Much of Rick Olivier's photographic work over four decades is rooted in the Cajun region of his upbringing, especially with respect to his interest in Zydeco, a subject that forms one of the principal subjects of his work.
For nearly four decades, Richard “Rick” Olivier has documented through photography his interest in South Louisiana musical performance, with a special emphasis on zydeco, and other subjects ranging from azaleas to politicians. His fascination with Louisiana’s music ultimately prompted the founding, with Rob Savoy, of the New Orleans-based band Creole String Beans in 2003, for which Olivier is guitarist and vocalist. His career in each field has been marked with acclaim.
Richard Olivier hails from White Castle, Louisiana, where he was born on August 19, 1957, the son of Uman Joseph Olivier and Irene Dugas Olivier. White Castle was also the site of his first published photographs (and Louisiana Press Association winners) in the Greater Plaquemine Post at the age of 16. Olivier became interested in photography through his high school newspaper. While still a student, he covered sports, features, and musical performances for the Post, a weekly publication. Olivier attended Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, where he majored in art, since the school offered no specific major in photography.
Though Olivier has lived in New Orleans since 1982, where he served as photographer for the Contemporary Arts Center from 1982 to 1985, much of his photographic work is rooted in the Cajun region of his upbringing, especially with respect to his interest in zydeco, a subject that forms one of the principal series of his work. Olivier marks the start of that photographic project with a 1988 assignment for an album cover commissioned by Rounder Records, one of more than one hundred covers he has shot for clients. Other clients for his work include the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Esquire. In 1999, the University Press of Mississippi published a series of these portraits in the book Zydeco! with text by Ben Sandmel. It received the Humanities Book of the Year award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in 2000.
Though exhibitions and print sales are not the prime motivations for his work, Olivier’s photographs have been exhibited from Austin, Texas, to Hamburg, Germany, and are among the permanent holdings of The Historic New Orleans Collection, the Louisiana State Museum, and the New Orleans Museum of Art. His photographs have been featured in commercial shows in New Orleans at the Gallery of Southern Photographers in 1999, Bassetti Gallery in 2000, and the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts in 1997. He received a purchase award at the 1992 New Orleans Museum of Art Triennial, and an award for a painting exhibited at the Louisiana Open juried exhibition at the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center in 1997. In 2011, he collaborated with artist Robert Tannen in a Prospect 2.0 project in New Orleans, titled Art by Committee: A Collaborative Installation.
An April 2007 interview by Becca Horne of Current Arts Weekly asked Olivier what he wanted people to come away with after seeing his photographs. He responded, “A greater appreciation for the beauty of cultural diversity. More empathy for people unlike themselves. A more open heart. More compassion. All the stuff I work on feeling every day.”