By: Mara Winters
Olivia Cropper, a Junior at Jenks High School and up and coming photographer, and I walk the streets of downtown Tulsa. Street by street we recognize the buildings and alleyways that have appeared in many of her photos. She carries a sense of pride with her as we walk. Finally, we sit down at a table on Guthrie Green to talk.
She told me about her simple introduction to photography. Her dad gifted her a camera for their family trip to New Mexico. She didn’t think much about the photos until she returned home. She downloaded the photos and saw potential in them. Little did she know this was the beginning of an obsession in photography.
After she returned home from New Mexico, her camera was used frequently. Cropper captured small things in life like singing in a car to pins on jean jackets, but she aspired to do more. The more interested in photography she became the more risks she would take in her art. Her first big risk was her first real photoshoot.
During Cropper’s Freshman year she decided to have a photoshoot. She invited 20 of her closest friends to model.
“My first real photoshoot was ambitious and I think that’s why it attracted the attention it did,” says Cropper.
Cropper had recently heard of a prestigious art camp called Quartz Mountain. She used the photos from her first photoshoot in the interview for Quartz. Those photos were the photos that got her accepted into Quartz Mountain, which changed her view on the art of photography.
“I was so new to photography I didn’t have a reason to do it until I left for Quartz,” says Cropper. “It made it so clear to me why I liked it and how powerful images can be.”
After Quartz, photography became a real passion in her life. She was having more photoshoots and expanding her creativity. As she matured into a serious photographer she grew out of needing a sense of style. Her photos, she says, are “ever changing”.
“I don’t think I should have a style,” says Cropper. “I don’t want to close myself in a box, that’s how creativity is stunted.”
Having no certain style or restrictions, she is free to photograph whatever she pleases from structures, to family, to friends. One of her teachers from Quartz gave her advice that resonated with her and has formed her main focus right now in her art.
“My biggest regret is not photographing my friends and high school moments,” her teacher had told her.
She has the ability to not make that same mistake. She is bound to capture these high school memories before they fade away and she is grateful that she has the chance to.
Cropper says she feels free in photography to capture what she wants, how she wants, and what she can. She has struggled with social anxiety and talks about how it has tied her down at times but photography has helped her in that part of her life.
She feels free in her art and comfortable with who she is. She believes that is what makes her a good artist. She talks about finally reaching a point of freedom that she was scared to reach before. That freedom is easily found in her photos.
Cropper doesn’t want her photography to just stop after high school. She has more than just high school memories to share with the world. Photography is her passion and she says she will continue to pursue it. She wants to work for the New York Times, travel, and capture others stories that most people don’t see.
Mary Ellen Mark was a documentary photographer that has inspired Cropper. She has lived and experienced little life moments in the world that most people ignore or forget to see. It was the first time Cropper saw and felt true emotion in a photo. She wants to take photos like Ellen Marks and transfer emotion through the smaller stories that don’t get as much attention into her photos. Her future may take her many places but one thing she is certain of for her future is coming back home.
“Wherever I go with photography I want to come back to Tulsa,” says Cropper. “I feel like it’s a part of my job to tell it’s story.”
Cropper does what she can to capture Tulsa and it’s people in her art today and will continue to show Tulsa’s beauty and history to the world as time progresses.
Cropper’s future is bright. She has many supporters from Quartz, her friends, local photographers, and her family as well as two New York Times writers who have recently recognized her work and reposted it on their social media. Her work continues to attract people and her connections into the art world continue to grow. Right now her artwork is being displayed at Gilcrease Museum until Nov 1st.
Her most recent series, Life Through a Window, is surrounded around life in quarantine. She has gone to many of her friends’ houses and photographed them looking out a window in their house. She captures the simplicity of life inside with a sense of desire for the outside world.
As for now she will continue to take photos of her friends and capture what she can in high school. She is taking a photography class at TCC this year so her art will continue to evolve.
“I want photography to not be money, I want it to be art for as long as it can be,” says Cropper.
So she will continue to take photos of her two muses; Tulsa and her friends, letting art be art while it can.
You can follow her to see more of her photos on her instagram @Oliviacropper4 or go check out her art at the Gilcrease museum until November 1st.
Below are some single shots from Olivia’s collections.