by David Byron Rice
You only have to talk to Ondrea Barbe for five minutes and you start to feel like you are catching up with an old friend. Warmth, laughter, love of family and friends, and an appreciation of beauty in all its forms pours out of her. "Love, Ondrea" isn't just the name of a website, it's the way she has chosen to live her life.
Ondrea is a beauty and portrait photographer from Santa Cruz, California. After seven years in France, where she discovered her passion for photography, she moved to New York, where she now lives with her husband and two children.
Ondrea’s fashion clients include L’oreal, Garnier, Olay, Clinique, Aussi, Bobbi Brown, Target, Aveeno, Jane Iredale, and Pantene. Her celebrity clients include Meryl Streep, Tina Fey, Amanda Seyfried, Rita Ora, Amy Adams, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Sally Field.
In a recent email interview, Ondrea discussed her website, “Love, Ondrea,” her passions and inspirations, fathers and daughters, and getting closer.
Many of the models in the “Happy” section of loveondrea.com are professional models, but they all look genuinely happy. How did you make that happen?
I start every shoot from the premise that we are all here to create beautiful, in-the-moment photographs. I think that once the talent recognizes that I am going to capture the best of them, they give me more opportunities. We can all feel the intention of others, and I truly believe that at some point in the shoot all of my subjects let their guard down and just enjoy our brief moments together. I get excited when I glimpse a tender, funny, thoughtful, or soulful moment. I am a director in the sense that I am their biggest cheerleader! In the end, we should be having an all-out, unhinged dance party.
Mouths and flowers and fruit just jump out of your work. How do you go about capturing the surface—skin, eyes, makeup—but also something of the essence of the person?
This has always been very important to me, capturing the essence of the person even when I am so close. Beauty photography did not come to me because I love controlled light and stillness. Actually, I just love gestures and emotions, so much so that I get closer. I want to swim in the mood of what we are shooting, so that colors turn into feelings, feelings turn into textures, and the closeness just amplifies the intimacy.
The short movies from the summer of 2011 (two of 11 appear in the “Summer” section of “Love, Ondrea”) are very moving. In the voiceover you say that you expected to memorialize a moment, but ended up with a story. Can you tell a little bit of it?
My mom was diagnosed with cancer that year and had her surgery and was going through chemo. I thought of giving friends and family a camera for that summer to document their moments, then I would make a visual scrapbook of our moments. I was hoping to capture the universality of what makes us happy, whether we are young, old, sick, healthy. These fleeting moments are what make up most of our fondest memories (summer in particular). In doing the edit after everyone sent me back the cameras, I realized that, like photography, once you have captured a moment and “put” that moment alongside other moments, it no longer represents the singular moment that it was. It turns into its own story, with its own journey.
Maybe it was the red balloon in your short film about New York, or reading that you spent several years in Paris, but I couldn’t help wondering whether French films of the 50s and 60s had an influence on you. Are there particular filmmakers and films that have inspired you?
I can go on forever on this! Really it is just Santa Cruz—which is still stuck in the 70s and is where I was born—but also France. I love quirky French music, I love the Mod era of fashion and feeling--the 70’s seem more raw to me then the 80’s. Anyway, yes, I am a film collector. I still buy DVDs so my kids can have them (I should buy DVD players, too!) for the future. The other day I just watched, again, Daisies, from the Czech Director Vera Chytilova. It is so funny, adorable--I love many films.
You seem to be equally at home in the studio and on a mountainside. Can you tell me one thing you love about working with light in the studio and another thing you love about working with light in nature?
I never ever thought I would be a photographer working in a studio. I felt too confined . . . and alas, that is how I have made my business, being in the studio! Maybe the need to feel unconfined is what propels my studio shoots. I love the mood that light creates and I love using different lights that, for the untrained eye, could feel the same as the others. I really believe in small details. It is the details that speak to the soul.
What is it about you and your work that encourages your clients to call on you again?
Hmm, I think a client would have to answer that. I always work very hard to get them what they want and need, but then show them something different, too.
Can you tell me about another section on your site, your love letter from daughters to fathers?
When Trump was elected I was sick to my stomach. I read the letter that Aaron Sorkin wrote to his daughter [quoted on the site], and I wanted to also be a voice of a woman who knows so, so many wonderful, amazing men, and of course Lolly’s dad (my husband). So I wanted to just put that out in the ether. Really, it was just that, trying to kill with kindness. And my friend Amber Power is a writer and she has a little girl with a great dad, so I took pictures of them, too.
Your site includes Doisneau’s quote about allowing the person viewing the photo to finish it. Have you found that people who spend time with your work finish your photos in fascinating or unexpected ways?
No, I never hear anything about my work except reading what you are saying here, that’s what makes this interview so nice and fun!
One of the photographers profiled in Proof Sheet rebuilt old stage lights until he could control the light in every inch of a shot. Another has photographed dozens of redheads. Have you had a similar experience in your work life of having something grab your attention and refuse to let go?
One thing: LOVE.
This article is reprinted from APANY's quarterly magazine Proof Sheet. Download this and other issues here: