Chicago Soft Goods & Aspiring Food Stylist - Lindsey Parker

The Producer: Hi Lindsey, so nice to meet you! Let's jump in. How did you get into soft goods styling?

Lindsey Parker:  I graduated in 2005 and started photo assisting.  When I graduated, I was shooting for Timeout and photo assisting and then I ended up photo assisting at the Crate & Barrel Studios - that’s when I transitioned from photo assisting to stylist assisting.

TP: Did that transition take place at the Crate & Barrel Studio?

LP: Yes, I started doing stylist assisting for the catalogue shoots. I did that for a few years while learning the soft styling and eventually I started doing bedding there as well.

TP: For soft goods do you mainly do bedding or do you also do folded sweaters and things like that to?

LP:  I do off-figure, lay-downs, and pin-ups.

TP: Who were the stylists you worked with at C&B?

LP: I worked with Joe Mayer and Bobby Lin, who are their main freelancers, and they are both from New York actually. They were there all the time, and there were others I worked for who were there occasionally.

TP: So after how many years did you start doing your own soft goods styling?

LP: I probably assisted there for two years then built up my portfolio enough to start doing it on own. Then I signed with Ford, so I was repped through them for 3 years. And I just left them 3 or 4 months ago.

TP: Tell me about that. You worked with them for three years and what kind of work did you get through them?

LP: All kinds of work, in town, out of town, props, soft goods.

TP: So you did more than just soft goods with them, you did styling as well?

LP: Yes, because that was originally what I wanted to focus on, but because I could do the soft goods, that’s what I ended up getting hired for most of the time.  

TP: You later transitioned into being independent - tell me about that decision.

I felt I was at the point where I knew a lot of photographers, I knew a lot of people in the industry that could help me once I was done with school to get to food styling jobs more easily than other people could, so I felt I was at the perfect point in life where I just had to do it.

LP: I think I was at the point where I really had always wanted to get into food styling. After I graduated from Columbia, I interned for photographer Laurie Rubin. So even in school, I was into shooting tabletop, smaller things, never fashion, never people. I’ve always been into that sort of photography. I felt I was at the point where I knew a lot of photographers. I knew a lot of people in the industry who could help me once I was done with school to get food styling jobs more easily than other people could, so I felt I was at the perfect point in life where I just had to do it.  I decided to leave the agency because I was working out of town a lot and that wasn't sustainable while going to school. I knew a few studios in town that would work around my schedule. So it was just a good time to go out on my own and work at a handful of places until I finished school and still be able to build up a portfolio. I have this long list of photographers who already want to test - which is great!

TP: Do you find that in moving from soft goods and prop styling to food styling it requires a lot of the same skill sets? You're still creating sculpture. And do you feel that you will assist other food stylists first?

LP: Yes And that is what I would like to do.

TP: Are there food stylists in Chicago you would like to work with?

LP: I love Johanna Lowe’s aesthetic, of course, and I kind of know her just from working in the same studios as her. But yeah she has amazing AMAZING work - so I would love to work with her. And then she does props and food, which is my aim. I don’t want to focus just on the food or just on the props.

TP: Do you see that being more editorial work, then, if you have your hand at both of those?

LP: I mean since I haven’t done any food styling and haven’t really looked for those types of jobs yet, I really don’t know how many jobs I could find that would be props and food or if they are mostly just food and they hire a separate props stylist. 

TP: Once you are finished with culinary school how will you promote yourself?

LP: Well I have my website, so far that has helped a lot. Then just being in the photo industry all through college up until now, knowing plenty of really good photographers and producers and art directors, I think that helps. Because I’ve already been talking to people and once I’m done [with school] and I’m going to need help!

TP: What is a challenging experience you’ve had and how did you tackle it?

Location shoots are challenging because the person hiring you just has this broad idea of what you need to do. They say, “Oh, we need you to make a bed, you’ll know what to do” but then you don’t always know what to bring.

LP: Location shoots are challenging because the person hiring you just has this broad idea of what you need to do. They say, “Oh, we need you to make a bed, you’ll know what to do” but then you don’t always know what to bring. Being on location you don’t know what you’re dealing with or what goods will be available.  Because the person hiring you might not necessarily know what type of bed, or how many beds or what size each bed is and at what times of the day it’s going to be shot, or which day even. Or you might show up and they have the shot schedule, but the client is standing around with the photographer trying to see what the best flow will be and they decide, “oh we’ll just do the bed first” or “we just need to do this stack of sheets first” and they don’t realize I need to steam that out and that takes time.

TP: So how do you deal with that?

LP: I just try to go faster. Sometimes if I’m able to change their minds, I do that. I’ll say, “You know guys if you want it to look really good I can totally nail that - but if you want to do it first, we’ll do it first.”

TP: What is the moment you’ve been most proud of, where you had to be resourceful or you had a major challenge you were able to tackle?

LP: I guess the first big job that I had through Ford was a department store holiday shoot and it was insane. It was through an in-town studio that hired me two days earlier and I had no information about the job, but Ford said, “It will be great, you’ll get three prep days, the shoot is this many days, it’s one location, it’s holiday, it’s signage.” I showed up to the studio the first prep day, which actually turned into a pre-pro day, so it lasted a lot longer than it was supposed to. Then I had maybe a couple of hours after that to source props, but I couldn’t get a budget out of anyone to save my life. The next day turned into a location scouting day and they wanted me to go with the scout and the producer to the location, which ended up being three locations instead of one - three different houses in the surrounding suburbs and they all needed to be decked out for Christmas. And they wouldn’t give me an assistant. So that day I told Ford I need an assistant and a truck for all these props because every sentence out of the art directors mouth is “we should have this or maybe we should add that” or “let’s get ten of these!” The list just kept getting longer and longer and longer.

TP: So it sounds like the issue is that you ended up having to inform your client and tell them what’s feasible, that these are the details they may not be considering. That kind of leads into the job that I do as a producer. Have you had good experiences where those individuals have been able to give you what you needed or acted as a support system?

LP: I’ve been let down by a lot of producers. I feel like none of those logistics are taken care of or communicated. I know everybody wants a small budget but if you have a $10,000 prop budget and you don’t hire an assistant or provide a truck or a place to store your props, that’s just not right.  How can you expect the job to be successful? I ended up with 24 hours to shop, and I spent $10,000 in 24 hours.

TP: Sometimes there’s a difference between producers who are on staff versus freelancers who are working on one dedicated project and know they have to support the team.  Do you have a dream job or client or ad?

LP: I don’t know, at this point I’ve been working with Crate & Barrel for so many years which has been fantastic.  I would love to work for Steven Hamilton, that would be fantastic.

TP: What qualities do you look for in an assistant?

LP: It depends, if I’m working in house, they usually have their own people who are pretty good. If I hire them, I look for someone who is a photo assistant, because photo assistants are hard-working. I know they can lift and carry a lot of things without complaining, and they have a good attitude. When I look for stylist assistants, they’re like “Oh I have to lift stuff? I have to move stuff around all day? That’s not what I want to do.” It’s schlepping. And since I went to school for photography I have a soft spot for photo assistants especially because I used to be one. So I have a roster of photo assistants who don’t mind doing stylist assisting, they don’t mind ironing. I also like to hire photo assistants because when I’m busy on set, they are really good at having conversations with the photographers and keeping them happy. I always hire someone I think the photographer will get along with who’s like “Oh, I like your assistant, that guys is cool!” Because then you’re building your tight crew and you’re jiving and having a good time on set and getting along.

TP: What advice do you have for someone looking to get into styling?

LP: Just work on your portfolio, spread the word. That’s the most important thing when it comes down to it. Have a good website! Work on your images, have strong images and an easily accessible website. By the way, the first 12 images on my website are cooked, styled and shot by me.

There are so many jobs where you don’t have the freedom to be creative. The product might stink, but you have to make it work.

TP: What is your favorite part of the job?

LP: When I have freedom to do something creative. There are so many jobs where you don’t have the freedom to be creative. The product might stink, but you have to make it work. Working with good products and when you're free to actually choose your own props and make something that you're envisioning and not just giving someone what they are envisioning. That’s what everybody has in their mind as their ideal when it comes to this job, but it’s rare that you actually get to do that.

TP: What’s an average day like for you?

LP: An average day is hard work from beginning to end. Sometimes you have long days where you may or may not get to take lunch. You also are always dealing with things that are unexpected and managing that while still being able to stay focused on the work and do a good job and be creative while in that fast paced stressful environment. That’s probably the hardest part, being able to stay focused and create something beautiful when you're under extreme stress! Staying calm to keep everyone else calm is really important. Especially with soft goods styling everyone thinks you are the calm and focused fine details person, when inside you are just as stressed out and you haven’t sat down for ten hours.

TP: Thanks Lindsey!

Find out what's in Lindsey's Tool Kit!

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Interview with Lindsey by Annika Howe, Photos by Adrian Alston.