Olivia Bee takes photos of her friends, so we asked her friend and roommate, Andrew Lyman, to interview her about Kids in Love, her first solo exhibition in New York. See Olivia's previous contributions to VICE here.
Last Friday I stood in the midst of friends, well-dressed strangers, and fashion professionals on Howard Street outside Agnes B.’s SoHo store for the opening reception of my friend Olivia Bee’s first New York solo exhibition, Kids in Love. I had been to the gallery a couple days before with Olivia and our other roommate, Allyssa Yohana (who curated the show), to check things out. We sat on the floor and watched as the prints were hung according to a blueprint the three of us had been working on for weeks. As we watched the show come together, I was struck by the earnest sincerity of Olivia’s images—a photo of her kissing her first real boyfriend underwater; one of her brother, bloodied and sitting in the backseat of a car after jumping off a train; and another of her best friend holding a bag of goldfish.
All of the photographs in the show, aside from one, were taken before I met Olivia, last summer. They span her years as a teenager in Portland, Oregon, coming into her own and experiencing freedom for the first time. When I asked Olivia to describe that period of her life, she told me it was “a time when a lot of my friends and I were having sex and doing drugs for the first time. Being connected to other people intimately in that way for the first time opens up a whole new chapter of feelings. You’re developing your own worlds. It’s a lot about who you surround yourself with and what you do as friends. It was a kind of time in your life when you’re feeling all these feelings of forever. When you feel bad, it kinda feels good, and you want to dwell on how shitty you feel. When you feel good, you feel like that’s the only way you’re gonna feel for the rest of your life. Kids in Love is about all of my friends in high school and what we did, the boys I kissed, the universe we created for ourselves.”
VICE: Can you talk a little bit about the photo of Max?
Olivia Bee: Max was 13 and had just jumped off a train. He tried to say that it was a bike accident, but he told me that he had jumped off a train with his best friend. My mom hates this photo. She likes it aesthetically, but not as a mom. It adds to the feeling of being invincible. Mortality isn’t really a concept, I don’t think, when you’re a kid. Especially when you’re a boy.
He lied to your parents about it?
Yeah, so it’s also a symbol of trust between my brother and me. It’s both of us in the backseat while our parents are driving to go see my uncle in the hospital before he died. My uncle robbed a lot of trains.
Let’s talk about the self-portrait.
Yeah, I think this is the only one where you can straight-up see my face. It was after a really bad fight with my boyfriend from late high school/early adulthood, Cooper. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but it was toward the tapering-off of our relationship. This is in Portland when I had come home for Christmas. We were fighting over the phone.
Yeah, I don’t know how I was able to pull off framing the image. I was balling my eyes out.
And the one of you and Cooper?
Yeah, that was Cooper and me. We were just really codependent and not healthy. We cared so much that we just took it too far, like a lot of young couples do, I guess. We just couldn’t not spend every waking moment together and didn’t feel OK not sleeping in the same bed. Just really unhealthy and bad, and then it turned into a long-distance relationship, and we just fucked it all up. But yeah, the photo is right before he left for college.
The aspirations of a young relationship are infinite.
Yeah, like, "We’re gonna be together forever."
It sounds like a lot of my experiences too and, I guess, probably everyone else’s. These are universal themes you’re dealing with.
Looking back at the photographs, you see how they can resonate with a lot of different kinds of people who have experienced similar things, at least in America.
Yeah, everyone can connect to them, like eating watermelon in the summer.
Yeah, or like skateboarding, or watching your friend jam, or kissing someone, or playing in the ocean, or crying... I don’t know. Universal experiences.
Kids in Love will be on view at Agnes B. at 50 Howard Street in New York through July 26. A closing reception will be held the evening of the 26.
Olivia Bee is a New York–based photographer whose many accolades include being named one of the "30 emerging photographers to watch" by Photo District News in 2013. She has shown her work in Le Palais de Tokyo and has shot for the New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar Germany, and Numéro, and has directed the latest Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs print and television campaign. She has another upcoming solo show at Galeria Bernalespacio in Madrid this September called Enveloped in a Dream.
Andrew Lyman is a photographer based in New York and Savannah, Georgia. Check out his blog.