photographer marina oliphant

Marina Oliphant is a humble woman who can talk a lot... which is kind of unusual for the photographers that I've come across (except, perhaps, Mr Nick Scott, who tells jokes entire shoots!) But Marina is just an enthusiastic person. She's passionate about her work and still has a starry-eyed gaze for her profession even though she's been shooting for many years. And her work speaks for itself.

Which five words best describe you? Pedantic, Caring, Laughing, Dancing, Chatterbox.

What was your first job and what path have you taken since then? Features and magazines photographer for The Age newspaper. I did a week’s work experience towards the end of uni, and they offered me a full-time job a few months later. I was elated and yet terrified. Working for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald has been a wonderful experience for me. I started there at 21, and almost 10 years later am still a weekly contributor, after going freelance in December last year. Working for a newspaper is hugely challenging. It presents a steep learning curve and is very rewarding. You really have to learn on your feet, as there are no second-chances with tight deadlines. The sheer breadth of assignments is fabulous and unique too. I could go from shooting a fashion spread, to a Hollywood celebrity, to an asylum seeker or human rights campaigner in the one week. I have been able to meet and photograph some amazing people in my career.

What’s your proudest achievement? Going freelance last year. I had considered it for a long time, but it was certainly daunting, particularly during the height of the GFC. I am still learning every day about running my own business, but haven’t regretted my decision for a second. I’m thoroughly enjoying mixing my editorial assignments with advertising shoots.

What’s been your best decision? To study photography at RMIT after high school. My school, Wanganui Park Secondary in Shepparton, Victoria, has a wonderful, Australia-renowned photography department, thanks to their brilliant and passionate teacher, Mr Kerry Short. I studied photography there from year 7, but had only really considered it a hobby, and not a realistic career option. I decided I’d apply for RMIT out of curiosity, as I had heard it was hard to get into. Fortunately I was accepted. I have never regretted making my favourite hobby my career. I still often have moments on a shoot where I think, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this”.

Who inspires you? At The Age, I was inspired every day by my fellow staff photographers. I wasn’t a news shooter, but worked alongside the press photographers and would see their images on the computer screens next to mine. Press photography is such a different art form to commercial or magazine photography, with so many different constraints and variables. The press shooters, particularly people like Jason South, Wayne Taylor, Simon O’Dwyer and so many others, have this innate ability to compose an image in an interesting way, often within a few seconds. Fellow Age features and magazines photographers have also taught me so much, namely former staffer Julian Kingma, whose work is always hauntingly beautiful, and my partner, Robert Banks, whose technical knowledge and ability to shoot just about anything with flair is remarkable. I love the work of several Australian commercial photographers: Con Poulos and William Meppem for food. Chris Colls and Justin Cooper for fashion. Most recently, I’ve been inspired by the work of obscenely young fashion photographers Nirrimi Hakanson and Matt Caplin.

What are you passionate about? Completing every assignment to the absolute best of my ability. I’m a staunch perfectionist, which I think is vital for a photographer. I get such a thrill on shoots when I know I’m producing a beautiful image, which is why fashion and food are my favourite subjects. I love the freedom that editorial fashion shoots bring, in that you’re not having to take into account the way the model wants to be portrayed, as you are with portraiture subjects, but instead you’re able to create a fantasy. You can have absolute control over the lighting and general feel of a shoot, and really create a story. I also get such a buzz from collaborating with talented people. I have been fortunate to have worked with wonderful stylists and make up artists. Food stylist Caroline Velik and I have worked together on pretty much a weekly basis for the last few years, and we’re incredibly in tune. She has created countless breathtaking scenes for me to capture. I’ve also worked with amazing fashion and lifestyle stylists, my favourites including Sophie Hexter, Michelle Cammiade, Leesa O’Reilly and the late, unparalleled Lisa Chivers.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt? I still have much to learn! Oh, and get everything in writing!

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? Hmmm, lots of people! I’m still on a high after Obama’s win, so I’d have to list him first. There are several writers I’d like to meet because they’ve brought me so much joy. Lily Brett, Margaret Atwood, Irvine Welsh, Tim Winton and many more. I’d also love to meet Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, and comedian Ricky Gervais. Chris Lilly would definitely be on my list if I hadn’t already had the pleasure of photographing him twice for The Age. A true genius.

What dream do you still want to fulfill? I would love to live and work overseas for at least a year, to really be able to immerse myself in another country.

What are you reading? I have about five books in the go at the moment, and about 20 others that I’m supposed to get through before my next book club. At the moment I’m reading A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon; This is How by M.J. Hyland, and I just finished Helen Garner’s The Spare Room.

images marina oliphant

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