July/Aug 2007 Cover Story
The Comeback Kid
by Christina M. Hinke
Shooting the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue can be a launch pad for a successful career, but for Jeff Olson, it was taking him in the wrong direction. So he fired his agent, took a year off to master his craft, and when he came back on the scene in mid-2005, he decided to take his time and only accepted jobs that suited his vision of fashion photography.Now at age 37 he’s found his niche, started his own creative agency @duo, snatching up campaigns such as ABS by Allen Schwartz, Las Vegas tourism and Anne Cole and shooting editorials for international magazines Vogue España, Tatler, a4, 100 Women, and NEO2. It turns out that for Jeff Olson his time is worth every penny.
Why were you moving so slowly?
What I was doing had a very natural approach. I was really great with natural lighting, but it was at the time where everybody was being über cool and super fashionable. I didn’t have the right clothes. I didn’t have the right girls.
What was the first assignment that you felt like you hit your mark?
This was the first story I shot that was very polished (Style Monte-Carlo). This was the beginning of finding my way. I got all of this great feedback afterwards. That’s my comeback story.
How did you start shooting for Vogue España?
My friend Sarah Gore Reeves, a fashion editor at Vogue. She told me that I was really lucky because you get put on a list at Vogue and to get on that list of people that they’ll hire it takes people years and years and you just walked on because of me. Through Sarah I was able to shoot pieces that everyone wanted and desired to get. All of a sudden I went from taking great pictures to becoming a fashion photographer because I had the right clothes. I’m getting really good girls and amazing hair and makeup to work with me now because people are starting to really be into my photographs which is very touching to me because I’m not this egotistical pompous person. I’m a very normal person. I’m just a workaholic, I love what I do. I want to have longevity in my career. I want to be respected for what I do.
Did you study photography?
I went to SVA. I was kicked out in a year. I was asked to not come back. My teacher basically said I have no talent and to find something that I’m more apt to doing.
So what did you do?
I bartended, waited on tables and partied. My first real job was for Mademoiselle. So I tried to be a fashion photographer and I wasn’t ready for that. My aesthetic wasn’t the best it could be. If I would have stuck true to this [his natural work] it would have been fantastic. But I was such an ass. So I just did something that was outside of my realm. I was speaking a language I didn’t speak yet and it just was sort of shoddy. It was bad casting, not the best hair and makeup. I learned a huge lesson from that. I stopped showing my portfolio for a little bit because I needed to test more. I wasn’t assisting anyone either. I was doing this all on my own.
When you got back in the game, what kind of response were you getting from your work?
I have my soft fuzzy glow. People are like you can’t do that all the time, it looks bad. Now when someone tells me it’s bad, I know it’s the best thing that I’ve been doing today. Everything that everyone told me that was wrong with my work, I am doing it now. All my agents said this was ugly; I don’t like that lighting. Its funny, now seven years later I’m back to doing exactly what everybody told me not to do.
How do you work with a client to convince them to go with your vision?
You really have to fight for what you want. But you always have to be the good guy, otherwise they’re not going to hire you again. So, I just try to put out the best work now.
You’ve been compared to Mario Testino, how does that feel?
It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up - wow someone compared me to Mario Testino. On the other side of that I just shrug it off because I don’t necessarily want to be compared to Mario Testino. I want to be compared to Jeff Olson. I’m waiting for my name to become like Mario Testino, a household name in the industry. I’m hoping that Jeff Olson is a cool enough name because it seems that a lot of people change there name to one that has a nice rhyme or rhythm.
Jeff can be reached at SGM Artist Management / 212-302-3390 / www.sgmnyc.com /