Olga Karlovac is a Croatian photographer based in Zagreb. Originally an economist, she turned to photography as a creative outlet when she became disillusioned with her professional working life. She has a strong personal style, using motion blur and high contrast to create mood and emotion. It’s a style that’s quickly captured the attention of the photographic community, resulting in exhibitions around Europe, and allowed her to successfully self-publish a trilogy of photobooks that are already into multiple editions.
I came across Olga’s work when researching photographers who use motion blur and de-focus in their work, and I was immediately struck by the refinement and elegance of her photography.
For me the photography book is an art form.
Visually her work has parallels with Anton Corbin and Stephan Vanfleteren, and her story brings to mind Sebastio Salgado, famously an economist turned photographer, and Chauncey Hare, a chemical engineer who found solace and acclaim in photography.
Olga has self-published 3 books: the disarray; before winter; and escape; all of which can be found on her website. She has exhibited widely, including shows in London at the Croatian Embassy, the Bermondsey Project Space, the ECAD Gallery and the Willesden Gallery.
Does your training as an economist influence your photography?
Many great photographers don’t really have a background in art or in photography and I think for me having a profession in economics, getting to know the world from that perspective made me try to find another way of expressing myself in a different, more human way.
But after 10 years I had to leave economics because I couldn’t do it anymore: the system that we live in really doesn’t bring the best out of us. But economics did give me a different sort of awareness and made me try to find different ways of looking at things and how to show them.
How did you come to photography?
A friend – who is a psychologist – saw that I was kind of desperate and that I couldn’t move on in my everyday life and told me that I needed to do something, that I had to find a way to express myself.
Eventually, she told me to buy myself a camera, and even though I hadn’t thought about photography for a decade, I just did it and it felt good. Then step by step by I developed my style and it became a great habit, a part of my life and I felt much better doing photography than working as an economist.
Black & white photography with motion blur
Did you start shooting in black and white straight away or did your style develop over time?
For a short time I shot in colour but I was always drawn to black and white: it was always my preferred choice because I felt it was simple but very strong. And very quickly I developed the style intuitively, almost by accident. I like using a slower shutter and I always shoot a lot in motion while I’m walking or while driving so it was natural to do this type of photography.
I was lucky that the first few people who saw it when I shared it online, really liked it. So I really got a good reception. But I had to self-publish my first boot – Before Winter – because I didn’t think anyone would publish my work.
What does the idea of Blur and Motion mean to you? When I was looking at your work it called to mind Anton Corbin saying that he uses blur and movement because it reminds him that the camera is handheld, that he is breathing that his subjects are living and breathing.
Well exactly, I would agree with being able to capture the motion. And for me, it’s more than just capturing a shot that freezes things. I think you get a wider perspective. But it really came intuitively and I think it gives other dimensions to an image: it becomes a period in time that offers many different ways to see things.
Personal Work Journal features photography & photobooks from around the world.
Self-publishing photo books
You’ve self published all your books so far, what’s it been like?
Before my trilogy, I published a small book as an experiment to see what it was like. It was a learning experience and then I felt ready to work on the disarray (the first book in the trilogy). I had to find a good printing company and a good graphic editor because we did it in duo tone which needs quite a precise method.
When I did the disarray, I had 300 copies made which felt like a risk but the with offset printing, the more you order the lower the cost per copy. But when they were delivered, I was like, wow 300! What I am going to do with 300 copies in my apartment, nobody knows about me, nobody will want them! And then I sold it out and went crazy. So looking back now, I’m very pleased with what we achieved.
What’s the reaction been?
When I did the before winter I started promoting it on social media and people started to buy it. That led to an invitation from a gallery in London and eventually an exhibition. Some critics and curators saw it and then they wanted it, leading to invitations from all around the world. After that magazines got interested and then my social media also grew all the time, which was important because I managed to sell enough copies of Before Winter to make Disarray. Then the same happened with the Dsarray but even bigger. So each one helped me make a step up.
Would you say books are quite important in a photographer’s career?
I think they are essential. I always encourage people to try to do their own books because it gives you a completely different perspective when you have your own work printed, it’s so much more tactile than on a screen. For me books are much more than just putting one shot on the paper. It’s the whole story, the whole package because I also write a little bit with every chapter.
For me the photography book is an art form and I always encourage people to make one.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m shooting something but I’m not going to publish anything in the near future because I like to take a while to work on things. I already have some ideas, and maybe 20 or 30 shots of something new that won’t be shot exclusively in Zagreb or Dubrovnik as all my other books have been done. My life is changing and I’m travelling abroad much more so I’ll be doing work in other places, and discovering some parts of Croatia that are less well known. I think it’s going to be very interesting to compare that with other cities.
I’m going to be in London in about two weeks time to talk about plans for next year and I hope to shoot a little bit there as well too.