After a colorful childhood in New York, Douglas Friedman made his way to California for college. Afterwards, he had the same goal as many young people who have recently graduated in Los Angeles: to become a director. He got a major leg up when he was hired to assist renowned filmmaker David Fincher, but, ironically, the proximity to greatness ended up discouraging young Friedman. “I knew I was never going to be as good as him, so why even bother getting into movies?” he recounts to Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast.
After a little soul-searching and a few trips to Southeast Asia, Friedman found an interest in another creative art—photography. A good choice, as it turns out. Today, he’s one of the most celebrated interior design and architecture photographers of his generation. If you’ve picked up a shelter magazine in the last 15 years, you are intimately familiar with Friedman’s work.
Friedman arrived at interiors via the world of fashion photography, which, though glamorous and exciting, ultimately felt too disposable. “It became hard to put everything I had into it, knowing these images would be so fleeting,” he says. “I didn’t perceive the work I was doing having much of a life beyond the first time it was published. Whereas [with] architecture and interiors, some of the work I shot 15 years ago is relevant now.”
Friedman got into interiors after a chance opportunity to work with then–Architectural Digest editor Margaret Russell. Afterwards, he sent her a handwritten note, which led to more work (never underestimate the power of a handwritten note). He’s since shot projects for everyone from Brigette Romanek to Ken Fulk to Steven Gambrel—truthfully, it’s harder to make a list of top-tier designers Friedman hasn’t photographed than the ones he has.
The secret of a great interior photograph? Turns out it’s not that different from what goes into design itself. “It’s an intangible thing, but there’s a moment when it feels perfectly balanced to me,” he says. “The perfect balance might be achieved by removing one flower from the vase, or pushing the books on the coffee table two inches to the left. … Everything’s important.”
Whether it’s the flowers or the books that make the image, Friedman urges designers everywhere to take photography seriously. “You’re documenting years of work,” he says. “This is the last moment you’re going to be able to get into that house and capture it at its pinnacle of your creative vision. The minute those homeowners move in, their shit’s everywhere, and the house changes. … That’s not a time to cut a corner and not think your work is worth the best possible photography out there.”