Flash back a few years, (well 9 to be precise!) I was in the unique position of being out and about with an international celebrity and I experienced my first encounter with paparazzi. There was one paparazzo with a courteous demeanour, a cute smile and a distinctly purple bob that was very memorable for me. Six years later, when at an event, I was tapped on the shoulder and politely asked if I could have my photo taken. Despite a more conservative haircut, I instantly recognized the same photographer! We struck up a conversation that night and after numerous encounters at events such as Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and a Channel Seven Network launch, a friendship began. Oliver Black has had a journey from Paparazzo to esteemed photographer. Known for his ‘life of the party’ and ‘moments that aren’t usually captured’ photos, he has become a go-to photographer for luxury lifestyle PR agencies, well-known modelling agencies, corporate brands and label giants such as Christian Dior, Lancôme, Louis Vuitton, Veuve Clicquot, Hilton Hotels, Vogue Australia… and the list goes on! Lunch with Liz caught up with Oliver at Parisian Bistro Les Bubbles. They’ve been serving quality meat since 1982 on Wickham Street in Fortitude Valley. Les Bubbles have one signature dish and they do it well.
WHERE WE WENT: Les Bubbles, 144 Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley.
WHAT WE ATE: Steak Frites, served with a soft leaf salad and bottomless frites as well as your choice of sauce; Café De Paris, Bearnaise or Green Peppercorn & Cognac $29.90. Dessert: Bombe Alaska vanilla cake, coconut ice cream, mango sorbet, Italian meringue $16.90.
WHAT WE SIPPED: Cheeky French Maids; vodka, pineapple, crème de cassis and lemon over crushed ice.
WHAT OLIVER WORE: Bassike Vogue Tshirt, Subfusco Jeans.
WHAT LIZ WORE: Portmans Signature, Indooroopilly Shopping Centre.
When did your interest in photography begin and how did it transition into a career?
“ I did the high school year book, it was a bit of an excuse really to get out of class and not have to do stuff! It was just one of those things, where I picked up a camera, had a purpose and got creative with it. I wasn’t that academic, so it was great to find something I enjoyed doing. I didn’t pursue it professionally straight away. After school I wanted to earn money, so I went and worked in hotels and then banking; I hated it! A mentor suggested that I go back and do something I really enjoyed doing in high school – during school you don’t have any restraints such as money problems, paying rent and you’re free to learn, experience and do what you want without that pressure. So that’s when I decided to pick up the camera again. The very first event I photographed was a well known TV personality’s leaving party. I gatecrashed it after finding out it was being held at a bar I knew. I ended up having a good chat with him on the night, as he asked me ‘Who are you with? Who are you shooting for?’ I made up some story and I thought, ‘Ok, this is kind of cool. This was exciting!’ I started shooting little events here and there and then developed this hunger for how I would get the next big shot. How could I become a photographer of these events and make a living off it? So networking and social photography became my goal. People I met were willing to give me a chance and opportunity to shoot for them and they were all really supportive. 99% of my work at that time was through word of mouth and it still is today! I don’t actively push my work or myself online or through any social media. It’s all through physically working and talking with clients, which is pretty unique in this day and age! In 2015, it’s very hard as a photographer to make a living, as there are so many cameras out there! If what you’re doing is not unique or different to what’s already out there, you’re going to struggle.
Did you often feel like a PI working as Paparazzi?
“Yeah absolutely! A lot of it is either inside knowledge, people in media, or friends of friends. Sometimes if you’re still at an event way past when all the other photographers have left, you can get talking to a few people, get friendly after they’ve had a few drinks, find out what’s happening and they fill you in on what they know. Other times, it’s just luck or good timing. For instance when Brad and Angelina first came to Australia they got on a flight that stopped in Brisbane en route to Sydney and it’s one of the few domestic flights at the time you could catch where you joined an international flight. So I got on in Brisbane as they refuelled and when they landed in Sydney I got their photo, before they’d even left the airport! They hadn’t cleared customs, or got out to the waiting area with all of the Sydney photographers, so I was the first photographer to get their shots online. So instead of waiting for a guy in LA to say ‘Hey they got on a flight here at this time’ and just wait at arrivals in Sydney, I worked it out by flight schedules and jumped on the flight myself.”
Who do you consider your most exciting conquest?
“Angelina and Brad! I’ve also papped Lara Bingle Worthington, Jennifer Hawkins, Kelly Slater, The Rock, Justin Beiber, Kelly Clarkson, Seal and Heidi Klum, Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear … the list goes on!”
Have there ever been photos that you just wouldn’t pass on to publishers?
From a lot of the events I shot for PR brands and clients, there were a lot of celebrities and socialites that would turn up. A newspaper photographer would come for the first 15 minutes, but I would stay until the end and I’d get a lot of additional shots and often photos that were perhaps a bit scandalous, or a shot of for instance someone talking to a girl in the corner that wasn’t his misses! I was a stayer and it often worked in my favour. I always waited around to see what would happen at the end of events and then I’d upload my photos and I’d get these messages from publications saying ‘oh hey, we saw you got this shot, we want to buy it’. That’s where opportunities came up and I got to meet with some different agencies and it opened up doors to a whole new world, of press media, media launches, papparazi etc. I started learning about the whole business of how to get the shot, how long you should wait around, how do you find them, where do your tip offs come from and even with that, how do you get a shot that will sell and are you intrusive or unobtrusive; with two very different results. For me it was finding that happy medium. A shot that was not too public, but something the celebrity would be happy with. There’s very much two sides. Some people hate paps and then others know that they can assist their career and that the exposure is how you get your name out there. If you’re realistic, it’s part of the industry. So for me I tried to keep both side’s happy. I do have some haters; one notable one is Ruby Rose. She was staying at a hotel and it became a bit of a dog and a bone for me! I waited the whole night for her to turn up and I got a shot of her with one of her new managers and I ended up going into the nightclub where she was DJing and I shot her kissing a model who wasn’t her girlfriend. I wait 12 hours to get that photo! The photos went live the next day and I could see that she saw it, because she logged into the agency account and had a look. The following night, I went back to the same hotel bar and she saw me. She actually took a photo of me and put it up on Twitter and wrote ‘If this annoying little paparazzi doesn’t leave my hotel soon I’m going to shave his head… go little man go. I like your haircut though.’ I had a purple bob at the time! So everyone knew it was me. I’m very proud of my work and the shots I get. At the end of the day you do realise, you’re there for a job and it’s to get a photo. You’re not there to harass people, or cause them grief. There’s a thrill and adrenaline after waiting so long when you finally get a shot that you know will sell. There are a lot of dud nights and they push you to stick things out a little longer, or be a little more vigilant, or use different channels to find out what’s going on. Are they posting stuff to Twitter? Are they on Instagram right now? If I’m waiting outside a restaurant for someone, I’ll keep a look out for other people inside taking photos so I can see where they are, or if they’ve already left, you’re always alert.”
Do you think about the money during this time?
“You do wonder, for instance with Ruby Rose I followed her for 8 to 12 hours that day, so I started to think about my per hour wage and is it worth it, but if you get a good shot that really sells than yeah, it is. I do try to divide my image sales by how many hours, but then I also appreciate that it’s just part of the experience of this industry and of the job. The thrill of the chase; sometimes you luck in, some times you luck out. I could have a safer job, but I don’t want that!
What’s your number one piece of advice for celebrities wanting to avoid the Paparazzi?
“Don’t avoid them. Let them have their shot and they’ll move on. Run and they will chase!”
What made you leave the social scene behind and move on to working with corporate businesses?
“I think in Australia and the media industry as a whole, everything’s moved to social media. In terms of the need to stake out and find out what’s going on. Often the celebrity will beat you to it and put a photo on Instagram, so the press will just take that and it cuts out their need to pay. So it’s really pushed the value and price of images down. Also, there’s been a shift in celebrities moving away from being fame hungry and publicity hungry, to being more private with the introduction of self managed social media accounts. Celebrities these days seem to actually want more privacy. So they’re not being as outlandish. News outlets will run a whole story from 5 photos they’ve taken off Instagram and they don’t have to pay. So for me, I had to think how do I continue to do what I do best which is celebrities and party photos and create work and that was moving into events of glitz and glam with more stability. I now work alongside event companies, PR companies and clients. I’ve found in the PR world if you do a good job and you get a recommendation, well that suggestion of who to use handed around the inner circle has cut out my need for a website or self marketing. In this industry it’s all about can you do it, or can you not. If you do it then great, you get paid. If you can’t, you just don’t get used again. I’m getting to work with great brands that I love and no two days are the same. I can shoot a look book, I could shoot an activation, I could be shooting a launch, their marketing campaigns, their lifestyle campaigns; it’s kind of great, because I get to go on a journey with these brands!”
What’s your Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 like?
“There’s a lot of travel involved, a lot of hotels. Each Sunday I go through my PR emails and work out, ok, where are my flights, what are my time zones, where are my hotels and exactly where do I have to be and what job is required. Then you deal with flight delays, traffic jams, events being cancel, celebrities not turning up, so it definitely keeps you on your toes! I try not to look a fortnight ahead as I like to focus on the jobs that week with no distractions. So I really take things week by week. I live out of a suitcase.”
What’s your best tip for do it yourself Instagram photographers?
“Only put up your best work. Don’t over filter and don’t focus on the numbers. Just focus on doing what you’re doing and the rest will come. When you focus on the numbers, you can put yourself down and it takes away from the core of what it’s all about, being social.”
Has it sunk in yet that you are the go to photographer in Australia for brands such as Cartier?
“To be honest I don’t really think of it like that! It’s just me doing my job. When they call I think ‘great! same client, rebooking me’ it’s more an honor to work for the same clients consecutively each year, as that means you’re doing a good job. Your work, style and ascetic is helping the brand.”
After all of these achievements what are your future career goals?
“A campaign for Ralph Lauren! I love commercial lifestyle work. I’m a very big supporter of the Ralph Lauren brand and what they embody. I would love to shoot one of their campaigns!”