Inspired by the connection between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, photographer Josh Olins and artist Conie Vallese headed out into the Nevada desert
The history of love/work relationships between artists is a long and storied one, spanning tragedy, romance and intrigue – think Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith; Gilbert and George; Marina Abramović and Ulay. And for British fashion photographer Josh Olins and his partner, Argentinian artist Conie Vallese, this tradition looms large in the work they make. “Conie and I went to see a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition in London in the past year, and we were taken by the relationship between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz,” Olins explains. “The early pictures that he did of her were kind of controversial at the time – they were about the relationship between artist and photographer. That’s what we read about, and around, it was really interesting to us, and it got us thinking about what I was working on and a couple of things she was doing.”
Duly inspired, the pair decided to create a personal project together – one outside the confines of studio set-ups, client briefs and tight page counts. The desert beckoned. “It got very complicated, because we had busy schedules and shoots until the end of the year, then we couldn’t get the clothes, so, you know, it was one of those things. And then last minute I was just like ‘Let’s just fucking go, let’s just see what happens!’” They found a warm location, borrowed some pieces from Givenchy’s S/S17 collection – “which, coincidentally, had these prints that were slightly evocative of an O’Keeffe painting” – grabbed a bag of cameras, and went to the desert for three days. “And that’s what was so beautiful about it – to not see anything while we were shooting it, to just let go out there and really have the experience and then come back and process all this film.”
The result is Tierra, an organic and intimate insight into the pair’s relationship, an artistic collaboration which hums with energy and tension. Black and white shots of the beautiful Vallese are paired with dusty crops of undulating rock eroded by centuries of exposure to the elements, all interspersed with Vallese’s expressive charcoal drawings. “We had an idea of what we wanted to do, and what we actually did achieve developed in a much nicer direction, much more personal, much more intimate,” Olins continues. Grouped together in a paperbound book, printed on thick uncoated stock to mirror the tactile experience of “dust and grit coating everything”, you’ll almost feel like you’re in the desert with them.
Josh Olins, Tierra, is out now, available at Claire de Rouen.