Amanda Friedman’s photographs for Sunset magazine make you want to grab your sunglasses and mix tapes (because you’re still driving a vintage truck with a tape deck, obviously), a cowboy hat and hit the road and spend a long hot day at the beach (wear sunscreen, darlings). She’s that sort of a photographer – evocative, landscapes on a vast scale, exhilarating nature at its best.
When we met near her studio in Hollywood, Amanda said that her influences are, in no particular order, “Edward Hopper, Suburban Detroit and foggy nights.” But what she really loves to do is clear her mind and lay out on the sand in Malibu with a “guilty pleasure novel” – maybe a Jackie Collins novel (she just shot the British glamazon’s portrait for the Wall Street Journal).
When she’s not on location, Amanda Friedman is doing a subtle twist on celebrity portraiture for glossy magazines. Her female subjects, like her recent shots of Holly Hunter and Viola Davis for Stella magazine in the UK, are always strong, classy, shining through with beautiful defiance. Like many creative people who have informed our visual appreciation of Los Angeles, Amanda Friedman is not from here.
Born in Birmingham, Michigan, she got her BFA at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and it was love that brought her West. She was dating a fellow photographer at the time and he knew one person in Sherman Oaks so they sub-let and started to plot a life in Los Angeles.
Here’s where the tale diverges from many who come seeking success. Many sit around their mostly empty apartments wondering when fame will come to call. Amanda Friedman was both hopeful and systematic in her approach. She would hunker down at the magazine racks in Borders and Barnes & Noble and draw up a pitch list of the art directors at the big titles. Then she made postcards of a single arresting image and (this is the important bit), mailed them out to her hit list of potential employers. She did this four times a year while continuing to assist other photographers and build her own portfolio.
A couple of big breaks set her on her way. Charlie Hess, the renowned head art director who created the aesthetic at much-missed L.A title, Buzz, hired her to shoot Orlando Jones for Code magazine (known at the “black GQ”). Then she won the Avant Guardian award from Surface magazine in 1999. “It was the award that gave me confirmation – yes, I’m mean to be doing this!” she said.
The award also got her on Nylon magazine’s radar. Her work for them caught the attention of Stella magazine and her client list now ranges from Harry Winston to the New York Times, XXL (hip hop) to those inspiring road trip scenes for Sunset magazine.
But those days lying out on the beach will have to wait a little while. Amanda recently became a mother to a tiny baby boy – so Malibu and ice cream sundaes are on hold for the moment. Ironically there’s one aspect of motherhood that has helped her career. “Due to my son,” she explains, “I can now shoot amazing sunrises because I’m up that early.”
Another brilliant example of life’s challenges engendering art – sleep deprivation has its (temporary) advantages. And Amanda Friedman is making use of those early hours. Soon enough, she’ll be able to head back to the beach and get inspired all over again so we can sigh over those gorgeous California scenes she does so beautifully.