At Work With: Beth Davis, Freelance Photographer
Freelance photographer and stylist Beth Davis has worked with Tala since its inception. From intricate lifestyle shoots to complex exhibition photography, Beth’s artistry and creative flair has been crucial to the development of Tala’s visual identity. Here, we learn more about Beth’s work methodology, her experience working for Heal’s, and her approach to photography in her personal life.
Where did your passion for photography begin?
My dad was a really keen amateur photographer – he turned the downstairs toilet into a darkroom in our first house – so I’m sure it all stemmed from there. Interestingly, it was something my brother pursued for a while too, albeit in a very different way, travelling the world and photographing remote expeditions. I’ve always been more creative than academic and it’s nice that I was encouraged in that growing up.
The Ned, London. Photograph by Beth Davis
You worked for Heal’s for four years as their in-house photographer. How did this experience impact your now flourishing freelance career?
It was an extremely varied role, which gave me a useful all-round skill set. But it was really the people that have had the biggest impact on my career since, and I feel fortunate that they became the network to support my move into freelancing. It’s a relatively small industry and for the first few years at least, the majority of my work was via colleagues who had moved on to new companies, and mentioned my name when they got there.
That’s exactly how I began working with Tala actually – I’d recently gone freelance around the time Tala was first stocked in Heals, and the lighting buyer there recommended me to the founders. You were a team of three or four at that point!
A sharp eye, attention to detail and visual prowess are some of your most inspiring qualities, which are fairly typical characteristics of a creative. What other qualities do you think creatives need to succeed?
Freelance life sometimes feels like an exercise in organisation and time management, as much as anything. But I would say there’s real value in nurturing your relationships.
Photographing Voronoi III bulbs for Tala.
Do you work with any other mediums other than styling and photography? If so, how does it influence the approach to your work?
I love drawing – especially life drawing, but never seem to make much time for it unfortunately. My extra-curricular output these days is usually just making cards for people. I like to see them as half-hour creative projects.
They’re not really things that influence my approach to work, but I always think it’s interesting to see what comes out when you’re not working to a brief, and doing something purely for yourself.
We work with you frequently at Tala due to your experience in design photography, specifically lighting. What are some of the challenges when photographing light sources?
It can be a real challenge! Though, after four years of working together, I think I’ve (almost) got it sussed.
It’s a delicate balance of exposing the bulbs and their filaments, as well as the space around them, and trying to show their impact on the space too.
Tala installation at Matter of Stuff Concept Gallery, London. Photograph by Beth Davis.
Who is one of your favourite photographers and why?
I have so many! But Vivianne Sassen is a perennial favourite, for her surreal outlook and use of colour.
Storytelling and constructing multiple visual narratives are some of the most important aspects of photography. Tell us about the process you follow to create a lifestyle shoot for your clients.
I usually try and meet a client face-to-face in the lead up to a shoot, as I think you can get much more from those conversations. I like to ask about their design influences, or the story behind a product, as there’s always some nice reference points or touchstones within that. I also tend to ask for a few images, to try and get an idea of what’s in their mind’s eye.I find it’s more helpful to me than a verbal description.
I then go away and do my own research, and put together a PDF to sum up the shoot. It can be a little abstract, but I’m usually looking to show lighting, colour and the overall feel. It can also contain suggestions for locations, or propping if it is relevant.
Once that’s had the thumbs-up, the work begins, and the wheels go into motion to make it all happen.
Describe the interior design of your own home. How would you summarise the style?
A mixed bag! Our flat is rented, but we’ve managed to swap out more or less all the furniture in it for our own now, and we’ve put up as much art as we can get away with without impacting our deposit, which all helps it feel much more personal.
I like clean lines and quite neutral colours and always lean towards mid-century bits and pieces. My best-ever purchase was a bargain Ernest Race Antelope chair. It’s not all quite as serene as that sounds, though. My husband is a writer, and between us we have a huge amount of books and magazines, so they take up most available surface space. I love a knick-knack, or ‘design object’ as I should perhaps call them too, so any remaining shelf space goes to them.
Photograph by Beth Davis
Tell us about a moment in your life you wish you had documented with images. Why didn’t you choose to take any at the time?
Funnily enough, I tend to come away from most big events, such as weddings, without a single picture – and if I do then they’ll be of a nice chink of light, or a chair leg or something. I’m sure I’ll come to regret this in my old age, but I really believe in being in the moment on those occasions, and just soaking it all up.
What’s your least favourite colour and interior trend?
Perhaps purple? Only as it’s a colour I don’t seem to have much of around!
In terms of interior trends, I would say anything that’s too prescribed – I hate the idea of a head-to-toe look. I would much rather gather as I go.