Behind the Lens of Photographer Nilangana Banerjee
Today multi-award winning photographer Nilangana Banerjee, who’s best known throughout the industry by her nickname Olive, is renowned for her creative ability to capture photos that lead viewers to question societal standards. While her photos are undeniably captivating thanks to her stellar art direction, styling and composition, it is Olive’s use of the medium as a proponent for social change that separates her from others.
She says, “I am a strong believer of making art that delivers more than the aesthetic appeal to my audience. I spend a considerable amount of my time researching and brainstorming ways in which I can artistically create awareness of less spoken and subtle yet powerful issues.”
While she shoots a wide variety of subjects, from fashion to hotels to food in her work as a commercial photographer, her personal style as an artist often incorporates bold popping colors amidst a pale cyan color palette, moody and dramatic lighting and a unique blend of contemporary and classic elements.
Olive’s recent photo series “The Anomalous Death,” which is featured on the June cover of the fashion editorial magazine GMARO, explores suicide through a satirical lens. The cover shot for GMARO features model Jeremy Andrews wearing a captains hat, his face painted white and a rope draped around his neck implying suicide through hanging. Within the pages of the magazine “The Anomalous Death” series depicts Andrews, as well as models Amanda Rowan and Hao Yang Air, engaged in various other methods of suicide from electrocution to suffocation, all with white painted faces.
Olive says, “I chose to have the ashy white pale face makeup on the different characters in order to represent death, and to showcase that the characters are dead people.”
While Olive’s juxtaposition of satirical humour and the dark subject matter may cause some viewers to find “The Anomalous Death” abrupt and uncomfortable, the series is impossible to forget.
“By utilizing dark humor to imagine suicidal death, I aim to add light to a dark place,” explains Olive, who says she was inspired by the work of Tim Burton and Erwin Olaf while she was creating the series.
“It focuses on the uncertainty of life with the destined irony every human being is born with. Through conceptual fashion photography, I explore the inner human psyche and their twisted journeys.”
For years Olive has successfully melded together high fashion photography in a way that promotes a strong social message.
In her award-winning conceptual fashion series “The Lullaby” Olive broke down classic nursery rhymes in a way that depicts the violent and classist undertones of the stories, with photos like ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ representing the subliminal messages of the classical nursery rhyme, which was inspired by the unjust taxes imposed on wool in the 17th century. With high fashion visuals, “The Lullaby” series is beautifully art directed with a haunted Victorian feel.
Model Tamara Stroeble from “The Lullaby” says, “[Olive] is incredibly creative and has a myriad of original ideas. [She] also knows how to give specific directions and guidance while allowing the models the freedom to be creative and let their unique essence shine through. She is a natural talent at what she does and a true visionary in her field.”
Over the years Olive has been sought out to use her visionary approach in shooting countless fashion projects for clients including Jill Roberts, GLAM, Hi Street Fashion, Milano Fashion and others. She has also had her editorials featured in Italy’s FADDY Magazine, MOB Journal, The Contour of Luxury, Voyage LA, Shoutout LA and Vice magazine.
As the in-house photographer for Beauty Architects, a beauty and lifestyle company that serves as the umbrella for a vast range of brands, Olive is the key creative behind the lens when it comes to capturing the products in a way that catches the customer’s eye. For Beauty Architects, which includes high-profile brands such as HANHOO, Masqueology, Beauty Influence, Rilakkuma and K- Mystique, Olive does everything from handling the photography, videography and the creation of GIFs for the different brands to developing the mood boards for art direction and the ideational concepts that make these brands stand out online.
“Each brand under Beauty Architect has its own vibe and attitude, I work on optimizing my styling, art direction, lighting, prop selection, color palette, composition, post production and the style for the specific campaign based on the brand I am shooting for,” she explains.
“I work on maintaining the consistency intact with the look and feel of the specific brand by keeping in mind the different elements that need to be incorporated for an effective advertising promotion.”
Her ability to not only capture eye-catching shots, but her understanding of the brand and her ability to art direct the shots in a way that really captures each brand’s attitude with continuity, has been key to Beauty Architects success.
“[Olive] always adds her creativity and experience to our projects. Her talent is not comparable with others… She has her own style that differentiates her from other photographers we have worked with. The best thing she can add to our projects is her own style,” says Tracy Miranda, assistant general manager at Beauty Architects.
“I personally love working with [her] because I know the results will be magnificent. I know that when she is in charge of a project I will receive amazing results from her work.”
While she has become a unique force in terms of her work as a fashion and commercial photographer, Olive’s focus is not limited to the genre alone. In fact, she’s one of the rare individuals who has managed to establish a reputation of diverse skill that includes shooting everything from portraitures and product shots to projects for the food and beverage and industrial architecture industries.
Over the past few years her unique talent has continually been recognized with awards from major competitions, such as the International Black and White Photograph Contest where she earned the 2017 Monochrome Award and Chromatic Award in the conceptual category, as well as the ViewBug Photo Contest where she’s earned over 30 awards, including the 2020 Summer Award in the Celebrating Nature category, and the Community Choice Awards in the Image of the Month, Inspiring Landscape, the Wonder of the World and Changing Season categories.
“My all time prime source of inspiration, both in the early days and even now has always been nature and the natural surroundings around me,” Olive explains.
“I strongly believe that the diverse elements of nature such as the different lighting situations across seasons and times of the day and the different scales of colour palettes are always the most indigenous teachers for any artist. Using the natural lighting dynamics and colour palettes as a key basis for optimizing my vision for the majority of my work has been central to all my projects.”
Growing up in Mumbai, India, where Olive says the stringent educational system had a stereotypical focus on traditional academics, she initially found her artistic footing at home with the support of her family.
She says, “For people like myself who were inclined towards the creative fields, neither was there any exposure nor any training or formal experience… Although I was among the top ten percent of the class being academically very sound, it was only at home that I found my artistic refuge.”
With Olive’s father being a hobby photographer, she began immersing herself in the field at a young age. By the age of 8 she had spent a substantial time scouring through his albums, drawing inspiration from his world tours and learning about the 35 mm SLR camera he used at the time.
“I learned about all the technicalities pertaining to the most fundamental basics of photography such as the ISO, aperture and shutter by the age of 11 from him. I would question him about how he captured the specific images such as the palaces from his Europe tours for example, asking him about the right settings, the format etc.,” she recalls. “I believe this was one of the starting points when and how I started getting interested in photography.”
Though she didn’t gain artistic support from her school education in her youth, she was steadfast with her dedication to her craft, and with the support of her family she was able to dive fully into her path as a photographer in college. After completing her master’s in commercial photography, Olive began traveling the world shooting everything from food photography to architectural and industrial projects.
Growing up in India, a country infused with culture, color and movement, Olive was privy to a vast range of inspiration which is evident in her work, especially in the realm of food photography.
“A massive influence of the traditional Indian food spreads and festivities is often implicitly visible in my work,” says Olive. “Being a foodie and a passionate home styled cook, I enjoy photographing food and beverage, commercially. Since my inherent love towards styling, plating food and art direction, it gives me immense pleasure while shooting for commercial settings for different brands in the industry.”
Over the years she has been the official photographer for countless food tours, high end pop ups and restaurants, such as Essor LTD.’s Secret Food Tours, Los Angeles hot spots including Angel City Brewery, Boomtown Brewery, Cole’s French Dip, El Paso Inn, The Urth Café, Café Eleganté, The Dilliwala Kitchen and many more. She was also the principal photographer, food stylist and art director behind Dr. Brenda Walding’s 2017 book “The Paleo Secret.”
She says, “The most important thing that one should keep in mind while shooting food is to make the food look extremely appetizing and welcoming for the viewers.”
In terms of architectural and industrial photography, Olive’s work has been featured in the prestigious Good Homes Magazine, and she’s been tapped to photograph luxury hotels such as the Four Point Sheraton, Rambagh Palace and others in the Taj Hotels group.
It’s rare for a photographer to achieve the magnitude of recognition across so many genres like Olive has over the years. Despite the vast nature of her subjects and a list of clientele that extends across numerous industries, a few things remain at the forefront of Olive’s focus regardless of what she is shooting, and those are her attention to the message she wants to convey, the art direction, production design and the color palette.
From her expertise in lighting architectural sets and styling food in a way that makes our mouths water, to letting nature communicate its effortless beauty and using fashion photography as a means to shed light on social issues, Olive is one contemporary photographer who has managed to stand out in a big way thanks to her unique vision and diverse skill set, and we look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
She says, “I believe that my style in photography and art in general, is like a reflection of my personality, which emerges from within as I develop and grow. Since it’s an artist’s invisible signature, I consider that I am still in the process of defining it as one unique adjective.”