Bourbon Street, an event that won’t be recounted in this blog!)  The Post was printing COLOR in a weekly long before most dailies had made that move.  In fact, the “mascot” was a peacock and Gary owned several of the preening birds that he kept on the grounds of his large Plaquemine home.  The Post was beautifully laid-out and carefully printed in-house.  I naively thought all weeklies had such quality control and at the time I had no idea of what a wonderful place I had stumbled upon…

Olivier-Gaboo-Photo-1603“Mister Gary”, as he was called, would often give me massive props in photo captions if he sensed that I was pushing hard to produce unusual pictures in routine news photos.   Softball games were big events in the area and often went on into the night so I didn’t think it was a big deal to “drag the shutter” (using a slow shutter speed during a flash exposure) on some exposures but Gary had never seen the effect.   I guess it didn’t hurt his paper’s reputation to be on the cutting edge since, at that time, no one else was doing it.  It wasn’t long before my own sense of who and what I was all funneled down into one word: photographer.   Gary probably had no idea that his support was like rocket fuel to the ego of a sixteen year old.  I was out of the gate and flying, come hell or high water, I was a photographer and no oil field, petrochemical  plant, or other high-wage career was gonna stop me.   The die was cast, left eye closed, right eye to the viewfinder, finger on the shutter..and that’s why my left eye has a lot more crow’s feet than my right, 35 years later..

Olivier-motocross-Photo-1604I would often shoot the stuff my buds and I were doing on the weekends and drop a stack of prints on sports editor Roy Pitchford’s desk.  Roy would then get out the scissors and cut and paste the images into a collage, Dada-style, and voila!  instant feature.  At that point in my life there weren’t many things that consumed my every waking moment more than motocross, football, and girls.  Growing up in a river town like White Castle meant that the levee and batture, with its miles and miles of cow trails, was the number one destination for a teenager with a wild streak.  My mom worried incessantly about the integrity of my cranium while I was catching air on my souped up Honda 70.  Fortunately for her, professional motocross was not a career option for me at the time…

Olivier-Football.1-Photo-1601My “identity” as a photographer became so intense that in my junior year I decided to shoot the football games instead of play in them.  I recall feeling more than a bit left out as I drove to the games and stalked the sidelines with my available-light telephoto as my friends got pounded on the gridiron, but the lure (and ego trip) of that credit line was a temptation I just couldn’t resist.   One of my uncles chastised me so severely, “you have the rest of your LIFE to take pictures, boy!”, that his words kept ringing in my ears long after they had been playfully cuffed by one who meant well and spoke from years of experience.  The next year, as a senior, I put the jersey back on and hit the field.  I didn’t regret the decision (he was right).  Playing football not only taught me the value of being a comrade-in-arms with my friends, I also learned that I could keep going, keep fighting, and eventually prevail (can you say “Drew Brees”?) when the chips were down and almost all hope was lost.  People can diss on football all they want but those who have played it know there’s nothing to compare with a hard fought victory under the lights…

Olivier-concert-Photo-1605The mid-seventies were heady days for independent radio.  Baton Rouge had an FM station that went by the nickname of “Loose Radio” and on Saturday nights we would all tune our AM’s to an Arkansas station that had a most amazing show called “Bleeker Street”.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that I could type up a photo-pass-request on Post letterhead and gain free entry to local concerts and fight my way up to the stage.  Joe Walsh was rocketing up the charts (post James Gang) with “Rocky Mountain Way” and Charlie Daniels was representing the hillbilly freaks with “Fire On The Mountain”.  Certain albums were omnipresent in every hipster living room and more than one of my friends used the mexican-food-foldout of ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres” as a background tableau for the obligatory humming 25 gallon aquarium…

Olivier-Evangeline-Photo-1600This photo of an Evangeline re-enactment didn’t seem like a big deal to me at the time but when it won a Louisiana Press Association award for feature photography I could barely contain myself.  The Post would often send me out with the ‘staff camera’, a clunky Mamiya C3 medium-format twin lens reflex.  Since I wasn’t going to wade into Bayou Teche for a better view I simply “framed” the image with some foreground vegetation.  Thus began my fascination with the possibilities of square format photography.  I would later discover the mind-bending work of other practitioners like Diane Arbus and Ralph Eugene Meatyard and use the sensibility to inform the majority of images I made for my Zydeco! book.  To see more (and much later) please visit my website at Rick Olivier Photography…

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3 Responses to How I Got Into Photography

  1. Cordelia Cale says:

    I think I actually remember the “Evangeline Arrives” shot.

  2. Michael Dominici says:

    Great work, Rico!

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