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Johnetta Oliver opened her photography studio in Garfield Park, the community she calls home, during the pandemic. “It was like a now or never type situation,” she said. A few years ago, taking photos was a pastime, but it was not long before “I realized that I liked it more than just as a hobby,” she told Chicago Leader.
Her best friend, a hobbyist photographer, let her use his camera until she decided to buy one of her own. Oliver used her first digital camera to take street photography, eventually adding fashion shots and portraits. The logical step was to open Boobie Studios, named using her grandmother’s nickname.
Instagram and her website reveal Oliver’s ability to capture her subject’s unique individuality. She photographs men, women, and children; however, most of her models are female.
“I like to put sets together…creating a set,” she said when discussing the vast differences in her portraits.
I really like to capture raw emotion if I could. I like to take photos of people with their eyes closed sometimes, cuz for some reason, it just captures an emotion. I have a maternity photo she’s holding her belly and she has her clothing flowing, which is a fabric that I bought. She has her eyes closed and it just speaks so much about it’s her first time being a mother. So yeah, it’s an emotional photo and I wanted to capture people.
The flowing clothing Oliver refers to looks as though the fabric is floating mid-air. “Two people were helping. I had somebody on either side, and they threw the fabric into the air. I snapped as many photos as I could to get the right one.” She added that it is a lot of work to get the perfect shot.
“Every little detail matters to me. Sometimes I don’t have an idea of what type of photo I want to take, but I can look at a piece of clothing or an outfit and say, Hey, I wanna shoot somebody in this, and then I’ll build the set around it. And I also like a clear, crisp photo, and I like to capture raw emotion,” she explains.
“So, I’ll usually keep my camera on, even though I’ll tell the person that I’m taking the picture of the subject, like take a break, take a two-minute break, and then I’ll somehow make them laugh. And I like to catch, capture that smile cause that’s a raw smile that they didn’t know was being recorded. That’s what I like to get. That’s the beauty of photography. That’s where my heart is capturing raw emotion. Sometimes you have to tell someone, Hey, you know, look up, smile looking enthusiastic and you don’t really get that real emotion that they’re feeling. So I like to capture real emotion, even if it’s not a smile.”
Oliver also uses her talent to take product photoshoots and community events. She is neighborhood-oriented and enjoys photographing events like a holiday food giveaway for 300 families.
Another way she uses her talents is by volunteering with her sister at a non-profit in Austin. She has also partnered with the Rohingya Culture Center in the West Ridge community. She photographs the events her sister sets up for youth.
She is looking forward to an upcoming eight-week photography program. The kids will learn the essential functions of a camera during outings that will take them away from their neighborhoods “so they can discover the world out there.” Oliver says she would like to replicate the program in other communities if it is successful.
Photography “takes concentration; it is like a form of meditation. You are in your own zone. You can be as creatively free as you want to be. And it’s subjective. There’s no right or wrong way to do photography and your voice matters.” Oliver wants to share that with others.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Interview: Johnetta Oliver; March 2, 2022
Images Courtesy of Boobie Studios Photography