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Meet Trailblazer LeAnn Oliver

Today we’d like to introduce you to LeAnn Oliver.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I consider myself an artist of many different art forms. I love expressing myself in many ways as possible. Whether that be through acting, rollerskating to disco music at Moonlight Rollerway, singing to Broadway musicals in the car at full blast and even doing some TV stuff once in a while. 🙂 I definitely love it all and that passion has now grown into content creation for social media through photography.

I booked a one-way flight to NYC at 19. I had never even flown before, let alone left more than 20 miles from my home in Phoenix, Arizona. All of that, just to study acting and ended up truly “growing up,” in the city, It took grit, lots of tears, pushing through fear and overall ending up a strong independent artist. I left home with 700$ in my pocket (how I made it in NYC on less than a grand– I have no idea but I made it work). After many YEARS of studying acting, dancing, mask work, how to play dead. Yes, I’m serious, LOL, you name it, I studied it. I knew that Los Angeles was where I wanted to end up, and I just missed the sunshine honestly.

I feel that going to NYC first was the best decision I ever made because I feel that my dedication to survival and hard work in NYC truly shines now in Los Angeles.

This town is definitely a place where continuous dedication to the craft and hard work gets you where you want to be, I was lucky enough to get a dope commercial agent right away and was able to book eight big tv commercials thus far–Currently on hold for another so fingers crossed 🙂 but overall, I found that as I wanted to be creative and create more content for myself, and of course the ever-growing machine that is social media. So many jobs are given to people nowadays for having great content and what I found is that I am very much always working to create and the people I was around didn’t want to just film stuff and make amazing content with me as much as I did. I got sick of waiting for people to show up to work with me, so I made a way for myself to get things done.

I saved up a bunch of commercial money, server tips, sold old clothes to crossroads (shoutout to crossroads in Silverlake, lol) and bought a bunch of film stuff, a 35mm camera, colorful backdrops, lighting, a self timer (You’ll notice a little black remote in my Instagram pictures) to take my own headshots, Instagram pictures, etc.

People eventually took notice and a few friends asked if I would take their picture for fun and now I have made a little business of it. Word of mouth and as well as friends of mine who are working very hard in the industry (some are on tv, a few on soap operas, new pilots coming out) and now because they are posting pictures that I’ve taken of them at my apartment, so many other people are reaching out to work with me which is so exciting!! Getting to share my vision of these friends of mine, seeing them shine even more through the lens and getting great feedback is incredible. It’s a win-win.

What makes me different is that I don’t consider myself a photographer. I consider myself an artist who understands what other artists want and need because I am, one myself. When people come to shoot with me, the first thing I do is make them a latte (literally every time), my home is their home for two hours. I ask about their lives, who is their current “bae” (that one is always fun), what projects they are working on or might start working on, it really makes them relax and feel more comfortable with me. We even dance to Madonna or my favorite disco music and play with wigs while we shoot and that honestly brings out their true self, which is what we want to come through in the photo. Lots of people see these pictures or videos and they DM me saying, “OMG, you guys are having so much fun, When can I shoot with you?” People always come to me and say “I’ve never had more fun getting my picture taken,” and I get it. It’s a weird thing playing in front of a camera and it’s a true gift to be able to get someone to relax in front of one. I am blessed in that way of being able to relate to people. I will never take that for granted. I am lucky that I get to be my goofy carefree-self around my clients and make my clients comfortable enough to be their-selves, in return.

Has it been a smooth road?
The first step was saying: “can I do this alone?” Most people wouldn’t like doing it alone, but I just knew I had to try. I wanted to be able to do everything alone and not rely on anyone and that was difficult at first.
I wanted to be respected as an independent artist and that what I feel that I am now. No one paid for the equipment for me, I did. I worked my butt off for weeks to save money and that was also very difficult. I live alone, pay my own bills, and then I knew that this would be a great investment worth saving for, I knew that putting work into what I love would eventually pay off. I’m not gonna lie, there were days where I wanted to go out to dinner and have drinks with friends, and I definitely went MIA for a bit, but I stopped and thought about using that money for more fun equipment to play with like more wigs and colorful backgrounds. There were some friends that didn’t stick around to see my plan through, which is a blessing and a curse. The ones that did stay around and understood the changes I was making in my life are now are my closest friends I’ve ever had and they also get to come to play with my space whenever they want. 🙂

I would tell any woman, older, younger, just do it. It won’t happen overnight, but if you believe in yourself as an artist and you have a vision of who and what you want to be, then make the sacrifices to get there. For me, the biggest sacrifice was my time. Taking more serving shifts at the restaurant, not going out as much and getting to bed late because of work. Waking up and doing it all over again for a few months. I’m a little social butterfly so not seeing my friends for a while was hard. It just takes dedication to what you love and sacrifice.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I create retro style photos and content for people to use on social media. Basically, I study what’s popular in social content at the current moment and try to recreate that with my clients. Right now, I think it’s very much a 90’s style reemerging. I let my clients play with a “Nokia” cell phone, have them run on my roof in dresses and leopard jackets, and wearing the famous pink Joanne gaga hat that everyone takes a photo with, I get them drinking their lattes in my kitchen and sometimes eating fruit in their undies. It all depends on the vibe that day. I’ve even had people take pictures in the rain. It’s very messy and not at all planned but that is what I love about it. All the photos look like we are just having a fun day.

I’m known for it all being fun, the moment you walk into my studio and not like “okay give me a nice smile.” No, I say, “give me Brittney Spears 1999 with the boa on her shoulders.” Give me a Madonna in Vogue. Yes, this is your apartment on Fifth Avenue.” It really does bring out another side to them. Lots of them laugh and say “I love it.” LOL!

Lots of people say my photos take them back to a different time, they wish they could have lived in real life. 70’s with the bangs (one of my many wigs we play with) and hippie jackets.

I am most proud of having my work be different than most traditional work. Meaning, I don’t use certain rules. I just do whatever I feel will bring the best out of someone at that moment. Everyone is so different. Some people I see them right away and know that they are a pink and purple background kind of client who would love to be in a bright dress with crazy props and wigs and some I see are more earthy and want plants and earth tones behind them to be more simple. I think I am most proud of seeing someone for who they are and not dressing them up to be something or someone else. That happens a lot here in Los Angeles I think. People see Instagram models and think they have to look a certain way but the point is to bring the best of each person forward and let that true part of them shine through. It’s not always about makeup or where you are– but who you are. I consider myself a tool in their process of showing the world who they are.

We’re interested to hear your thoughts on female leadership – in particular, what do you feel are the biggest barriers or obstacles?
I’d say making a name for yourself is difficult in a world that is predominately run by men. It’s gotten better over the last few years, thankfully. But I think, in general, it is hard to be considered a successful person and not just a “successful woman.”‘Most men would say, “oh she is a successful woman.” Instead of simply saying. “She is successful.”

Being taken seriously is also difficult for women as well in many industries, not just in art. Someone could look at me and say: “Oh, this girl just plays with wigs and a camera all day, that doesn’t make her a working professional.” But in reality, if I am making a decent living creating things that I love and getting recognition, I am. It’s an old mindset that we have to break through.

Men in the ’50s and ’60s in the art industry ran everything. We rarely see women at the top of huge film corporations or taking photos for huge magazines but now, it’s all changing.

Women are posting content without revealing who they are (man or woman) and people don’t care. If the content is working and selling, then that’s what people want representing their huge companies nowadays. So many of my female friends are photographers working for Vogue, major music artists, you name it. All because their work is shining through. I aspire to be like those hard-working women.

Contact Info:

  • Website: Leannoliver.com
  • Email: leannmoliver@gmail.com
  • Instagram: Leannisrad
  • Other: Staywildandrad

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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