This month, we spoke with professional photographer Stephanie Diani. When Stephanie learned about Fotografiska New York, she knew it was the place for her.
Stephanie, what first drew you to the medium of photography and desire to become a professional photographer?
I actually went to school for Classical Archaeology. I planned to be a professor in New England. I had my future envisioned – me riding my bike through the falling autumn leaves on the way to teach class, leather elbow patches on my sweater…but I couldn’t face going back to grad school. I went to a career counselor who asked me what I liked doing, and I said, ‘taking pictures.’ Growing up in California, I had worshipped my older brother who’d let me follow him around and borrow his camera. The career counselor really encouraged me to pursue photography, so I worked many jobs while simultaneously building my portfolio, and I got my first full time photography job at the LA Times in 1998. I now have my own studio in New York, not far from Penn Station.
How was making the transition from California to New York?
Amazing and brutal. I’m a native Californian but I never felt at home in LA. I know this sounds weird, but I didn’t love the weather. Yes, it was always 80 degrees and sunny, but it never changed. It made me feel like time was never passing. I moved to New York in 2014 and soon after settling in, I felt like I found my people. My studio manager and first assistant Monica Volpacchio was a huge part of that equation. She and I have been working together since 2015 and basically share a brain. When I came here, I felt like I made sense in New York.
That’s great. I take it that joining Fotografiska New York was something that made sense as well?
Though New York is a museum town, I had never seen an entire museum dedicated to the art of photography. I was first struck by the beautiful building walking by prior to opening, and then took a closer look at the window posters and realized this place was for me! Though photography has been elevated within the art world for some years, this was a validation of that. Fotografiska New York feels like a home for photographers and a window into other types of photography that I haven’t experienced before, like Tawny Chatmon’s stunning work.
You were also able to attend a few events at Fotografiska New York.
Yes. One of them was a great talk by Vince Aletti. He spoke very honestly about the photographers he met during his career and the contributions their art made to magazines. His comments were real and true to my experience as a photographer. The best work doesn’t necessarily come out of the biggest budgets, and his commentary was gratifying because I saw that he understood what goes into creating photographs. I truly felt during the event I had met one of ‘my people’ and someone who understood my perspective.
I also attended the Bill Cunningham film screening, Show Me The Picture. I actually saw him once after I moved here. I used to freelance for the New York Times Style Section in LA and was very familiar with his work. When I saw him on the street it was like seeing a unicorn in person – a great ‘New York’ moment. The film screening was a nice way to re-experience my fascination with him.
You have a background in portraiture photography and have photographed many celebrities. Tell us about some of some of your most memorable shoots.
There have been many but a couple jump to mind.
This one would be in the ‘non-celebrity’ category. Mindful Magazine had sent me on location to a number of places to photograph people they were featuring. One of their profiles was on Lieutenant General Walter Piatt, who at that time was running the Fort Drum army base in upstate New York. I didn’t quite know what to expect from an army general, but the first thing I noticed in his office was Rumi’s Book of Poetry on his desk. Throughout the day I saw his embodiment of kindness and care. On a base of ten thousand people, he seemed to know everyone’s name and was able to ask pertinent, personal, thoughtful questions about their families and lives. Meeting him, and knowing there are people like him in his position made me feel reassured.
I did actress Odley Jean’s first photoshoot as part of the promotion for the Netflix series, Grand Army. She was so lovely and enthusiastic and when she got in front of the camera, she was such a natural. She is going to be huge and it’s incredibly fun for me to work with someone whose career is about to explode.
I also got to work with Willem Dafoe. He has such an interesting face, I could shoot it forever. But what really struck me was the way he approached the shoot. He walked into a pretty low budget shoot in my little studio and was so giving. He offered me partnership and collaboration in this space so that we were really creating something together.
In an age where everyone has Instagram and cameras on their phones, taking photographs has never been more accessible. Has that changed or impacted aspects of your art or business?
That’s been a challenge. As a woman and as an artist I’ve struggled for years with self doubt, validation, and criticism. But since moving here, I’ve developed more faith in myself and know that I bring a viewpoint to a shoot, which is the defining difference between being a photographer and having a camera phone to take pictures. I base my career on the fact that people will hire me because they desire and understand the value of my viewpoint.
Thank you, Stephanie, for being a member of Fotografiska New York and taking the time to speak with us. You can get in touch and learn more about Stephanie by visiting her website and following her on Instagram.
We’ll be hosting a Member Spotlight every month and would love to hear from you. Please contact us at email@example.com to be featured.