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Laure Joliet on making the time to keep things in focus.
Laure Joliet is a Los Angeles based (ray of sunshine) and photographer. Her work has been featured in outlets including The New York Times, T Magazine, & The Los Angeles Times and her clients include iTunes, West Elm, Target, & The Ace Hotel.
Q / Hi Laure! How do you usually start your day?
A / I’m a morning person so I normally wake up raring to go. On days when I’m not shooting (and when I’m being good) I don’t check my phone right away and let myself notice the light and sounds around me before I get out of bed. Then I either make coffee or a sort of rudimentary chai tea (I boil cinnamon sticks, cloves and whole cardamom in water for 15 minutes, and at the last minute I throw in black tea and then take the whole thing off of heat, add milk and sugar). It makes the whole house smell amazing and because I get to dole out spices, it gives me the illusion of cooking something. Only then do I check my email.
Q / Do you have a daily uniform?
A / I love the idea of a uniform and for shoot days I definitely wear one because it’s normally so early there isn’t time to get creative. So on those days, I wear my favorite Nike Frees, vintage Levis and a tee shirt.
Q / Is there anything you carry with you every day? If so, why is it important to you?
A / I’ve actually been carrying the same scrap of paper with me since 2009. I have it tucked in my wallet and it’s almost completely destroyed. In January of 2009 I went to Portland where I had the days to myself and one misty, rainy day, I drove up the Columbia River Gorge to Mount Hood. It was a magical morning full of fog, moss, no other cars, just me and the howling wind at times. Once I got to the little town of Mount Hood, I sat having breakfast and jotted down all the thoughts I was having about where I wanted to go in life, in my career, in love. I was feeling so inspired in that moment and felt like I had such clarity. I haven’t really even re-read it since then, but I know a lot of it has come to pass and every time I see the slip of paper, it reminds me that there are larger moments ahead and behind and I needn’t worry.
“I sat having breakfast and jotted down all the thoughts I was having about where I wanted to go in life, in my career, in love…and every time I see the slip of paper, it reminds me that there are larger moments ahead and behind and I needn’t worry.”
Q / Is there a time of day that you feel most productive? Anything specific that helps keep you focused?
A / Morning. If I can start working early on something that isn’t related to the events or deadlines of the day but is rather focused on something bigger, I feel invincible.
Q / What is your favorite place to work?
A / I like that in my work I have two main “offices”. If I am on location it is normally in a beautiful home, surrounded by bustle and activity, a team of stylists, assistants, creative directors. The day is full and alive. Or, my other office, my real office, is where I get to be quiet and more or less by myself (though I love it when my studiomates are working there too) and think about the big picture, get to refine images, get to let ideas bubble to the surface.
Q / How do you try to balance your time?
A / I have really tried recently to give myself more time. I love to work and it’s difficult for me to say no to opportunities but I am trying to weigh how much energy and time something will take and if it is more worth it to me to have down time, peace and quiet. I realize that I cannot stay creative if I am never letting myself recoup. I also moved in with my boyfriend this year and making our time together a priority also took some shifting. We are both freelance with changing schedules and lots of travel so we don’t necessarily have weekends together, it might be a Thursday morning or a Tuesday afternoon.
“I love to work and it’s difficult for me to say no to opportunities but I am trying to weigh how much energy and time something will take and if it is more worth it to me to have down time, peace and quiet.”
Q / How do you keep yourself organized with all the projects you have going on?
A / I always have a notebook to jot down to do’s for the day and week. I put important deadlines in my calendar with alerts so that I don’t forget. I also use Siri a lot to remind me to do things when I get to the office or to remind me once I leave a meeting to take care of an email, etc. I finally figured out a better way to organize my email. When I am traveling it is really difficult to stay on top of it, especially if I am shooting long hours, so instead of trying to be perfect, I set an auto responder so that people know I am away. Then at the end of every day I just scan to make sure nothing is urgent and I leave anything that needs further action as an ‘unread’ message. Later I just organize my email by unread messages and have my whole to-do list. It sounds so simple but it took me a long time to be really consistent with marking them unread and knowing that I wasn’t accidentally losing emails.
Q / What is something you are good at? Something you struggle with?
A / I’m great at working hard with deadlines and expectations from other people. I have a really hard time making time and energy available for my own creative projects.
Q / What do you enjoy most about your career? What are the most challenging things about it?
A / I love that I have the opportunity to travel so often and work with different people all the time. Not knowing where the year or month might take me is so important for my sense of adventure and I get to see such amazing places and meet so many interesting, accomplished, talented people. The most challenging thing is that everything is unknown. I am a worrier. So no matter how well things are going, at the end of the day I am still going to worry that I am not doing enough, about the future, about if I handled things well. There’s no real measuring stick since I am building my career on my own and that, at times, can feel really lonely. There’s no way to really say, phew, well I’ve done everything I was supposed to and now I can rest. And then I can get into sticky territory where I compare myself to other people I see on social media. This is definitely the dark side and when I know I am probably overtired and need to get perspective.
“Not knowing where the year or month might take me is so important for my sense of adventure and I get to see such amazing places and meet so many interesting, accomplished, talented people.”
Q / Something that’s very important to you in your work
A / Collaborating. I love that most of my work means collaborating with a designer, a creative director, etc. It’s nice to not try to work in a void. Even my own personal work gets run past trusted friends.
Q / Where do you go to be quiet and think?
A / Short answer is anywhere I can! But mainly it’s home. I like to wash the dishes or put things away and just nest, it helps all my thoughts settle while I work out a problem. If that doesn’t work then getting outside and walking around my neighborhood and noticing the temperature of the air, the quality of the light, it puts me back in the moment, but I have to feel like I have the space and the time to let go. Otherwise my mind is too loud with to-do’s.
Q / How does your home influence the kind and quality of work you produce?
A / My home is everything. I used to have a blog called At Home At Home that I started back in 2006. I have always been really affected by my environment and interested in the idea of home. From a young age I traveled back and forth between LA and Paris since my parents were divorcing. Growing up I spent summers in Paris with various family members, in rented vacation homes, etc. Back in LA I lived with my mom and spent weekends with my dad. I also spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house. All of these different homes and different levels of comfort really affected me. As a grown up person, it is my greatest freedom to get to make my home look and feel however I want and I see it as being a natural extension of me. I love to have space to work, space to entertain, space for all the rich and varied things life is full of. Without this base I wouldn’t have the creative energy to show up for my work. On a more practical level, my boyfriend and I live together and when we moved we both upgraded from pretty small places into a 3 bedroom house with a yard and a garage. Having more space and being able to have private spaces to do our work and then a nice big social space for hanging out together/having people over has made our quality of life sky rocket.
“I have to feel like I have the space and the time to let go. Otherwise my mind is too loud with to-do’s.”
Q / Where did you grow up and what led you to your current home. How would you say these places shaped your perception of work?
A / We lived in Paris until I was in kindergarten but always went back and forth between there and LA (where my mom was from) and when I was school age my parents decided to split and my mom moved back to LA. We still went back and forth a lot but I’m a California girl at heart. I grew up barefoot in my grandmother’s garden learning about plants and then spending summers at my other grandparents’ place in the Loire valley, also barefoot and running around. I watched my mom work her ass off as a single parent, I watched my dad work his ass off. I watched my French grandmother continue to work in her weaving atelier long after she had been retired. It was her life’s work and it was obviously still a pleasure for her. I think all of this influenced how I structure my life. I like the intensity of deadlines and really feeling like I’m working hard and accomplishing. But for balance I love to travel and have adventure. And no matter what I always have a nagging feeling that I need to pay attention to the smaller creative ideas that have nothing to do with making a living or accomplishing. That’s why I keep a studio outside of the house, so that I have a dedicated place to work on whatever I want to.
Q / What is your first memory of work? Of success? Of failure?
A / I think it was probably homework. I realized early on that it was something I had control over and was good at and so from first grade on I was always a teacher’s pet and a straight A student. I loved the validation. It wasn’t until my senior year, second semester when I was already accepted to college that I got a C (in calculus) and failed the AP exam. I was finally able to let go a little bit and put my energy where I had the most passion and interest. That was liberating, but over all I think I take work pretty seriously. I watched both of my parents work really hard. Growing up they worked in production so they had long hours. My dad had to cancel a lot of weekends with me because of work and my mom would work such long hours that I wouldn’t see her for days. I’ve never been afraid to work hard. In terms of failure, I am always terrified of it, but I’m also the first person to tell you that failure just makes you wiser.
Q / Do you keep any collections? If so, how do they influence you creatively?
A / I collect postcards! And I am the keeper of so many old family photographs and scrap books. I like feeling connected to a time before me. I also love kitsch. It reminds me to delight in life’s simple pleasures.
“I’ve never been afraid to work hard. In terms of failure, I am always terrified of it, but I’m also the first person to tell you that failure just makes you wiser.”
Q / How would you define beauty and what part does it play in your work?
A / Beauty for me is all about intuition and gut instinct. You know when something resonates for you and that is beautiful. As structured as my shoots are, I look for that moment, it’s the thing that fills me up and keeps me feeling creative.
Q / Does social media factor into your work at all? Is there anything you find problematic about it?
A / Social media is a big part of my day. It’s mainly for pleasure, sometimes leads to work and also to new relationships but it definitely has a dark side. It can be a real time suck. It can also breed a sense of jealousy and competition. For me it can put too much focus on posting posting posting. The immediacy can really kill creativity so I don’t necessarily post every day. Again, it’s all about balance.
Q / Do you use the internet on vacation or do you prefer to completely disconnect?
A / I change how I use the internet when I’m on vacation. I would love to totally disconnect from email and the feeling of being on call but I love to catch up on reading articles, I definitely post a lot to instagram when I am on vacation and I’ll let my mind wander around and discover things online when I’m lounging in bed or by the beach or a pool. It’s a fine line.
Q / Is there anything in particular that you do to take care of yourself and relax?
A / So many things. Without health, I have nothing. Unfortunately sometimes I don’t take care of myself until I’m pretty far down the road. Lately I have been loving cooking. Nothing fancy, just having food in the house and planning meals instead of waiting until I am way too hungry and then eating whatever. I also love walks by myself, rearranging furniture, lazy mornings in my robe, baths, and reading. I am SUPER into the Karl Ove Knausgaard memoir series and am on book 3. I highly recommend these books, he has a way of writing that puts you into the flow and the magic of the ordinary moments that string together to form a lifetime.
“Social media is a big part of my day. It’s mainly for pleasure, sometimes leads to work and also to new relationships but it definitely has a dark side…it’s all about balance.”
Q / Was there any particular person who helped shape the direction of your career in formative way?
A / I feel really lucky that I’ve had so much support in my life. Every step of the way there has been a pivotal person (or people) who boosted me up, reminded me my worth, were confident for me when I felt small, and generally pushed me along. I always try to focus on the next right action instead of the big picture. I would have scared myself if I had thought five years ago that I needed to figure out how to get where I am today. If you stay in the moment, it can unfold in ways you wouldn’t expect. It also leaves you open to help from unexpected places.
Q / How did your parents feel about your career path?
A / My parents are super proud of me. They are both creative and both went to art school so if anything I had pressure on me to make a living using my creative talents (I often joke that I want my future kids to become dentists and lawyers).
Q / In what capacity do you work with other people? Would you say your career is more solitary or collaborative?
A / I would like my career to be a little bit more collaborative. I work with lots of people on shoots but then when the shoot is over, it can be a little lonely. I love the thrill of being on location and working with a stylist and a creative director and a designer to craft images that match the brand, match my eye and make a project sing. I’m also lucky to have really good assistants who come from art backgrounds, so they all get it too. Every person on a shoot is a contributor.
“I would have scared myself if I had thought five years ago that I needed to figure out how to get where I am today. If you stay in the moment, it can unfold in ways you wouldn’t expect.”
Q / What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
A / That I have built it myself and (as long as I remember) I have total freedom.
Q / How does your work affect the rest of your life?
A / Work is the thing I do most but it’s also a seamless part of my life. It has allowed me to travel, to connect with people, to have purpose, to hire people, to express myself, to make a living. It has pushed me personally (because it can be scary and oftentimes you are in new and challenging situations and you are the boss so you better figure it out). I can be impatient with the process but I know that everything I have learned from my job will continue to influence and enrich my life no matter what I choose to do in the future.
Q / What has been your proudest career moment thus far?
A / The first time I shot for the New York Times.
Q / What are you looking forward to this year?
A / In the coming year I am excited about building a little bit more balance into my life. I have started saying no to some jobs that don’t fit me well and keeping my focus on doing work that continues to push me forward. This is the greatest accomplishment, to not just have to say yes to everything. It always feels scary to say no (what if people take it personally, what if it’s a mistake, what if I miss out) but this allows more time for fun and adventure and filling the well so that I am ready for the next challenge instead of wrung out and fried.
“I have started saying no to some jobs that don’t fit me well and keeping my focus on doing work that continues to push me forward. This is the greatest accomplishment, to not just have to say yes to everything.”
Q / Lastly, ten of your favorite people, places, and things that we should discover too?
A / 1. Karl Ove Knausgaard and his memoir My Struggle.
2. Leaving your phone in the other room when you’re sleeping.
3. Tara Brach’s Mindfulness/Meditation podcast.
4. Begonias on your desk.
5. Bailey Island, Maine (Went for the first time over the summer and Maine is everything you hope it will be and more). Stay at the Driftwood Inn.
6. Listapp. A new social media app where you get to share lists. I was part of the beta and there’s a really good vibe over there.
7. Monument Valley. Stay at the view hotel and wake up at dawn. You will not be sorry.
8. Chariot. The best $5 red wine at Trader Joe’s.
9. Jeff Brodsky’s playlists on spotify. Jeff is my boyfriend (and one of my favorite people) and is a musician/composer and his playlists are the best.
10. Make mussels for dinner. You can’t believe how easy it is and everyone will feel fancy and satisfied.
Interview & Photography