Michael Oliver Love’s refined photographic style captures the powerful organic combination of human form and environment. Alongside an undeniable appreciation for vivid colours and curved lines, his playful images subvert gender norms with harmonious freedom.
Self-taught photographer Michael Oliver Love has continuously shaped and reshaped his photographic style since he was a teenager. Growing up in the small coastal city of East London, South Africa, his move to the sprawling metropolis of Cape Town influenced his dynamic imagery, which combines sun-kissed bodies with bold colours and curved lines that reflect the natural landscape.
Now represented by Hero Creative, Michael has worked alongside a host of leading fashion and editorial brands, including Vogue Arabia, Burberry and Kinfolk. Meanwhile, he has also established a large social following that admires the way he celebrates the organic and the beautiful through an expressive exploration of the human body.
Michael’s imaginative concepts can also be seen through the work he highlights in Pansy Magazine, an online journal he founded with the mission of “deconstructing masculinity and redefining men’s fashion.” Here, he seeks to challenge what it means to be a man by showcasing the unrestrained creativity produced by like-minded artists.
Alongside his lens-based practice, Michael has also dived into the world of mixed-media painting using clay and acrylics to produce carefully composed canvases. Painting has long been a creative outlet for Michael, but until recently, it largely remained in the background of his career
Having held his first solo exhibition, ‘I prefer my edges curved’, Michael has continued his exploration of geometric shapes and free-flowing movement through a fresh medium. Here, we chat with Michael about the evolution of his artistic career, Cape Town’s creative scene and his love of colour.
How did you transform your interest in photography into a career?
Photography has always been something I have admired and wanted to be a part of. I actually started making money taking photos from the age of 15. Granted, the work I was creating was atrocious, consisting mainly of baby shoots and girls in their school dance dresses. It still made me realise that this is something I could do.
After moving to the big city when I was 18, I was lucky enough to pursue this passion whilst getting my degree. Now seven years later, looking back it has been a lot about being consistent in creating new work to build the portfolio, taking every opportunity available to me at first and honing in on the things I love to shoot to create my own world or style.
“I am always looking for shapes out in the world.”
Where do you look for inspiration when forming new ideas for a project?
Honestly from everything all the time. I am always looking for shapes out in the world. A piece of art, a landscape, a designers’ collection, someone’s face, it goes on. Overarching though, I am very inspired by vivid colour, movement and circles.
Why do you think you’re drawn to bright, vivid colours?
I like to make use of warm vivid colours and saturation to create a sense of joy and playfulness. It has a certain nostalgia for me that I enjoy. It is also a great way to make an image immediately more striking by incorporating pops of colour.
“I love to show that the body is a landscape of its own.”
How would you say your work evolved over the last few years?
As someone who is self-taught, I am constantly learning new tricks with every shoot. So one could say I started out completely winging it and now I’m winging it just a little less. But my skill level and knowledge of the craft has definitely expanded, which opens a lot of new ideas for creating. Identifying my signature and honing in on that has also been a big part of the last few years, as I have trusted my perspective and vision more with time and skill.
How does your photography highlight the connection between human form and nature?
We are surrounded by beautiful shapes from the world around us and our own bodies. I love capturing these together as it shows there is not much difference between our bodies’ curves and the curves of nature. I love to show that the body is a landscape of its own.
What are the pros and cons of being an artist based in Cape Town?
I love living in Cape Town. From a photographic perspective, we have access to so much. The variety of landscapes that surrounds us blows my mind – from Mars-like rocky terrain to magnificent beaches to rolling farmlands, it goes on and on. There is always new inspiration and moments to capture here. I think the rest of the world needs to pay more attention to the beauty and talent coming out of here.
Having recently held your solo painting debut, how have your photographic and mixed-media works informed each other?
I fell in love with the use of bold warm colours through photography, which then influenced my paintings as I was trying to create a world for them all to live together. I am also very drawn to clean, minimal design and compositions which have influenced all my mediums. There is also a sensuality to the curved shapes I create and the ones I photograph that tie them together.
I am busy working on blending the two together quite literally with painting on print for my next exhibition, so keep an eye out.
What would be your advice to someone looking to grow their artistic career?
Keep at it. Getting into the photography business is a slow-burn, so it can be easy to get discouraged, but this is normal. Be a yes-person for the first few years, take every opportunity no matter how lame, as they all teach you something. It is the kind of thing you learn by doing, so the more you shoot, the more opportunity you have to perfect your process.