Gloria Olson poses with some of her work at a recent show. Photo by Kris Taylor
‘Drying Laundry’ – Junkyard photography, and such. To see more of Gloria Olson’s work visit her Facebook page – Gloria Olson Photographs. Photo by Gloria Olson
Heavy equipment parked by the side of the road. Photo by Gloria Olson
Photographer Gloria Olson is contributing abstract photography to the Los Alamos Reporter. Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Photographer Gloria Olson and Maire O’Neill of the Los Alamos Reporter first met in 1978 in Garmish-Partenkirchen, a beautiful town in the Bavarian Alps where they were both working at the time. Fast forward 41 years and each of the women is involved in an exciting venture – Olson in Mount Shasta, California and O’Neill in Los Alamos, far away from her native Ireland. Now O’Neill has invited Olson to be part of her retirement project by contributing her unusual photos to the Los Alamos Reporter on a regular basis.
Olson’s interest in photography began in high school and she has continued to dabble in it since. Then 12 years ago, her husband Eric gave her a camera for Christmas and her interest was rekindled.
“I was shooting close-ups of burning wood patterns and colors. The photos didn’t print well, though, and so I reluctantly abandoned the idea for the time being,” she said.
Olson instead focused on landscape photography that showcased the beauty and diversity of Siskiyou County. She said over time her landscapes were becoming more and more abstract. She mostly used her telephoto lens to zoom in quite close and loved finding unusual perspectives in landscape.
Then, earlier this year Olson saw the abstract work of another photographer on Instagram.
“I’d never seen photography so beautiful! It was like a switch in my brain clicked and that was it,” Olson said. ” I couldn’t do anything else but abstracts after that.”
While looking for items to photograph, she said it was rust, corrosion and weathering that captured her imagination. She said while she was pointing things out to her husband, he was not seeing the colors and texture in rust and oxidized metal until she showed him.
“The eye needs to be trained to see. We have to work on refining our vision to see more and more nuances in detail,” Olson said.
Where most people only see an old rusty car or a weathered fence Olson sees a fascinating world of colors and textures that she showcases in her photography.
“The varying tints and textures and line in rust and oxidation – who would have thought! The colors and patterns found on layers of old weathered paint, wonderful! It is truly a constant surprise and delight. And once one starts looking, it’s everywhere,” she said.
She is always on the lookout for “rusty and weathered anything,” including old rusted cars or trucks, heavy equipment parked on the side of the road, train cars, dumpsters, barrels, rusty old utility trailers or rusty sheds.
“Recently my husband and I found some old, rusty logging equipment and some lovely old weathered barrels scattered about a field. What a find! My favorites are unofficial junkyards with a collection of old vehicles,” Olson said.
Once she captures an image, she eventually comes up with a name for the photo based on what she sees or the feeling it evokes. At first, she wrestled with naming the images because she didn’t want to influence the viewer, she said.
“But then I realized that everyone sees what they see anyway. It’s wonderful – everyone comes to abstract photos with their own world view – and I love when everyone shares these on my Facebook page,” she said.
Olson uses a high resolution 42 megapixel Sony a7rii camera. She processes her photos in Lightroom, which means that she only works with what is already in the image and doesn’t add or remove anything.
“I will do minor cropping to enhance the composition, and I adjust things like contrast, color vibrance and saturation,” Olson explained.
She usually uses three lenses, including a versatile 24-70mm, which allows her to focus about a foot away from a surface. A 100-400mm telephoto lens allows her to capture “harder to get to images,” and a 90mm macro lens is used for super close-up shots.
Olson mostly prints her junkyard photos on metallic photo paper because she feels the subtle metallic sheen is fitting for rust and metal surfaces. When she had a photo printed on metal, the printer called her to confirm that she had sent him the right file.
“Not quite the normal Grand Canyon or family reunion photo,” she laughed.
Olson finds that junkyard photography is fundamentally different than shooting portraits, still life or landscape photography.
“Instead of gazing at nature’s beauty and feeling the gentle breeze, I find myself making sure I’m not kneeling in broken glass, or hoping that a guard dog doesn’t jump the fence,” she said.
To see more of Olson’s work, visit her Facebook page, Gloria Olson Photographs, or Instagram at gloriaolsonphoto.