by Clare Brotherwood
Twenty-five-year-old photographer Olivia Rose has spent the last 18 months scouting the UK, New York and Paris for roadside memorials.
She’s not a ghoul. Rather, by taking photographs of them, Olivia says she’s helping to keep the memory of the dead alive.
“I don’t see these memorials as the site where someone died, but the place where they last lived. To me they are places where family and friends can come to connect with the person they love,” she said.
Olivia first thought of the idea when 22-year-old Daniel Duke was murdered in Kennington in November 2009. His brother, Michael Duke, of The Lion King and Thriller Live fame, is Olivia’s best friend.
“I didn’t know Daniel but when he was shot Michael was in Sweden and I wanted to pay my respects. So there I was, turning up in Kennington at 11pm on a dark, rainy night, and it only hit me when I got there how dangerous it could be, especially as there were five hoodies at the spot where it happened.
They were completely intimidating but then they really surprised me. There was a shrine there and they were keeping vigil, playing music for Daniel.
They stayed there five nights, just wanting to be where he last was. It made me wonder what was happening at all the other memorials and then curiosity got the better of me.”
Olivia’s quest has taken her to New York, Paris and Windsor, where her father, acclaimed photographer Alistair Morrison, is based.
In Paris she could only find a memorial to Diana, no other. “I know they do it in rural France, but not in Paris. It’s a cultural thing.”
“I had only just arrived in New York when I saw a memorial to the firefighters in 9/11 so I decided to go back later. When I did it was in the bin!”.
Visiting Ground Zero in New York made her realise how transient these memorials can be (although one has been going for 16 years), and why she wants to get them on film.
As for the Windsor roadside memorials, one is opposite the Oakley Court Hotel on the A308 Windsor Maidenhead Road and the other is in the Great Park.
Now she says, the project has become a real addiction. “I don’t think I can stop now. Ideally, I’d like to study them over a couple of years and see how they get on; and I think they’d make a really nice book.”
Recently, Olivia held an Epitaphs exhibition of 25 of the 35 photographs at The Victorian Vaults in Shoreditch and among her visitors was Daniel’s family.
Recalling another visitor, she said: “He was an art student and when he saw one memorial he said, ‘I knew this girl’. I think she had been his babysitter. He felt it was a really nice way to remember her. It is memorialising memorials. Daniel’s family feels the same.”
Rather than intruding on people’s grief, Olivia says she’s helping them make a statement. “They are making a statement in public. It is public grieving. These people want you to know they are grieving and so for that reason I do feel they like the photographs as a memory.”
Olivia’s work doesn’t begin and end with roadside memorials.
She is currently working, with her father, on a ‘hidden gems’ project at the Renaissance St Pancras Hotel, where 25 photographers are using it as a location.
“I do like to think of myself as a sociologist rather than a photographer,” she explained, “ and my hidden gems will be the backroom boys, people with really interesting stories. I will make them the essence of my project.”
Olivia fought against ever being a photographer. “Probably because my dad is and I did not want that competition,” she said. She had always been creative, drawing and making collages as a child, but it wasn’t until she was doing a foundation degree at Central St Martin’s that she realised she had inherited her father’s talent.
She went on to study fashion photography at the London College of Fashion but still struggled to find her niche until she began questioning the essence of photography to develop the intimate, nostalgic and serene style that she applies today.
When I was growing up taking pictures wasn’t something I did, but when I was at university I realised I had all these resources – my dad had all these cameras I could try out. But on my course I wasn’t interested in going the digital way of shooting and all that technical stuff.To me it’s all about the subject and how I can bring that out. I experimented with lots of different cameras including old film cameras which produced grainy prints because the lenses were scratched.
“Then I started working with Polaroid. It was about the time Polaroid was going out of production and the fact that it was a medium that was no longer going to exist appealed to me. Polaroid produces beautiful light – I am all about natural light – and it has an amazing quality, so soft and feminine and I like to bring that out.
“And I think it’s a shame to treat photography as disposable. I love the mystery of film and manual photography. I love mistakes and sometimes I even try and create them. In the past I have boiled and bleached film and love using expired film.”
Olivia is now using her photography to help charities. With every sale of a roadside memorials print 10 per cent goes to Kids Company, a charity set up in 1996 by Camila Batmanghelidjh to provide practical and emotional support for vulnerable inner-city children in London. And last year she travelled to India to take pictures for the Hope Foundation, a charity working with the street children of Kolkata.
“It’s all about doing something to create awareness,” she concluded.
Those involved with the Windsor roadside memorials can contact Olivia on firstname.lastname@example.org
More about Kids Company here