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SVA Creators: Olena Shmahalo’s Passion for Documenting Plants
May 1, 2020 by Danielle Peters
SVA Creators: Olena Shmahalo

You grow, girl. SVA alumnus Olena Shmahalo (BFA 2011 Visual & Critical Studies) talks about her passion for photographing nature around the world.

In our ongoing video series, SVA Creators, we put the spotlight on SVA alumni who have crafted their own brand, established a notable following on social media and creatively leveraged that platform to become influential and independent creators.


Our latest creator is art director and photographer Olena Shmahalo (BFA 2011 Visual & Critical Studies), who owns and operates the popular plant-filled Instagram account @theoperatingsystem. Through the Operating System, Shamhalo documents her travels and photographs plants grown in different greenhouses around the world. Started out of a desire to do something different from her art-direction day job, the project took on a life of its own as her following grew exponentially. "I would photograph [greenhouses], and I got involved in this community of other plant people, and it kind of went from there," she says.


Creating content can be difficult as well as time-consuming when traveling the world. Still, the support from other people inspires Shmahalo and encourages her to continue. "Any time you are on social media, it is a feedback loop, where you want to keep doing something because people like it and then so you do it more and people like it more," she says. 


Today, Shmahalo's Operating System work inspires and informs her creative day-job decisions, too, including scouting talent. "As an artist, I use social media and all these different websites for inspiration," she says. "But as an art director, this is how I find artists and find people that I want to work with. [Instagram] is where art directors are." She encourages other artists to be present on a variety of different platforms. "You constantly have to be putting yourself out there. If you want to be seen, then be there [and] show up."


You can keep up with Olena Shmahalo on @theoperatingsystemas well as on her art Instagram account, @natureintheory.