Eleven years after discovering her passion for photography Bess Friday took the plunge and turned her creative escape into her full-time job. Today she shares how she landed on a highly prestigious list of sought-after interior photographers and how her path has once more branched leading her down a path of fine art photography. Keep reading to learn more about this talented, multifaceted woman.
We love to hear about the journeys that led to dream jobs. Tell us about the path that led you to become a full-time photographer.
It’s been a winding road, that’s for sure. I was passionate about photography early on as a kid, it was a wonderful creative escape for me. I shot on film and loved the physical craft of it all. I honestly never wanted to put any pressure on it and certainly didn’t think it would be my career… yet I kept being drawn to it. I went to Pepperdine University which is a wonderful liberal arts school but it didn’t have a strong photo program. During my summers, I sought out other programs and found myself at SACI, an international art school in Florence, Italy and then at NYU’s Tisch School in New York. Both were incredible experiences yet in the end, I landed on a major that felt photo-adjacent; a degree in advertising. I worked at different creative advertising agencies throughout my 20’s in LA and San Francisco. I was an account person aka a “non-creative” running the big photoshoots & TV productions I secretly dreamed I might shoot one day.
I had a lot of creative folks in my orbit and luckily they were telling me I should quit and go after this dream. Finally, my husband was the one who pushed me to just go ahead and do it already. That was 11 years ago and I’ve never looked back.
You’ve been featured in many well-known publications and in 2021 you were named one of 50 AD-Approved photographers! Congratulations! What tips do you have for other creatives reading today who want to pitch their work and grow their brand visibility?
Yes! That was so exciting! Like anything, I think it’s about producing your strongest work and building solid relationships. If I’m lucky enough to get something published, I send a thank you note to the editor introducing myself and thank them for including my work in their publication. Just making the human connection really helps to build that relationship. The next time we email it feels like we already know each other. I also try to remember that each editor or writer is incredibly busy, so I keep it short and sweet. I tailor my pitches to the publications that would be the best fit and I don’t bombard anyone with work that doesn’t make sense for their audience.
One peek at your portfolio reveals that you’re well-traveled. What has been your favorite destination to photograph, and why?
Ah, yes. I love to travel and I’ve been really fortunate to live in a few different countries over the years (Italy, France, and China). They all were vastly different but engaged me visually in much the same way. By virtue of being a foreigner in a foreign land, it gives me this feeling of anonymity that I don’t get here at home, it almost feels like a superpower. I can be much bolder than I am back home. I’m not sure I could pick a favorite place to shoot… but I’ll say it’s very hard to beat Italy. Certainly, my most photographed city was Shanghai. I lived there for two years with my husband, when our kids were just babies. I photographed on the street every day for 100 days as a personal project of mine. I needed to immerse myself in my new community and I couldn’t communicate with anyone. It was a powerful and incredibly bonding experience.
What details do you believe make the best photographs? How do you focus on them in your work?
This is such a good question. I’m a firm believer that a strong photograph (no matter what the content) should convey a feeling more than anything else. If it’s doing its job then it should transport you. I often feel like my job is like being a translator of each 3D space into a 2D art form. Somehow I’ve got to get you to feel the air, the light, and the mood of the space.
You share an eclectic playlist of tranquil and upbeat music on your website. Does music play a part in your photography/editing sessions?
It’s interesting because I absolutely must edit with music on but when I shoot it’s completely the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, having music going on set can be just what everyone needs to keep the energy up on a long day, I just can’t be DJ on top of shooting. I think this is mostly why I make playlists so I don’t have to think about it!
Where can we find you when you’re not behind the camera? What sparks joy in your life beyond the lens?
I’ve got two young children, so my family definitely has my full attention anytime I’m not shooting but I do have one side passion. During Covid when all my usual outlets were on lockdown, horses became my mental escape. I started riding weekly and I’m totally addicted now. For me, it’s this sacred place where I’m completely present and in the moment. I’m laughing at myself as I write this. I basically chased all my childhood passions! Maybe there is something poetic in there – just give in to your eight-year-old self, she knows what to do!
The past two years have led many of us to form new habits, chart a new course, or dive deeper into our passions. How have the past two years impacted you?
One new avenue I started to dabble in just before Covid hit, is the development of my personal photo projects into a series of fine art photographs. One of my dearest friends, the talented designer Tracy Simmons, kept combing through my images from Asia. She wanted me to make some large-scale pieces for her design studio and home shop opening in San Francisco. I’d never thought about my work in that capacity before. I turned to a master printer, Mark Hanson, of Hanson Digital in SF. Together we’ve worked over the years to create a series of works that I now sell online on my website and in Tracy’s SF design outpost on The House on Sacramento Street. One piece, titled “Shanghai Fashion Week”, was recently featured in Arch Digest! That was pretty exciting. Although the craziest moment had to be when I saw another piece hanging in a client’s personal collection alongside a Picasso. That was pretty mind-melting!
Well, thank you Haven for having me! This has been fun!