Sixteen-year-old Oliver Baldwin Edwards is a talented local photographer and the latest Evanston artist to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. His show Traveling Light: Morocco is on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library where you can catch it through the end of February. In August 2015 Edwards made his sixth visit to Morocco traveling from the Atlantic coast through the Middle and High Atlas Mountains and into the Sahara. Whether beneath the harsh North African sun or the clear night of the desert, his striking portraits and landscapes are alive with a maturing curiosity, respect for the Moroccan people, and a fascination with the experience of travel. You can meet Edwards and learn more about his photography at a reception this Thursday, February 18th at 4:30 pm. In anticipation, we recently spoke with him via email about how Door County inspired his love of photography, his creative process, and the warmth of the Moroccan people.
Evanston Public Library: Can you tell us a little about your background as a photographer? How did you get started? Was there something specific in your life that sparked a desire to take photos?
Oliver Baldwin Edwards: I got started with taking photographs when I was twelve and our family took a trip to Door County in Wisconsin. My dad let me borrow his camera, and I took photos everywhere we went. I enjoyed taking photographs so much that I asked to do a photo camp the next summer. It was great. Every day, we traveled to a different location in Chicago, such as Chinatown and the Botanical Gardens. Ever since, I have taken photographs of whatever catches my eye.
EPL: What is it about Morocco that inspires you? Have you done any other travel photography? Are there other people and places you hope to photograph some day?
OBE: Morocco’s natural beauty, from its vivid colors to varying landscapes, is certainly inspiring. However, what inspires me most about Morocco is the people. Their hospitality, friendliness, and openness is hard to find anywhere else. I felt welcome as an American in a way that wouldn’t necessarily be true if I was a Moroccan visiting America.
I’ve taken photos in places such as the coast of Northern California, and the mountains of Utah. However, this is the first time that taking photos was the focus of the trip. I hope to travel to Russia to photograph people there.
EPL: You write in your artist statement about how you tried “to form connections with the people of Morocco” so as not “to appear as the rude American tourist pointing cameras every which way.” Can you tell us about how you formed these connections with your subjects? Can you describe an instance when you thought it was better not to take a photograph?
OBE: The second day of the trip, my dad and I walked to the Qasbah des Ouadayas. Just outside the entrance, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I turned and saw three boys, one of whom was holding a large bottle of water. He gestured to me to take a photo of them. Right as I took the lens cap off of my camera, the boy uncapped the bottle and started pouring it over the three of them. I only had time to take one photo.
A different time, we stopped at a village in the High Atlas Mountains. It was called Outerbat. We sat at the one café in the village. We were the lone outsiders, and we seemed to be the only ones who ordered anything. The locals sitting there were smoking cigarettes under the shade of the café, dressed in traditional Moroccan clothing. It was a scene in which using my camera would have given me a great photo, but one that would have disturbed the scene.
EPL: More technically speaking, what type of camera do you use? What is your editing process like?
OBE: I use a Canon EOS Rebel T3i along with various lenses: a zoom, portrait, and wide angle. When editing, I upload my photos to my computer and first sort through and pick out the ones I want to edit. Once I have these chosen, I open them in Photoshop and edit the brightness, contrast, levels, curves, vibrance, and saturation to my taste. I always try to preserve the natural colors and not to over-exaggerate them.
EPL: What are your future goals and plans as a photographer?
OBE: I would like to continue to take photos of wherever my travels take me. I hope to continue to exhibit my work and publish a book of my favorite photographs.
Interview by Russell J.