With 300 days of sunshine, it’s no secret that Colorado lends itself to stellar images of the great outdoors. But what about the artists that thrive on imperfections — evocative moments with depth and grit? Are those folks better left for the ultra-urban environments like New York City? Joe Friend, a photographer, specializing in advertising, fashion and portraiture, says that for him, Denver was the place to dive head first into his creativity.
“Sometimes I feel like a black sheep because there’s so much adventure lifestyle, photographers, brands, and all those kinds of thing happening here,” Friend explains. “But I do feel like whenever a client comes through that invests in my kind of creativity — that type of bold, edgy, high-contrast type of work that I like to do — I stand out.”
Originally from New Orleans, Friend actually initiated his career after failing out of business school.
“Like 0.0,” he laughs. “You have to try to do that! I was very disengaged with what I was doing.”
From that point, Friend moved to Colorado and dabbled with design.
“I really liked it, so I started painting and then enrolled in art school [where] one of my prerequisites was an Intro to Photography class on 35 millimeter, black and white film.
“After that first photography class, I thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute…this is it!’ I realized that I needed to reevaluate what I was doing. So, I went through another year of school and took one more photography class and a Photoshop class, and I ended up booking my first fine art show and shooting small portrait gigs.”
But rather than racking up on student debt and postponing his professional calling, Friend decided to drop out of art school with almost a perfect 4.0 and started practicing on his own, working in bars and restaurants to support this side hustle.
“My fiancee, Lauren, provided a safety net for me to lean on and even though I’ve definitely tripped a couple of times, over five years later, I haven’t looked back,” he adds.
Friend still revisits his fine arts roots now and then, but says photography has the strongest presence in his career.
Reflecting on his work so far, Friend says, “I think I’ve grown a lot, conceptually, in the last year or two and really branched out in trying to bring a lot more meaning into my work. Because in the end, I think it makes it more compelling if there’s a story behind the photo.”
In many ways, that narrative exists hand-in-hand with his connection to people.
“People add an element of intimacy to a photograph, and their features tell that story. I’m a people person at heart — I’m from the South and worked in restaurants and hospitality for eight years before I did full-time photography — so when I pick up my camera, that’s what I’m drawn to.
“I’m also really attracted to capturing unintended moments — the in between moments when a person’s guard is down — I think those moments are the most genuine and compelling.”
Moving forward, Friend aspires to shoot bigger, more creative campaigns.
“My favorite type of clients to shoot for is fashion publications and lifestyle brands, and I do my best work when I work with brands and individuals who are unapologetically themselves and invest in creativity. I’m looking forward to shooting campaigns for brands like Diesel, Saint Laurent, and Gucci, and to one day have my work featured on the cover of Vogue.”
Find Joe Friend Photography behind the lens shooting fashion projects in NYC, lifestyle campaigns in LA, or right here at home on the Front Range.
Published in Boulder Lifestyle, September 2017