Olivia Joan on TikTok, photography and fashion

Welcome to Favorite Follow, a series highlighting NYLON’s favorite creators and the stories behind some of their most memorable content.

If the TikTok algorithm has been good for you, you’ve probably come across At Olivia Joan’s Account. Bright-eyed and fun-loving, the social media star – née Olivia Joan Galli – starts almost every video with a chipper, “Hi, guys”, before creating an effortlessly fabulous ensemble.

Typically, she presents three outfit options and lets viewers choose what she should wear in the comments, but over time, people have noticed that every outfit recipe includes at least one extremely lavish item. From vintage Prada jackets to Manolo Blahnik shoes, the 24-year-old’s wardrobe is full of designers.

On TikTok, Galli finally revealed that the items once belonged to her late grandmother, Joan B. Johnson, who co-founded Johnson Products Company, with her husband, George Johnson, in 1954. Their historic business provided hair care products like Ultra Sheen and Afro Sheen. to the black community and became the first black-owned company to go public.

When we meet for coffee at Maman’s in Soho, Galli greets me with a warm hug while wearing a brown Louis Vuitton jacket. I mistakenly assume the item of clothing belonged to Mrs. Johnson and make a mental note to ask where it came from. “They have an allowance for me,” she explains later, blushing at my curiosity. It turns out the garment was not her grandmother’s or a product of Galli’s own shopping excursions. Instead, it came to her as a gift from the luxury retailer she now works for.

Although she’s made a name for herself online as a fashionable style guide, Galli isn’t your average influencer. When she’s not posting on TikTok, she can be found running around New York, armed with a camera and a list of shots, to produce photo shoots for her impressive clientele. Despite constant work requests from publications such as vogue and The New York TimesGalli remains humbled, if not surprised, by his success.

“I wanted to quit so many times,” she admits. A career in the arts was a pipe dream come true for Galli, born of her determination and willingness to ignore her family’s concerns. “I struggled because my family didn’t understand the arts. They were more financial and business oriented. So when I said to my family, “I think I want to pursue the arts,” my family said, “Why don’t you go to a real college and do student photography on the side?”

While Galli studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and Pace University, her siblings followed more traditional paths. “They always make jokes [like], “Oh, we’re going to have to put you up in our guest house”, and now they’re thinking, “We might need you to put us up!” she says. “I am the underdog.”

With a number of great photo shoots under her belt and over 80,000 followers on TikTok, that label might be overkill. Now Galli is more than ready to establish her own legacy. Below, we discuss Galli’s professional journey, as well as his experience photographing his family and his accidental rise to TikTok:

On studying photography in college

When I started photography, I wanted to do editorial fashion. But then I fell in love with storytelling. It has always been difficult for me to express my feelings in writing and through verbal communication. Then, an outlet for me was photography, and I could express myself through an image.

At the Chicago Institute, they said, “We don’t have [that], you have to go to New York. You have to go to New York young and do internships. Chicago just doesn’t have that, unless you want to do fine art. But if you want to do like, the New York Timesand magazines, and journalism, you have to go to New York young.

On capturing her grandmother’s essence

The last picture I took of my grandmother was with my grandmother and my mother. I had taken a picture of my grandmother almost two years ago, around my freshman year of college, and she looked so different. She didn’t need oxygen 24/7 and her face wasn’t as swollen because she wasn’t getting radiation. It screwed her up. She was able to walk.

Then this time, in the sophomore picture, she had to have oxygen and you can just see the pain she was going through. It was really emotional for me, because I was like, this is not the grandmother I remember. Then having my mom there too, in the same session, the two of them together – it was very painful and really hard for me to do it, but it had to be done.

You can’t always document the positive things in life. You must document the real and the authentic. It’s the one that solidified for me that storytelling is what I want to do. I just want to document the reality.

On her first big photoshoot

My first project after college was with vogue. They said, “We’ll send you two bags. You can photograph it however you want. I was like, “Oh, this is really intense.” They wanted it in the September issue of vogue. My grandmother died the previous year in September, September 6th. I was like, well, this is going to be the passing of a year. it fits vogue. I have to commemorate my grandmother somehow.

I found this portrait, a painted portrait of my grandmother, and I wanted to incorporate it somehow. I ended up having it just in the background, and the bags set up in my grandparents’ space, kind of showing black excellence and commemorating it as well.

On creating dynamic portraits of men and women

I just finished this really cool project with the New York Times, documenting my family. It was the first time I photographed my brother and my grandfather, and it was a challenge. When it comes to photographing women, I go lower than them to put them more in a position of power, and I do different angles and lighting to make them as powerful as possible – how I perceive them. Then, with the men, I say to myself: “I don’t want that.” It looks really terrible.

So yeah, I was sort of relearning how to photograph men in a powerful way, but not “Yeah, I’m a man.” It was a challenge for me. It’s still, sometimes, intimidating for me, because it’s like, I don’t know, I love photographing women.

I have never seen a gallery display of a bunch of portraits of black women, of all ages, sizes and backgrounds. I feel like it must be a thing.

On his TikTok origin story

None of my friends were responding to my texts. I was going on a date with my ex – he wasn’t my ex at the time – but I had just received these two dresses and I was like, “I don’t know what to wear.”

Before that, I was posting really silly dance videos with my mom, like during quarantine, like we do. I was like, “Okay, just let me do a little TikTok. I might get three answers, I just need someone to tell me because I have to go.

I did and got lots of feedback. A lot of people really liked my style. I was like, “Wait, this is really fun.” It’s also useful for me because I like to browse my TikToks and see the outfits I wore. Then I started having fun posting about dating my ex-boyfriend and going out for lunch, and just different things.

I already had a lot of my grandmother’s clothes. [In videos] I would say, “Oh, those shoes are my grandmother’s.” People started asking, “Who is your grandmother?” Can we see more clothes? It’s so cool that people are interested in her. It started to become the main focus, but now I’m trying to go back to “choosing my outfit” [videos].

On merging his careers in social media and photography

I don’t know how I would do it. I spoke to a content creator; she used to say that when I make “get ready with me” videos, I should tell a story, have a photo as a background – as a green screen background – and talk about the meaning behind the photo.

I just don’t know how well this video would translate. Also, I like to have a separation. It’s interesting, my TikTok name is Olivia Joan, just my grandmother’s name and my middle name, then my photography is Olivia Galli. I feel like I have two separate entities. I have TikTok where it’s, like, an outing. Then photography is my job.

Sometimes I just don’t want to combine the two. I just want to have fun.

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