We chat to photographer Olga De La Iglesia while the morning sun is hitting the wall behind her in her studio in Spain, showing why so many creatives pick Barcelona as their playground these days. For Olga though it’s where she grew up, where she developed her love for analogue photography, and where she created her signature style. From unique narratives through colors and shapes, to highlighting social structures and different cultures.
Do you remember the first time picking up a camera?
I gravitated towards the arts from a very young age. I’d roam the streets of Catalonia to take pictures of old buildings, churches and cathedrals. My mother is an interior designer so growing up in a house full of floor plans and architecture images made me fall in love with shapes and structures.
My grandmother was a painter, she really showed me how to play with colors. I think those two role models, and both powerful women, really influenced the way I work these days. They didn’t just influence my aesthetic though, but also my love for people.
Is your love for people why you choose to be a photographer?
I think so, yes. I went to general art school, because I’ve also loved drawing, painting and crafts. But I do think my interest in people and anthropology really pushed me towards photography. I always like to try to understand how our minds and emotional life work. I think photography is very intimate and pictures sometimes say more than a thousand words.
Photography is very meditative to me. When I’m taking pictures, telling stories, I’m truly present. Taking in all the differences between my world and other cultures, giving me new perspectives and widening my imagination. And every culture uses colour in a different way to express their emotions, feelings and narrative. Although we all see the same color, the way we interpret them is different.
Did your travels around the world and living in different places like New York and the Caribbean change the way you use colors?
I’ve always been an eccentric person, with a deep love for colors. But it wasn't until I was 25 and moved to the Dominican Republic that I really explored the range of colors and their impact on our daily lives. I started a project with my then boyfriend and local artisans called `Refresco’. We were working with all these beautiful local brands, wood pieces, items made of palm leaves, bags, hats. They taught me how to look at life through color, they actually taught me so many things. How to be true to yourself, how to live with nature and the importance of connecting with oneself.
Do you have a favorite artist or source of inspiration?
The work of Dominican artist Rafael Morla is a big source of inspiration for me. He has these visionary dreams about his creations which he somehow makes real pieces of art from. His work is full of color and it has a sort of childlike naivety to it. But it’s also very pure and beautiful. His work comes from his heart and soul, something I truly admire.
On the other hand I love David Lynch, who’s obviously very dark, but I like the way he thinks. He also creates his own worlds. He is super handson and knows exactly how he wants things to be, from the characters in his movies, to the way they dress and how they talk. His quirky way of storytelling got accepted in the mainstream which I think is already notable in and of itself.
It seems that being close to nature is important to you and your practice. New York seems to be the opposite of that, why did you choose to live there for a while?
My best friend lives in New York, and I realised I was missing diversity, open minded people and creative outburst in Barcelona. Visiting Barcelona is very exciting, but living here can feel claustrophobic. It hasn't been that long since we had a dictator and that really influenced the way immigration is handled here for example. To me Barcelona sometimes feels like a small village where everyone is doing the same thing and if you do something different you’re pointed at or looked upon. So I was looking for a place where I felt more at home, a place where you can be different without being different, if you know what I mean.
One of the reasons I started my own talent agency here in Barcelona was to bring people with different backgrounds, looks and viewpoints together. I think a lot of brands and creatives are looking for diversity but don’t know how to find it or integrate in their companies. And I don’t mean brands that are using diversity for marketing or commercial reasons. But brands that are consciously wanting to reach a broader and more diverse audience for the right reasons.
If you had to pick one place to spend the rest of your life, would that be Barcelona or New York?
There’s something to say about both cities. But I love the climate in Barcelona, the sun, the light. I have everything I adore in life close to me, such as great food, fresh air and my family of course. New York is super inspiring but I always miss the harmony and serenity.
Your work is really a mixture of your travels and connections with people, but you also have a way of highlighting mundane everyday objects and shining a different light on them. Food also seems to play a big role in your work.
Food is really ingrained in our Spanish culture. We have big dinners, with fresh delicious foods. It’s a way of connecting with each other and enjoying life together. But I also see food as these divine shapes. Tomatoes for example are these incredible pieces of architecture. Same with peppers, watermelons, you name it. I’m fascinated by food, not just flavour wise, but also with their shapes and colors.
What is your favorite food?
Anything homecooked, but I love this typical Spanish dish with lentils, chorizo, and carrots, jamón serrano and spanish Omelette.
Describe your work in 3 words.
Fun, spiritual and real. It’s actually both real and unreal because I play a lot with fantasy as well.
What makes a house a home for you?
I’ve been kind of a nomad for the past four years so I don’t own a lot of things. But I like to collect small things from all over the world and display them on shelves. I have candles from Mexico, pieces of wood from Africa and many colored small things that I always bring with me to make me feel at home. And of course small pieces of nature make me feel at home, like plants and flowers.