Story and photo by Daniel Friedman
Auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto-everything digital cameras have made the physical act of taking pictures nearly mindless. The easy distribution of those images online makes everyone a photographer, in the sense that they own a camera and can complete the act of creating an image. Not everyone, however, can visualize, design and execute a photograph someone is willing to pay thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars to have.
Meri Friedman (no relation to this writer) has been in the portrait business for 35 years and her daughter Jennifer Kirshner, a photographer for a decade, have been working together the past year creating their carefully considered and designed, classic style of portraiture known as Friedman+Kirshner Portrait Design.
Friedman and Kirshner don’t just drop by someone’s house for a few hours on a Saturday to snap photos of a family and then send a link from which the family can order a few 8×10 prints or scoop up a few jpegs to post to a Facebook page. They still shoot mostly film and the prints are large. They are more like the size — and have the feeling of — painted portraits in that the elements of the image are so carefully considered. The photographers often work with interior designers to place and design the final image for a particular room.
The approach to portraits may be old-fashioned, but their clients may be old-money or otherwise able to afford the classic look. They say the market for their style of photography is still viable, but Friedman says, “We’re having to answer questions we haven’t had to answer before,” regarding clients who want a digital file to email to family or post online. Except for selling a few digital images for use in holiday cards, they aren’t in the business of selling photographs in any form except as large prints of commissioned portraits designed for installation in a home.
Friedman has spent decades perfecting her technique and updating and adding to her skills by taking classes and studying under a variety of photographers to learn new techniques and approaches to portraiture. She built up a business and a reputation but took a sabbatical for a couple of years.
Kirshner has a master’s degree in Fine Arts in Photo Studies from ASU and has worked in art galleries and as a photography curator. She worked on her own for 10 years in the business of commissioned portraits.
About a year ago, an old client of Friedman’s called and she and Kirshner collaborated on a portrait. They had such a good time that Friedman and Kirshner decided to team up officially to design and create portraits.
The process can take weeks. They work with the client to decide how the photograph will look, find a location, arrange for props, decide on wardrobe and fine tune the lighting. These aren’t big “say cheese!” moments. “They’re very calm,” says Friedman, adding, “I want these to be timeless images you aren’t going to get tired of looking at.”
“We have a dialogue and relationship we build with the client to help them create something they’ll have for years and want pass on,” says Kirshner.
Learn more about Meri Friedman and Jennifer Kirshner.