Eva O’Leary

Happy Valley


I grew up in a central Pennsylvanian town, nicknamed Happy Valley. It is home to Penn State University, a big ten party school that dominates the culture both economically and geographically. The town is homogeneous, 71% of the inhabitants are between the ages of 18-24 and 83.2% of the population is white. It is made up of two main streets, and prides itself on housing the forth largest stadium in the world. In 2008, it was named the largest party school in America by the Princeton review, and in 2012 it had the highest number of reports of forcible sex offenses on any campus in the nation (partially related to a child sex abuse scandal that made international headlines). My childhood and teen years were spent on the edge of Penn State’s campus, our home was down the street from the stadium and surrounded by student rentals. As a teenager, I had easy access to the campus and local party culture. My first experiences of adulthood were heavily impacted by the normalization of binge drinking, gendered power dynamics, patriotism and hook-up culture. For the last five years, I have been making photographs that reflect on my experiences growing up in this environment. In making this work, I’m referencing a personal archive of journals and documents from my young adult years and using this material as a conceptual map.



By constructing projects based on this material, I re-stage, re-experience and re-contextualize these events to make sense of them as an adult. Photography has given me permission to reflect on my experiences, and in doing so, study aspects of American culture I can locate within my hometown and my past. This process helps me attempt to understand and navigate larger structural and social systems that continue to perpetuate ideologies of fantasy, power and control.



Short Bio

Eva O’Leary graduated from Yale University’s masters of Fine Art program in 2016 and received a BFA from California College of the Arts in 2012. O’Leary is a recent winner of the Outset Unseen Exhibition Fund, which resulted in an exhibition at Foam, Amsterdam in 2019. She was the recipient of the Hyères Festival Photographie Grand Prix in 2018, The Vontobel Contemporary Photography Prize in 2017, and was named a Foam Talent in 2014. Her work has been featured in a range of publications, including ArtForum, Aperture, 1000 Words and The New Yorker. Her work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group shows both within the United States and abroad, including the CAFA Art Museum (Beijing), LTD Los Angeles (LA), Villa Noailles (Hyeres, France), l’Atelier Néerlandais (Paris), Benaki Museum (Athens), and Aperture Foundation (New York).​


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The Emerging Photographer Fund is supported by generous donors to the Magnum Foundation

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