10 Questions With…
Oli Kellett

Oli Kellett is fascinated by urban landscapes. Waiting for a Sign , longlisted for the Aesthetica Art Prize, presents his cinematic images of people at junctions in global cities. The project began when Kellett, a British photographer, visited Los Angeles during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. It continued to evolve over the following four years, resulting in visits to countries including Brazil, Colombia, Japan and Spain. The large-scale works are dramatically lit, contrasting the anonymity of metropolitan life with the complexity of human experiences. They invite us to stop and consider the stories of people we pass by every day as we travel through the city.

A: Tell us about how you got into working behind the lens – where did it all begin?
I always assumed I would be a painter. I came to art college in London fully prepared to study Fine Art painting, but it didn’t turn out that way. I got really into taking photos, processing and printing them in the darkroom. Interestingly, I paid my way through art college by painting on the street, like busking, reproducing the Old Masters on The South Bank below The London Eye, or outside St Paul’s Cathedral. I did this for five years at weekends and holidays. The largest one I did measured seven by 3 metres and was The Assumption of The Virgin by Titian.

A: What’s the focus or message behind your latest exhibition at Hacklebury Fine Art?
The show is a continuation of my body of work called Cross Road Blues. It’s a series of large-scale photographs of people caught in moments of contemplation at cross roads in urban cities across the globe from London to Mexico City and numerous across North America. The series began in 2016 when I was visiting Los Angeles during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election and the country was at a political crossroads. It continued to evolve over the following four years with numerous visits to countries including Spain, Japan, Mexico and Brazil. The series took on a universal significance. It captures moments of stillness where individuals question the direction they take and the life they make.

A: Do you have a favourite piece in the show?
I’m not sure I have a favourite but I’ve always had a soft spot for Marion Street, Seattle, 2018 (above). It features a friendly looking little old lady waiting patiently holding a bag of bread. A friend who knows Seattle better than me told me she takes it to feed the ducks. Above her hangs a sign as big as her which says MARION, signalling the street she is standing on. I’ve always like the idea she is called Marion; it seemed a appropriate name for her.

A: Who – or what – are your biggest inspirations?
Artists who I always come back to are: Bernd and Hilla Becher, Sol Lewitt, Alighiero Boetti, Peter Dreher. I struggle to put into words just how beautiful Wolfgang Laib’s work is. If there was one work of art I could own, it would be Laib’s Milk Stone.

A: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I’m lucky to work with a wonderful gallery, and I feel really lucky to be able to share my work with a wide audience. I’m very thankful for that. In 2018, I won the Royal Academy Rose Award for Photography. That was a big moment.

A: Do you have a “signature” technique or approach? What is it?
Not really, I work project to project, usually having a few different things on the go over a few years at once. I have to have a conceptual framework to work within and am more interested in realising an idea than just making work to express myself. Recently, I’ve been doing a daily drawing of a bar of soap on a soap dish, recording the minute day to day changes it goes through before it’s all gone. Then I begin drawing a new soap on a new soap dish. All the drawings are the same size, under the same lighting conditions and look almost identical. I’ve done this for over four years now and have made over 1,400 postcard size drawings shown in a grid. Recently I’ve been taking photos again after a four-year break.

A: If you could do any other job, or be an expert in any other field, what would it be?
Probably a baker. I do a Saturday morning sourdough bread sale from my home in Hastings where I live.

A: Who are your favourite artists working right now?
James Nares, Jonathon Monk, Nick Relph, Nicole Coson – plus many, many more.

A: Is there anything you hope audiences take away from the show?
I hope that people may question the decisions and directions they’re taking, which is a very grandiose, but you never know. The title of the show Cross Road Blues takes its name from the song by Robert Johnson who famously sold his soul to the devil at a crossroad in Mississippi.

A: What are you working on right now? Anything for us to look forward to?
My book, Cross Road Blues, has just been published by Nazraeli Press. Best place to keep up to date is my Instagram @olikellett. I’m excited about taking photos again, too.

Waiting for a Sign is at Hackelbury Fine Art, London, until 2 March.


All images courtesy Oli Kellett.
1. Figueroa St, LA, 2016.
2. Grand Ave, Chicago, 2017.
3. Marion St, Seattle, 2018.
4. Hubbard St, Chicago, 2017.
5. Van Buren St, Phoenix, 2017.