A walk around Alister Oliver’s gallery evokes lots of double-takes—a first look at a beautiful, richly colored image, followed by a second, longer gaze as one focuses in on something in the image that just doesn’t fit quite right. That, in a nutshell, is Alister’s style. “I like to pull people’s hair back,” he says.
He credits his rebellious style to his ultra-conservative upbringing.
Most of his images tell a story, or leave the viewer to wonder: What’s up with the clown? Why is that leather-clad woman sitting alone in an empty, decaying room? Plans for future shoots include same-sex brides and grooms in body-painted attire, a drag queen fashion show and little people…
Alister shoots both film and digital, but has an ongoing love affair with film, using only light on surfaces to create his effects. His series of 30” x 40 “ big prints, “A Gift To The God of Speed,” uses heavily made-up, somewhat hard-looking models, sporting eye-popping red lips and nails, draped seductively over classic cars.
He’s a life-long car nut, thanks to his father’s 41-year career as a Jaguar engineer, yet his car prints aren’t the familiar commercial images; rather, he shoots close-ups of small angles and parts, the end result abstract yet naggingly familiar.
In another series he uses slide film but processes it as standard film, yielding brilliant reds, yellows and oranges with a psychedelic edge. In another, he shoots at very slow film speed, the model’s minute movements creating an artistic blur. His latest experiment is printing photographs on metal.
Alister has been making photographs since childhood, but it’s only since January 2009 that he has made photography his career. He is 100 percent self-taught.
“Some things would have happened differently if I had studied photography,” he says. “On the other hand, having not been schooled, I didn’t learn the rules. I would never have tried a lot of things because someone would have said, ‘You’re not supposed to do it that way; you’re not getting an A.’ I like what pops out because I broke the rules.”
Alister teaches a class in black and white photography and processes his own black and white film in a darkroom provided to him by a local photo shop. “The reason I like
film is, it absolutely teaches you to get it right the first time.” He recounts a painful lesson learned from an errant Starbucks coffee cup visible in an otherwise perfect image.
Even though the ease of digital photography is popular with the upcoming generation, he says, film, particularly black and white film, will endure as an art medium.
Before launching his photography business in January 2009, Alister made his living selling power tools and did a few art shows on the weekends. After an 8-month stint of unemployment, he decided to turn his photography into a business. He expected to get most of his business from weddings and shot scores of “practice” weddings in preparation. But he’s been surprised to find that the bulk of his business has been from customers desiring portraits with an artistic flair or unusual twist. “I love it when a customer comes in and says, ‘I need a piece of art that’s me, that is who I am, on my wall,’” he says. One such customer was a 53-year-old mother, who upon her last child’s leaving home promptly shaved her head, bought the wildest pair of glasses she could find and came in to have a series of portraits made. “She’s my inspiration,” Alister says.