fashion photography by Padma Yang August 6, 2021
At age 22, Olivia Ghalioungui has already established an impressive career. As a talented and accomplished photographer, she primarily focuses on fashion and diaristic photography. Hailing from a multi-ethnic family background, she is a creative artist who is blessed with abundant intercultural heritage and experiences.
Olivia grew up in between Cairo, Egypt, and Antiparos, Greece. She attended grade school at Cairo American College between 2005 and 2016. At the age of 17, she moved to Paris to pursue a career in the fashion photography industry.
Her talent quickly shined and got the opportunity to work with clients such as Marie De La Roche, GUNTHER PARIS, Premium Models, Kanika Agarwal, and more.
“Olivia Ghalioungui’s photography travels an expansive artistic landscape. Her work spans from highly stylized fashion editorials for publications like Vogue to diaristic and analog photos, whose intimate and stripped-down quality gives viewers the impression they’ve been let into a momentary unearthing of her innermost spaces and relationships.”
Reverie Page, Anna Koutelas
Kulture Hub: How did you discover photography? Did you get into fashion photography because you are personally into fashion?
Olivia Ghalioungui: I discovered photography when I was in high school. I needed an art credit and I just chose photography because it sounded the most interesting.
I mainly discovered photography through street photography and documentary photography. Cairo was a really culturally rich place to start photographing. In that sense, I was able to grow up in a place where that was so readily available to me.
Then I started shooting more portraiture and from shooting portraiture, I started curating looks and styles for my subjects to wear. From that, I started becoming more and more interested in fashion. Back in the time in Cairo, the fashion scene was not as big as it is now. I wanted so badly to go into fashion at that point, but I had nothing to work with.
I had a family friend who had a fashion brand. She wanted help for the fashion show, and I was able to go there and be the photographer at the pit and shoot the whole fashion show. That was my first interaction with the fashion world.
From that point, I was like this is what I want to do. I started researching art schools and came to Paris. In Paris, I really started my fashion photography career. That’s how I got into the fashion scene. Because in Paris, as you can imagine, there’s a lot more than in Cairo.Olivia Ghalioungui
KH: How has your career as a fashion photographer influenced your taste and fashion sense in a way?
OG: I definitely started discovering what kind of style and clothing I like more from working with different styles. I feel like there’s a clear separation between what I would wear myself, like my taste and fashion for myself and my taste and fashion for photographing. I just found myself to be more drawn to pieces that are super unique or quirky or different in a way, something maybe hasn’t been seen before.
I discovered all of those pieces through site styling with different stylists, magazines, or designers that I would meet. I would discover their work and then use their clothing later on for shoots or through showrooms as well. When they have new samples, they email me and that I can see what’s new.
For personal style, it’s been a journey as well. Sometimes I would like to go off and buy something that is completely insane, and you really can’t wear in the street.
KH: There is this fluidity in your work, like ‘this is so Olivia’ kind of consistency. How did you develop your own style and aesthetics and how long did it take?
OG: Oh, this is a hard question to answer because I personally feel like I haven’t really nailed it down yet. Everyone else around me is telling me that it’s so obvious when I took a picture and I created it. But personally, I feel like my vision and inspirations are always changing. I feel like the things that I shoot or the subjects or the locations that I’m more drawn to, for example, always change.
But I feel like naturally something in the way that I see images or composition always stays the same. That’s very reassuring to me because I can trust myself that I won’t go off trail into another direction where I completely lose myself in that sense.
I think the key to finding your own style is just shooting a lot and printing out your work on inkjet paper and laying them down on the floor. Looking at them all together and reorganizing. Looking at all of your photos on the ground and really analyzing and thinking about which images I identify with the most.
KH: Do you take fashion photos with your phone in daily life? What do you think about those quick and easy aesthetic photos on social media like Instagram nowadays?
OG: I don’t shoot any of my fashion shoots with my phone. But I’ve seen images of magazine covers being shot on the new iPhone. That is crazy. I feel like I would want to try it one day in the near future, just to see how it works.
But I think my opinion on shooting fashion images with a phone is that it’s kind of inevitable this would happen. These tiny phone lenses would have the capacity to shoot something that’s the same quality perhaps as like a cannon or a Nikon camera, for example.
A camera is so much more different from a phone. The way I learned photography, it’s very important that I’m holding a camera the old school way and shooting with my index finger and pressing on each other.
With a camera, you can use a polarizing lens and you can use all these mounts on your lens to make it different. Of course, there are these lenses for iPhones now as well, but I do prefer the more manual feeling of shooting on an actual DSLR or like an analog camera. It just feels more personal or physical.
I think those fashion aesthetic images on Instagram are cute. The minimalistic trend that’s going on right now is like pairing with the 90s retro clothing. It’s actually a really nice aesthetic, but I feel like when I shoot fashion I prefer to have it be on kind of newer, edgy, unique piece that you wouldn’t wear out in the street. It’s like less streetwear.
KH: What is your most memorable fashion photography shooting? What is so special about that experience? How has it inspired you?
OG: It happened like many years ago. It was a campaign for a bag brand. They flew me out to Porto to shoot their new campaign. I remember it was in 2018. That exact weekend I flew out to Porto there were these horrible hurricanes happening in Portugal, and Lisbon and like coming into Porto, right when we were shooting.
We were shooting outside by the sea and the weather was very windy. We were literally shooting in a hurricane, but we still managed to pull off this amazing shoot with very, very cool images. It really pushed me and I really sat there thinking I am shooting a campaign during a hurricane in Portugal. I don’t even live here. It was a very memorable shoot, so it’ll always be kind of the most special experience and the most unique shoot I’ve ever done.
KH: Can you tell us more about fashion photography? What do you think is the purpose of fashion photography?
OG: For me, the purpose of fashion photography is to showcase different pieces of clothing for the designers. Seeing them more as art pieces or structures that you want to photograph in a beautiful light and showcase in a beautiful way while at the same time, creating a story for the clothing. The general audience can look and imagine that story in their minds.
I see people love to daydream. They like to imagine themselves in these idealistic worlds of something random. The audience kind of tell themselves, oh, I want to be in this field. I want to have this. I want to apply this vibe to my life. And I want to buy this piece. I want to feel myself like I’m in this light.
KH: Who are your greatest inspirations in the world of photography?
OG: I love Nadine Ijewere, she’s Jamaican. Her style is amazing, and her colors are insane. I also love this one photographer called Min Hyun-Woo. His photographs are just stunning. His work really speaks to me. Also, Viviane Sassen, she’s like the original inspiration.
KH: Looking back at where you came from, what are the greatest growth and progress that you have made so far?
OG: I think definitely discovering myself was one of the biggest progresses. After a few years, I’ve really understood what it means to understand what your style is and how to explain your style or aesthetic or to be able to defend why you do what you do. When I first came out I was just taking pictures but now I feel like I’ve kind of found a new sense of purpose within myself.
KH: What are your suggestions for aspiring photographers?
OG: I would probably say just like do it. First of all, like, decide if you want to really shoot analog or digital. I’d say start off shooting with a camera and not a phone. You have to learn the technical stuff like ISO and shutter speed and the manual functions to be able to understand how light works. You can’t learn that from a phone because it does everything for you.
It doesn’t really matter what camera, as long as it’s like a DSLR, then you can change your lenses. Through that you will realize or learn what your eyes are attracted to naturally. You have to start somewhere. You might as well just start shooting literally whatever you want and everything that you see.
If you enjoy this interview and would love to know more about Olivia, check out her personal website and Instagram page.