We had the good fortune of connecting with Stephanie Diani and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stephanie, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I had the advantage of being raised by two fiscally conservative and dedicated parents. I say advantage because they ensured that my brother and I had food, clothing and education, and I remain incredibly grateful for those gifts. We had to work for what we wanted, but my folks provided us with the essentials. They were both children of the Great Depression. One A person goes to school. A person gets a job. A person stays at that job until retirement. So my decision to forgo grad school to become a self-taught photographer was met with some … dismay.
I think that making that decision was the first time in my adult life that I felt I stood at the edge of the risk cliff. That’s how I think of it, when I make decisions that fly in the face of my upbringing. I’m standing on the edge of a cliff and preparing to throw myself off. Take the first step and a bridge will appear — did someone say that? I also think of Harrison Ford in the Last Crusade stepping out onto the rock bridge, you know, in that scene towards the end. (Yes, I’m Harrison Ford in this scenario.)
So, first risk: decide to become a photographer.
Second risk, three years later: quit the three part-time jobs I had held down while learning photography in order to move to Los Angeles and take a full-time newspaper photographer job for a tiny regional wing of the LA Times. Didn’t know anyone in LA. Packed my cat and my stuff and started over.
Third risk, three years after that move: quitting the newspaper job when I realized I wasn’t enjoying shooting high school sports and features about especially large sunflowers in someone’s side yard. It was not a bad job, and they weren’t bad stories, but it wasn’t for me. Fourth risk (concurrent with third): declaring myself a freelance photographer with not a ton of savings and the same bills to pay as before.
Fifth: getting married — how is everyone not terrified when they get married? That is some scary shit.
Sixth: ten years down the road packing up two cats, a dog, husband and stuff and starting all over again in New York City.
Seventh, two years after moving to NYC: signing on to a studio share with two other people in Manhattan, in essence doubling my monthly nut. These are the big ones, the risks that left dents in my armor but that ultimately all paid off. In between are hundreds of smaller, but equally scary risks. COVID hasn’t helped — any of us, I know — but deciding to hunker down and stick it out in NYC no matter what: that’s my current risk cliff moment. I fought hard to get here, and no damn virus is chasing me away. I love what I do. I love the people I collaborate with and the places my job has taken me.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I use light, color and composition to celebrate the magic in the people that come to my studio, or that I travel to meet. I love that I get to work with young talented performers, and that together we create, and then hold in a photograph, moments of pause, a place where subject and viewer can come together and say: that’s beautiful. I’m proud of the body of work that I’ve built, and I love that I have a network of collaborators that I trust, who will bring the same passion and commitment to a project as myself. Getting to where I am right now was a ton of hard work, and filled with setbacks, disappointments, and narrowly-missed opportunities. I’ve had countless rejections. I remember quite clearly the first photo editor that I ever met and showed my work to telling me I’d never make it as a photographer. Photography has been revolutionized several times over since I began my career, and that has been both exhilarating and exhausting. But every time I get knocked down, I get back up again. Sometimes it takes a day or a week or a month to catch my breath and find the strength and determination to keep going. But coffee helps. And exercise. As time goes on, I try more and more to focus on my own work and on redefining what success means to me. If I can continue to create work that I think is beautiful, that makes me feel like I’m flying, that makes me feel like I unlocked a moment together with the subject, and with the help of my team, then that will be the success that makes the failures tolerable.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I always liked exploring in downtown LA: the Bradbury building, Angel’s Flight, Grand Central market. I enjoy drinks or dinner at the Avalon Hotel poolside, and Joan’s on Third for a breakfast sandwich or cupcakes. Also the French breakfast muffin rocked. Coffee Commissary, wherever you can find them, have amazing iced lattes. And Mystery Pier books is an excellent hidden gem behind Booksoup (which is also one of my favorite bookstores). Definitely there would be a trip to Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary to see Jack Lemmon, Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote and the gang. When I finally saw the Watts Towers in person I was pretty blown away, so I’d probably try to fit in a trip to see them as well.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are several people in Los Angeles who were awesome mentors and advisors as I was finding my way. The first is James Van Evers, a photographer and friend who gave me lighting tips and let me use his studio for test shoots. He was such a great and kind resource. The second is Anthony Nex, also a friend, who is a commercial photographer based in Culver City. We met through APA-LA (American Photographic Artists) and he gave me some crucial bits of wisdom at times when I really needed help. He also let me use his studio as I was figuring out a lighting style. Both guys let me assist on occasion, and I learned a ton from them. There are countless others who have let me pick their brains and ask technical questions about gear, audio (ugh), contracts and networking. I also have to thank my husband, who has put up with my risks, my panics about same, my love of dog, and my stubborn determination for seventeen years now.
photo of Stephanie Diani by Tim Burns All other images by Stephanie Diani