Oliver Doran is a photographer living and working in Jersey, London, and recently, Dubai. His photography portfolio spans fashion, commercial work, events, portraiture, celebrities and families. He is passionate about using light as an artistic medium.
Jersey, what comes to your mind?
The sea, my family, trees, greenery, winter. After being in Dubai and spending so much time in a desert environment, I quite appreciate winter. It’s incredible to be back in Jersey and touch base with the real me again. I grew up in Jersey and left when I was 28. That was 12 years ago. I was at school here, and then I went to university in France and in the UK. I worked a little bit in France and did some ski seasons. Apart from that, I’ve mainly been in Jersey.
What is your most memorable experience or accomplishment?
I see those as two as different things but kind of intertwined as well. My life is a mix of trying to be a business person and being an artist. It’s a 50/50 split. There were a few moments in my career where I couldn’t believe I’d managed to achieve something. But moving to Dubai, starting a photography and film production agency, and building it to a team of eight people — I think that it was the turning point in my life.
When I left for Dubai, I was still a little bit spoiled and a little bit ignorant — fairly innocent, full of ambition, but not much experience. It was a good five years before I really managed to settle in. I could prove that I can stand on my own two feet and be a photographer with a good clientele and a good reputation. Coming back to Jersey with an incredible portfolio and with what I’ve learnt as a photographer has been my biggest accomplishment.
Dubai is an interesting place. Working with all the different cultures was fantastic for me.
There were two experiences that really do stand out. One of them is when my company was commissioned to photograph and film the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Bahrain. I was walking down the aisle, in a venue with 2,000 women, all uncloaked (when they saw me, they put their cloaks back on), following the bride and groom. That is not actually very common (usually the bride walks by herself), but on this particular occasion they were a couple in love. The bride had this huge, 3- to 4- metre dress. Being able to experience that as a man, with my team of eight women, was one of my favourite experiences.
I’ve had the opportunity to photograph a few celebrities. I’ve always loved portraiture. I’m passionate about photographing people — not as a paparazzi, but in an artistic direction. Photographing Robert De Niro was probably my favourite celebrity experience, because it was unique.
If you could own any artwork, what would it be?
I’m a big fan of Salvador Dali – I like his crazy world. The Elephants – the one with the elephants that look like giraffes.
If there were a movie about your life, what would be the name of the movie and who would play you?
I think it would have to be something a bit Star Wars-y, and it would be called The Hustle of Tatooine. Living in Dubai felt like I had landed in the middle of Tatooine. In terms of the actor: Harrison Ford. I like the idea of Harrison Ford hustling in the desert in Tatooine, talking to all these aliens and trying to make a buck. That was me.
What do you think is the best way to connect with or experience art?
I think that online is a very difficult place to connect with art because there’s so much of it; and it’s so easy to swipe away. In an ideal world, you want to be positioned on a seat, almost handcuffed to a seat (a comfortable seat), looking towards the painting hung up on the wall. Ideally, the experience would also incorporate other sensory elements, such as sound.
As a photographer, you can take a photograph (“click and you’re done”); and then you walk off. As a tourist, you can take a picture of a nice building or whatever; and then you walk off. But if you’re a painter, you have the option to stop and to draw it, and then you learn a lot more about that building. If you are forced to take time to appreciate, enjoy, analyse, and suck in the artwork, that is the best way to connect. We are in such a fast-moving world; the opportunity to slow down is becoming a luxury.
Do femininity and the expression of it play into how you try to capture your subjects?
I’m always on a learning curve. When someone comes into my studio, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make people look good. I have my standard operating procedure. The question that I am focused on is:
How do I best present this person? And how do I capture, if I can, the best representation of their soul, and who they are?
Man or woman, I use the same kind of approach. I am a pleaser, so I do want people to like their photographs. On occasion, I will pick a photograph that might look less flattering — less feminine maybe — because it’s a bit more artistic. There is a constant struggle between the commercial factor, taking into consideration the photos people will like, and deciding what image I feel best represents that person — which they may not like as much as another photograph.
I do want to show people in their best light, and I do want to portray their beauty and femininity or their masculinity. In a shoot, I try to get into this zone where things just happen. Magic can take place during a certain moment. It could be 10 minutes or only thirty seconds. You get inspiration and energy coming in. Often the shot we select is a shot I didn’t even realise I took. So even though I have a strategy, I really love to look at the shots that I didn’t intend to take to find the right expression.
Is it easier to photograph people you know well?
No, it’s much harder to photograph someone I know well. They can just tell me to shut up. It’s quite nice having a little bit of a wall; when the person does not know me, they have to trust me. With someone I know, I have to somehow break our relationship in order to recreate our relationship in a matter of minutes.
Photographing my dad will be one of the hardest things I will do, and I’m trying to get him in a shoot in the next couple of days. My dad has a very strong personality, and he’s a photographer himself. I’ve been photographing other photographers a lot, and it’s difficult shooting someone who does the same thing you do. I have an ego, and my dad has an ego; and there was a bit of competition as well, so it certainly makes you stronger.
The hardest shoots I’ve done are obviously the ones that I’m going to remember the most.
How much are you driven by what the client wants or expects?
Now, much less. Of course, I’m very open to any suggestions, but the process will always be tainted with my style. For better or for worse!
I really love old portraits, and when somebody says, “I want to have a family portrait”, I dream of putting my camera on a tripod and setting up the scene. They don’t have to smile; smiling is a new thing, you know that? People didn’t smile 50 years ago; it was seen as indecent. They stood up, dressed really well, in front of a well-thought-out background, not smiling. I love that, and I wouldn’t mind trying to bring that back. For me, a good family portrait is simple: it’s just who you are. I’ll get you to smile, but it’s in the moment. Making people smile is an interesting part of my job.
Do you consider yourself to be an artist, or a photographer, or both?
I would like to say that I am an artist. For a long time it was hard for me to say I was a photographer. Now I know I am a photographer. I know I am a creative. I’m always creating in my mind, visualising, planning the next shot, coming up with lighting setups. I’m painting with light, in essence. I love to use light and make things look beautiful with light. I photograph people, events, and characters, and I document them with my light.
So am I an artist? When will I be able to put the artist seal on my work? I guess it is when I do an exhibition in an arts centre, where people can stop and look at my work; and it means something. I’d love to work towards a collection of work with a particular meaning that I can exhibit. Am I an artist? I don’t know, that’s for other people to say.
So is it a bit of imposter syndrome? Among non-artists, you’re an artist, but among artists, you’re not so sure?
For sure. I reckon that it’s your personality and who you are; and with that personality, you decide to put stuff on paper. Everyone who does that is essentially creative; and whether it’s any good, or whether it means anything to anyone else, has quite a lot to do with the story of that person and how it came about. That’s almost as important as the actual work itself.
If I could use two words to describe my photographic process: organic creativity. You’re fishing for that tiny little moment in a shoot when you’re taken over by a spirit to create something you’re happy with. And it’s even better if the client is happy with it too.