In 2006, I had the pleasure of meeting the charming and talented Stephanie Simos while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Stephanie and I were in the same program and a few of the same classes. Luckily, we’ve stayed in touch and I was even able to grab dinner with her on a San Francisco business trip a few years ago. Stephanie is a San Francisco based freelance and travel photographer.
Not only is she exceptionally bright (she works a full time job in finance), Stephanie certainly has an eye for beauty. Whimsical, imaginative, and simply lovely, I have been following her work for quite some time now. It’s absolutely perfect for Nonsense & Sensibility! I finally was able to catch up with Stephanie for an interview and feature on the blog. I hope you enjoy learning more about Stephanie’s work, inspiration, and the gorgeous photographs she’s shared as much as I have compiling it!
N/S: Have you always loved photography?
SS: My love for photography developed naturally as a byproduct of my passion for traveling and exploring the world. In the past, I would use photography as a way to share my adventures with the people I care about at home. It has since grown to be a part of my everyday life.
Now, I view it is as my responsibility to capture the nuances of everyday life that others might overlook. I take an irreverent approach to life and just document what I see. Even now, I’m struggling not to take a photo of my hummus snack plate. The bokeh in the background is so tempting…
N/S: Where and when did you decide to become a photographer?
SS: The day my grandfather died in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin was significant in my path towards being a photographer. My grandfather always appreciated the arts and I was forever amazed that the same man who would go fishing, and boxing, and practice martial arts could also paint the most beautiful, delicate watercolors. He graciously left me an inheritance and within months of his passing, I decided to purchase a professional camera with his money. My Nikon D90 is now named Elias in his honor and I like to think I am still sharing my art with him.
N/S: How did you learn photography?
SS: Trial and error? That is certainly not the most elegant way to phrase it, but I suppose it is true. Essentially, I purchased a camera and then just played around with it until I developed my own personal style.
N/S: Do you have a favorite photograph you’ve snapped?
SS: I certainly do. Just thinking about this particular photo actually makes me smile as I respond to this question. I have always loved books. As I kid, I spent countless hours lost in books. Consequently, as an adult, I love bookstores. My favorite photograph depicts a doorway at the Shakespeare Book Company along the Left Bank in Paris, France. On the wall are the immortal words written by Walt Whitman: “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” These words hit me like a ton of books, if you will, and I managed to capture some of the character of the famously intellectual rive gauche.
N/S: What is your most memorable experience in photography thus far?
SS: I spent the summer after I graduated from Berkeley volunteering in South Africa as an eco-tourist. That is a glorified way to say that I worked on a animal game reserve and earned my lodging by helping to do research on the animals. On a hike with my fellow volunteers, I stumbled across a female lion very unexpectedly. Before I knew it, she was roaring and charging at me. I will spare readers the rest of the details, but suffice it to say that I made it back to our vehicle in one piece. Somehow through the shaking and the failed attempts at calming my nerves, I had the afterthought to snap a photo of the lioness that almost took my life. I wanted to make sure I remembered that face.
N/S: What is the most challenging aspect of being a photographer?
SS: Easy question. Everyday, I struggle with defining myself as a photographer. What kind of photographs do I want to be known for? What is my focus? For now, I am just saying “yes” to every job and opportunity that comes my way, hoping one day the skies will part and divine intervention will provide the answers.
N/S: Where is your favorite city to visit and why?
SS: So far in life, I have traveled to five continents, twenty-some-odd countries and many magnificent cities. That being said, I must say, my current home of San Francisco is my favorite city. This city is bursting with inspiration.
N/S: Who personally inspires you? In photography? In the arts, beyond?
SS: There are many people, artists and otherwise, that I admire. But what inspires me are the people who have found their purpose in life. I am fairly certain photography has something to do with my purpose in life, but have no clue what that actually means. I am just going to keep saying “yes” and hopefully, one day, we will have some answers.
N/S: Describe your ideal day?
SS: A fantastic cup of coffee (perhaps a Tantalizing Turkish from Philz), a delicious delight to nibble on (perhaps a frangipani tart from Tartine Bakery), a good book (a la George Martin) and some daydreaming. Lots of daydreaming.
N/S: How would you describe yourself and your photography style to someone who is unfamiliar?
SS: I tend to believe that my best work comes from juxtaposition. Combining the delicate with the bold, the filthy with the pristine, and chaos with the simple pleasures of life. I tend to use depth of field (at times to the my detriment…) and am wildly in love with this concept called “bokeh” (Japanese, meaning blurred light).
N/S: What are your three favorite books?
SS: At this moment: Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and a Storm of Swords. I am fantasy novel dork and I’m not afraid to admit it. I love getting lost in another world. It somehow makes me feel more grounded in my own world.
N/S: What are you most excited about this summer?
SS: Considering I just got back from the British West Indies last night at 1:30am, I am going to take it easy for a while. But I do believe there is an adventure in Eastern Europe beckoning.
N/S: Do you have a preference when it comes to photographing people, places, or things?
SS: On my first major trip with a professional camera, I was intent on excluding people from my photos. It was neurotic and dissatisfying. I have come to believe that people, even strangers, can very much enhance photos. Presently, I embrace all people, places, and things. Nothing is safe.
N/S: How could you hope or dream to see your career in photography grow?
SS: For now, I only moonlight as a photographer while I spend the better part of my days as an excel jockey in Corporate Finance. One day, maybe I will have the guts to do this artistic thing full time. But even if I can’t find the courage, at least I can use the artist within to make my excel spreadsheets prettier.
On a more serious note, I have entertained every possibility under the sun. Some ideas are fleeting and quickly fade away, but some have stayed long enough for a second thought. The only decision I’ve been able to conclusively make is that photography is more than just a hobby. It has meaning in my life and I hope it will one day have meaning in the lives of others.
For now, I just take pride in being a feisty twenty-something. Check back with me in a year or so. Hopefully I will have a more definitive answer to this question.
N/S: What do you think (technique or style wise) might make your photography standout or different than other works out there?
SS: The simple answer is: color and depth. The technical answer has something to do with aperture priority, color temperature, and sensitometry – or something like that.
N/S: Is there a favorite quote or inspirational motto you live by or attempt to follow?
SS: As a wise man once said, “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”
– Walt Whitman.