Saturday, March 5, 2011

Enrique Oliva's Life Documentation project

There’s a world out there, and there’s always the opportunity to learn from other folks, find and admire new works of art, discover new projects or ways to interpret photography.
Because of this I have thought about getting in touch with photographers from other cities and countries. For what purpose?

First, interacting with other people is always a good thing. You never stop learning. Second, putting a face, or voice, to a series of images, gives the whole thing a whole new perspective. Understanding why the photographer chose to create those images, and what his ultimate goal is, allows for a much deeper appreciation of his work.

So, I will sporadically be displaying images created by other photographers, in conjunction with brief interviews.

First up is Enrique Oliva, a photographer from Philadelphia. Enrique is very into street photography. He recently began a project with which he intends to create an historical record of his home town, while seeking photographers from other cities who would be interested in documenting their own cities.
Enrique sees this project as an effort to document daily life in the town where he has grown up. His “Life Documentation” project is just starting, but with the help from other photographers he may be able to create a very important historical record.
Let’s begin.  

©Enrique Oliva

1. How long have you been a photographer?
I've been snapping shots at things for quite some time. Unfortunately I can't pair that with consistently. I started taking photography a bit seriously about 2 years ago, i would say. Meaning carrying my camera around as if it were my wallet and shooting almost everyday.

©Enrique Oliva

2. What made you get into photography?
I remember my Pop having a 35mm Pentax MX (if my memory as child serves me well) and was always intrigued by it and him. I remember him taking pictures of my mother sitting at the kitchen table or in the park and of birds that would land in our huge tree in the backyard. I, not knowing you weren't supposed to open the rear of the camera, messed up a few rolls of film for him. You're welcome Pop. Then Polaroids stepped in the picture....I don't think that did film any good...

Years passed and I was always involved in some sort of art. From taking pictures to playing instruments, painting, drawing, anything i could make with my hands. 

My friend Kelly and I decided we wanted to pursue an art of some sort after high school. Well, he chose to do photography and I went on to do painting. As we were close friends, i would always be his subject for school projects and would always be really excited when I got to go to the dark room with him to develop photos. The dark room was fascinating. It seems that while studying how to paint, I was also reading what I could about photography on my free time. I think I took it more seriously than Kelly did. I became well versed in the world of photography for a while.

Anyhow, I went off and did my thing with paintings and did a few shows, traveled a bit as a working artist, and ended up needing money, as most artists do. Life caught up to me and I took a job and forgot about the arts for a while. Not completely, though, as I fell ass backwards into the culinary arts. I've been cooking for the past 7 or 8 years now in some of Philadelphia's best restaurants and have learned a great deal. Such as: Assume everything is hot in a kitchen!....Very interesting art and a very demanding art (i think its more of a trade than an art, myself) that leaves you for no time for anything else in life. I needed an outlet. Something of what I used to do and be involved in. Cooking has become a job to me now. 

One day a couple of years ago I decided to purchase a camera. Started reading up on my cameras again and took the plunge. I was also having my first child and what a simple perfect first subject. Well that camera hasn't left my side since and I have a lot more shooting left to do.

©Enrique Oliva

3. What makes you go out into the streets of Philadelphia in search of images? 
Philadelphia is a very "in your face" type of city. You have no choice but to go out in the streets. To live in Philly is to walk Philly and walking Philly is something people take for granted. So much of what this city is, is just at arm’s reach. Whether it be good or bad, clean, dirty, evil, holy, criminal or just, it's just forgotten about and overlooked. Dismissed in the craze of needing to get to the place you need to get to. In the big picture of the Philly day to day grind, peripheral vision doesn't exist. I purposely look for these things that people tend to walk right by. Sometimes pointing your camera at certain people here isn't very welcome because of that fact. 

I sometimes want the picture so bad I take the picture with the camera just hanging off my chest hoping they didn't hear my shutter go off. It's almost a rush to get yourself in those situations or to approach someone for their portrait knowing damn well this person shouldn't be messed with. But to come away from it all with a good shot is super rewarding. In the same breath though, you might come up empty handed. It feels like I'm an artist again.

©Enrique Oliva

4. Can you explain what you would like to achieve with your Life Documentation project? 
Philadelphia has tons and tons of history. We've all seen it from documentaries on TV to black and white photo books of the old days. We live off of this history. Everyone always compares everything from the past. I think it’s becoming a little boring that we ride the wave of what used to be instead of creating our own wave. I want to create my modern history. What the city I live in is like in my day. There's a lot of dark corners out there (and some bright ones too) I plan to catch. I want to create a display of photos I shot myself and a collage of the photos people send me from their city. My modern history would be that of my pictures and that of the use of technology in our day to reach people with ease to collaborate with. The achievement would be recognized if in many years later this display would show our future generation my (our) "modern history".

©Enrique Oliva

5. Any parting thoughts?
My head is completely wrapped in this project right now. It's a couple of months old and everyday new ideas come into play. And every day I check my mail box hoping to find one photo mailed to this project. That would add so much hope. I've not yet received any photos but have made a great contact and pen pal in Arturo. I'm sure one day they'll come pouring in.....

Every 7 days I plan to hit 3 new cities telling people about my project via internet advertising, starting from the west coast back to the east coast. Might even hit some other countries as well. 
I'm determined to make this project happen and OUR photos displayed!

To see Enrique’s portfolio please visit
If you’re interested in collaborating with Enrique send an e-mail to