Prior to turning to photography, British photographer Olivia Arthur (1980) graduated with a diploma in mathematics. However, her career in photography took unexpected turns, and already in 2011 she became a member of Magnum. Olivia Arthur is interested in cultural differences, the role and position of a woman in various cultures. She has photographed in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, as well as in the native England. In 2010 together with Philipp Ebeling the photographer opened the photography space Fishbar in London, where she has been organising exhibitions, publishing books and selling photography. In 2012 she issued her first book Jeddah Diaries about the time spent in Saudi Arabia.
You have an interesting academic background. How did you change mathematics for photography?
When I was at university, I spent more time working for the student newspaper than studying and realized that I was more interested in the reality of the photographic work than the abstractness of the mathematics. When my editor entered my work for an award which I won, I began to think about pursuing it as a career.
You have a few stories from abroad. How easy or difficult is it to work on an unfamiliar subject?
Often I think it is easier to work on unfamiliar stories. You have a fresh view on things and you are constantly curious to find out more. Of course, I do a lot of research before I start and ultimately the best pictures I make are once I have become familiar with the subject, so perhaps it’s a bit of both.
What is the most rewarding thing in your work as a photographer?
The people that I meet, the lives that I have been allowed to share a small part of.
Please, share a memorable moment you’ve experienced while working on your stories!
I think one of the most revealing moments for me was when we met four girls sitting down by the water and after a short conversation they asked us (my friend and I) if we knew how they could get rid of a baby. I’m sure they asked because I was a foreigner but it seemed shocking at the time, we were complete strangers. I don’t think I can even understand the desperateness of her situation in a society which is so conservative it has no forgiveness for such actions but at the same time is full of young people who push it to the opposite extreme.
You are a co-owner of a photography space Fishbar in London. How would you describe the need to create it and what is its role now?
Creating Fishbar was (and still is) a real experience. As a photographer you can get frustrated waiting for people to show or present your work in the way that you would like it to be seen. It’s great to take the initiative yourself and do exciting things with photography (your own and other people’s) beyond just taking the photographs. It’s a much more complete process. I think creating Fishbar has reaffirmed our belief in why we want to pursue photography (myself and Philipp Ebeling who created it together with me).