Words: Jon Vickers
Last time I spoke to Oliver Doran about his photography in 2019, he was working in Dubai and considering returning to Jersey. Fast-forward two years and Oliver has now re-established himself locally, having brought back home with him the vast and diverse experiences of his journeys abroad.
With so many other questions to ask, I was almost hesitant to bring up some of the famous names that Oliver has worked with in the past. With photo shoots featuring the likes of Colin Firth, Roger Federer and Robert De Niro in his portfolio, it would be easy to speak for hours about each individual story that inevitably accompanies encounters with such well-known personalities. When it comes to De Niro in particular, I asked whether he was tired of speaking about his past work with the legendary actor.
‘No, not at all’, says Oliver. ‘I’m so proud of that milestone in my career that I’m always happy to talk about it. I wonder actually if the tale evolves over time, the more that I tell it.’
An actor with a career spanning over 50 years, it may be difficult for some people to imagine someone like De Niro being caught off-guard. ‘It was interesting, in the way that I was expecting him to be a consummate professional and an actor.
I thought, he is just going to get straight into it. What happened, though, was more of a sudden realisation for him that he was being photographed for himself – which at first, surprisingly, I really don’t think he felt comfortable with.’
Oliver has a real skill for putting people at ease. As I sit in his studio at the side of the Revere Hotel, knowing full well that he will be taking photos of me – a fairly camera-shy person – very soon, I can’t help but slowly relax into the rhythm of our conversation. Surrounded by professional photography equipment, and with proof of Oliver’s impressive work and A-list clientele dotted around the walls, it’s hard to truly forget where you are but also difficult not to feel relaxed with him.
‘He wasn’t making it easy at first’, continues Oliver, as the conversation shifts back to the De Niro shoot, ‘so I really had to apply the same psychology as I would to someone who isn’t used to being photographed. Perhaps like yourself.’ At this point we discuss the idea of shooting me first and asking questions later, although the discussion naturally flows for quite a while longer.
‘Everybody has their luggage, their story, their personality. An important part of my role is to be neutral with that – I approach everybody in the same way, whether it’s someone off the street or a member of a royal family. It’s the way I was brought up.’ Oliver was born and raised in Jersey, his father is local and his mother comes from France. There is a heart-warming moment in our meeting when he picks up his phone to speak to his mother, speaking to her in gentle French. Capturing a small detail like that in writing, I felt a certain symmetry between us – this was the sort of human- centric, interpersonal beauty that Oliver himself searches for every day in his work.
“Everybody has their luggage, their story, their personality. An important part of my role is to be neutral with that – I approach everybody in the same way, whether it’s someone ot or a member of a royal family.”
In terms of capturing human emotion and preserving precious moments, wedding photography has it all. ‘I have had the chance to do a lot of wedding
photography in Dubai and now in Jersey’, says Oliver, who had worked on a local wedding the weekend before we met. ‘It is so rewarding, but such hard work – in a typical wedding, a photographer can expect to do 15,000–20,000 steps, whereas usually on an average day I’m lucky to hit 4,000–5,000.
There is a real emotional element too, as you’re constantly trying to make people look good, feel good… all the while throwing your own positive energy towards every person you photograph. It’s all day, and it’s relentless.’ There’s an expectation as a wedding photographer to capture the key shots of the event perfectly, while at the same time capturing the overarching feeling
of the day. ‘In my maturity as a photographer, I’ve slowed down a lot in how I pick my shots. The end product is an album and that album is a vessel for memories, you know? Nostalgia – it’s about being able to look back at that time in the future, immortalising the moment. As long as you capture the essence of the moment, that’s the most important thing.’
Photography is able to evoke such strong feelings in so many people, perhaps due to the similar way we tend to form memories – snapshots of moments, with the gaps filled in with vague colours, shapes and words. With powerful mobile phone cameras now in the hands of most people, and with social media an ever- growing part of our lives, we take more photographs than ever before. I wanted to see first-hand how a professional photographer went about a task that has become so familiar to so many of us.
“In my maturity as a photographer, I’ve slowed down a lot in how I pick my shots. The end product should be printed and that is a vessel for memories, you know?”
Eventually, the time came for me to take my place for my photo. It would be tempting to describe this as a role reversal, the interviewer becoming the subject, but with our conversations having been so open it certainly didn’t feel that way. At this point in the evening my initial nerves about having my photos taken had calmed somewhat, although with the camera now pointed in my direction some minor trepidation did re-emerge.Even that fear, however, did not last for long. We continued to speak as Oliver moved the camera, the lighting and his subject around the back of the studio.
It wasn’t until that part of the process that I realised how important the idea of collaboration – of human connection – is in terms of being a real photographer. There is nothing that a mobile phone camera is capable of doing that could replace the direction of an artist.
Art is the only way to describe what was happening – Oliver is very much an artist in the way he composes his scenes. With a mixture of a methodological approach and creative spark, there is careful planning and spontaneity side by side. In order to be successful as a business owner, though, and to continue to be able to do what you love, there must always be a multifaceted approach. ‘I used to say 50/50 – 50% of the time you have to focus on the business side, and 50% spent on your personal development and growth,’ says Oliver. ‘These days, it is closer to 70% in the favour of business.’