Portraiture: An Interview with Rosanne Olson and a Free Book!

Rosanne Olson - Portrait 

Some people are just multi-talented. And Rosanne Olson is one of them. I first met Rosanne Olson seven years ago when she joined a writing group I was in. Since that time I have come to know her not only as a poet, but also as a musician and superb professional photographer. Rosanne's approach to taking portraits involves a holistic view of her client. I have recently had the honor of working with Rosanne on her newest project. Rosanne's picture of me is now my "professional portrait" and you can see it here.

Rosanne's working on an exhibition of Northwest poets that you can read about in this interview. However, her most recent book This Is Who I Am: our beauty in all shapes and sizes is a collection of photographs and essays by women ages 19 to 95. If you are interested in receiving a free copy of this book, please leave your name and a comment in the comment box below. Next week I will write about my experience being photographed by Rosanne. This was my first time being professionally photographed with all the trimmings -- and I loved it.

Since I have been writing about the photography of Myra Albert Wiggins recently, it seems only natural to be interviewing a photographer of our time: Rosanne Olson.

1.You’ve worked in many areas of photography, what draws you to portraiture in particular?
I love working one-on-one with people, especially people who have not had the experience of being photographed. I like to create a very positive experience for my clients—one that will leave them feeling as if they have been listened to and really seen, thus giving them a portrait that will convey their true self to the public.
2. Who are the photographers that you draw the most inspiration from?
I am most inspired by Irving Penn. He recently died at the age of 90+, still working for magazines. His work encompassed portraiture, still life and fashion. He used simple lighting and simple sets to convey great depth of personality. I never tire of looking at his work. And I hope to be working at 90.
3. How is working with you on a portrait different than having a friend or a family member take the picture?
Nothing against having a photograph taken by a friend or family member, but, how do I say this? I feel that the way one portrays oneself in a professional portrait is a reflection of how seriously one takes one’s work. I have spent 30 years working with lighting and photographing people. It is a subtle art. I make it my work to bring out the best in people. I usually spend at least two hours in a session, not to mention the prep time (reading the author’s work, etc.). One can certainly use a photo taken by a friend just as one can lay one’s own tile or work on one’s own car. It might be a job well done. However, if you find that your existing photo doesn’t quite convey the true you, you might try a professional. The photograph is part of one’s “brand.”

4. Can you tell us about your project with Northwest authors?
I have been photographing Northwest poets for the past year and hope to bring this project to Seattle schools to help engage students in poetry. My project arose from a poetry book I had in a college poetry class called Modern Poets. It consisted of portraits, bios and a few representative poems from each poet. Sylvia Plath, W.H. Auden, John Berryman, William Carlos Williams are among some of the poets in the book. It is long out of print so I decided to create my own project along the lines of my tattered old book.
This is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes
5. Can you tell us how you mix portraiture and psychology?
What a great question! In my mind, a photograph is a weaving of technology, art and psychology. I sometimes affectionately call my work “photo-therapy” because much what I do is interpret the personality of my subject. In 2008 I authored a book called this is who I am—our beauty in all shapes and sizes. I photographed 54 women ages 19-95 and interviewed them about body image. Most of the women were nude. It took a lot of connection and trust to make the portraits. Aside from the book,  most of my clients are NOT nude, even though the connection and trust are equally important. Everyone is nervous when then come to a session. They wonder if they will be seen, understood, interpreted in a way that is true to them. This is exactly what I strive to do.

6. What do you hope a person gains working with you on a portrait?
In my thinking, portraiture is a collaborative undertaking. We need to trust each other. This is accomplished through talking, listening, observation. My hope is that after a session the client comes away feeling truly seen and heard. My goal is to transmit that to the photographs. When I work with people I am totally present. I am committed to working through the client’s worries about being “seen,” the dread about not being seen as “beautiful” enough. I hope that people leave my studio feeling better about themselves than when they came.
From This is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes

7. How do you see portraiture as part of your overall work?
My work has encompassed everything from journalism to advertising and fine art. I love portraiture because I love people. I love portraiture because it is REAL. My fine art is my personal expression of my artistic nature. Portraiture is the expression of my talent for connecting to people. Both are important to me.

How much does one pay for a portrait?
One could pay between say $150 to $2,500 or more, depending on the photographer, the author’s (or artist’s) renown and the publisher’s contribution (if any). I try to keep things affordable for artists and authors and work with my clients to get them what they need. My photo sessions are about two hours long in addition to time for preliminary discussion, wardrobe consultation, etc. To find out more about Rosanne's work you can go to her website at http://www.rosanneolson.com/

         Thank you, Rosanne, for your time and insights. It's been a pleasure. 

Dear Reader, if you would like to be entered in a drawing for Rosanne's book, This Is Who I Am: our beauty in all shapes and sizes - simply leave your name and a comment in the box below. 


  1. I would love a copy of this book!

    Kristin Berkey-Abbott

  2. I'm fascinated by the interactive oppertunities between poetry and photography. Enjoyed this post. Thanks Susan!

  3. Thanks for a great interview, Susan and Rosanne! I'm glad you're doing this giveaway for a very lucky reader-- I've already bought This Is Who I Am both for myself AND as a gift ... it is a beautiful, inspiring work of art.

  4. I would very much appreciate having a copy of the book. The images here are stunning, especially the last one. Your new photo is wonderful, Susan.

    And thank you for such an excellent interview.

  5. Lovely interview!

    I do not have a copy of this book and would LOVE one! Please enter my name and thanks for this!

  6. Susan,
    Your new photos are great! Though I only know you from your poems and email, the new photos seems to better capture your spirit.

    Please enter me in the drawing. This book looks stunning.

    Thanks for a great interview, and book giveaway.

  7. I LOVE your new portrait, Susan! Gorgeous. Wow. I already have my own copy of This is Who I Am, so I'll let someone else get lucky today--maybe one of my friends on Facebook. I'll post there now. Lovely interview with a lovely person.

  8. Such beautiful and soulful portraits; I love that Roseanne calls them "knowing portraits" as they let the subject be known in a deeply intimate way.

    I would love to be part of the giveaway, thank you! What a great idea,
    Brenda Miller

  9. Looks like a great book, Susan. Yes, throw my hat in the ring!

  10. i, too, would love a copy of the book. it looks beautiful.

  11. That sounds very interesting, so count me in.


  12. I have a copy of Rosanne's book and have loved giving it as gifting opportunities arise. Rosanne is one powerful photographer and I am inspired every time I open the book.
    This interview is lovely and I am glad to have found your voice.

  13. I love Rosanne's work and would love a copy of her book.

  14. What an absolutely beautiful gift to share with the world. Thank you with all my heart! As a practitioner in massage, particularly in visceral massage, I work closely with my clients in helping them find the beauty in their body just as it in the moment, through pain and discomfort, despite cellulite and wrinkles. This would be the perfect addition to my waiting room.

  15. Working with Rosanne on my author photo was a delight. I am one of those folks who doesn't feel at all comfortable in front of the camera -- perhaps because I'm far more often behind it. What Rosanne says about her work is so true: she creates an image of/for you that expresses what you want to project about yourself to the world. And, amazingly, gives you many, many "potential selves" to project. I was amazed by the range of selves that were reflected in the photos from which I could choose.


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