Olivia McDowell is a self-proclaimed workaholic. So when the 22-year-old learned that Michael Kors, an FIT alumnus, had reached out to FIT Photography students for an image to represent his upcoming fashion show, McDowell—with minimal direction and only four days to complete the assignment—was all in.
“I just have the kind of personality that I never say no and I take every opportunity that’s thrown at me. I have a strong work ethic. I push myself like crazy and I really like to work.”
The only direction the students received was to submit an image to represent Kors’s October 15 virtual fashion show, which celebrated the intersection of “urban and garden” for his spring 2021 collection.
For McDowell, who typically shoots portraiture, the opportunity to shoot a landscape was exciting. “I was using my brain,” she said. “For this brand the only route that I wanted to go was to do a photo of New York, not of somebody. So I broke into a rooftop garden.”
McDowell approaches photography the way she approaches life—with a drive to see the best around her and capture moments that inspire an emotional connection. Her winning image, shot on medium format film, was ultimately used as part of the invitation to Kors’s show and was the image used for full-page ads that ran in The New York Times and WWD. But perhaps most exciting to McDowell was the personal note she received from Kors.
“[He] sent a handwritten letter,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Your work is so powerful … I’m so happy to be promoting you.’”
Now that McDowell has received this attention, she’s had to make some adjustments in the way she presents herself. As a photographer who uses only film and works with a $30 Nikon camera, her digital footprint has never been her priority. But now, with this project, people need a way to find her and see her work.
“It has pushed me to do a website and to take myself seriously,” she said. “It has pushed me to take my career further. Somebody extremely important is taking me seriously when I didn’t take myself seriously. This will probably affect my [ability to get] jobs for a long time.”