New York City Photographer Jeff Fried started getting into photography at age 20. But it was one color printing class years later that stirred his momentum, pushing him to transform his love of taking pictures into a full-fledged profession.
When focused in on his art, Jeff spends much of his time documenting friends and family in the spaces around him. But his shots of seemingly typical imagery are anything but mundane. Jeff manages to take everyday occurrences, like sitting in a dimly lit room, outside the realm of banality - conveying the emotion hidden in ordinary, real life moments.
As a spectator, it's easy to get lost in trying to decipher the thoughts of his subjects.
In Jeff's commercial work, he shows sensitivity to the needs of his clients, but the sort of raw, poetic qualities seen in his personal photos are still very much apparent.
I spoke to Jeff recently about his work. Here is what he had to say:
What made you decide to pursue photography professionally?
I’ve always felt extremely fortunate to have found something that I am good at and love to do. I started taking pictures when I was twenty and printing color film when I was twenty-two. I was shooting and printing pretty much non-stop so pursuing photography as a profession just seemed logical. After studying Art Photography at Syracuse University I moved to NYC, sold my car, bought a nice digital SLR, and started making efforts to put my name out as a New York City-based commercial photographer.
Tell us a little about some of your recent projects.
I've been gradually expanding upon a series of environmental portraits of young men over the past four years. I call the series "Disillusion." I started the project just before I entered my last year at Syracuse. I was seeing a lot of my male friends enter into a sort of personal funk (and in the midst of one myself). Each of us had our own reasons. Whether it was girls, family, jobs, school or whatever, for all us it was manifesting itself in a very noticeable way. We would talk on the phone or in person and the conversations would always revolve around these pretty depressed concepts. We’d often talk about how it’s a fairly common stereotype that young males, really guys in general, aren’t in touch with their emotions. That wasn’t the case with my friends and myself so I set out to embrace these feelings and try to capture them on film. I wanted to portray young men in a way they aren’t usually portrayed. I'm not sure if I'm done with that project. I say that because sometimes I still see and feel the funk.
I've recently started another project called "The Heart." My parent's decided to move out of the house my family had lived in since '93. Even though they wanted to move and had talked about doing so for a while, the actual process was sad. I have not lived at home since 2003, yet moving brought me to realize how attached I was to that house. While I helped my parents move I kept thinking of the saying "home is where the heart is" and what moving homes means for that idea. Honestly, the more I think about that saying within the context of moving, the less I understand it.
We all have someone or something that inspires our life and work. What inspires you in your work?
Personally, the world around me. I tend to shoot what's in front of me, where I live, the people I know. Professionally, I work to understand what the client is trying to portray, then I let my imagination run.
Favorite picture you've taken?
Without a doubt my Grandma standing outside on her balcony one spring afternoon. It was just before her 92nd birthday. I came home from school with a 4x5 and a bunch of film. I had been planning to photograph her out on the balcony for a while. The weather was beautiful on this particular day so I went up to her room to try to convince her to let me take her picture. My Grandma's lived with my family since I was 15 or 16. When I got to her room she was wearing her bright magenta button down shirt, holding a cordless phone in one hand and some crumbled tissue in the other. She said she was waiting for a call. She told me I could only take her picture if I let her wear her sunglasses. She has these incredibly suiting sunglasses that she found on a rack at CVS. So I couldn't argue with that. I went out on her balcony and set up the frame then asked her to join me. 4x5 film is pretty expensive so I only fired two frames, one of which is my all-time favorite. Both of her hands are up and she's mid-sentence. People always tell me they expect her to sound something like George Costanza's mom. It's kind of funny how many people will then proceed to put their hands in the air and put on their Jewish Grandmother accent and say "Don't fuhget to cawl ya grand-motha!"
Favorite photo taken by someone else?
That’s not a fair question. I love too many. Some of the first that come to mind are DiCorcia’s Hollywood photos: Ike Cole, Eddie Anderson. I also really like Jeff Wall, Stephen Shore, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld. The list goes on.
Favorite client you've done work for thus far?
Mbarqgo. Hands down. They flew me out to LA to shoot. That was a first time a client had ever done that.
What type of cameras do you use?
It really depends on the shoot. I bought my first camera when I was 20. It was an old Canon AE-1. I think it was made in '78 or '79. I first learned to print film with that camera. I still carry that camera with me to this day. Years later I moved to NYC and decided to sell my car and invest in a Canon 5D. I guess I was branded. When I was a student and had an equipment room full of gear I would always gravitate to the 4x5. I loved how clunky and process oriented it was. Somehow I convinced my professors to loan the gear over the summer before.
Name the first photographer that comes to your mind.
Philip Lorca-DiCorcia. Gotta love DiCorcia.
If you could be invisible with your camera, where would you go, what would you shoot?
If I could be invisible with a camera well then I’d also like to request that I can travel through time. I’d go document my family during my childhood. If time travel isn’t available then I’d probably go to the White House.
Dream photo gig?
Midnight snack with Obama in the White House Kitchen.
What I love about your photographs is how real and contemplative they are. Is that something you aim for? What do you look to capture in your photos?
Well thank you kindly. When I’m shooting for myself I often like to stage the scene. I typically have an agenda in mind.
Thanks Jeff for taking the time to talk!
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