Small Coffee has shared a work space out of Canopy with photographer Sarah Frankie Linder (and Annie Ray) twice since we launched, and I’ve been a fan of her work and work ethic ever since meeting her in 2014. Probably best known locally for her quirky portraits, clever compositions and precisely-lit product shots for publications such as Austin Monthly, over time I’ve seen her personal work grow and evolve. Right now, I’m loving her almost abstract and minimal photographs of cropped architecture with lush colors (think William Eggleston meets Alex Katz). I’m turning our lens to Sarah Frankie because I’ve always impressed by her resilience, and she always comes to the “office” with lots of energy, a to-do list, and cool boots.
When did you start your business and how did you get if off the ground?
Informally, in 2011; formally in 2014. When I was about 30, I decided to go back to school for photography. At that time, I was a motion graphics designer for the Big Ten Network in Chicago, and wasn’t really feeling it anymore. I transitioned into working for BTN as a freelancer instead of a full-time employee and went to Harrington College of Design part-time. Once I became a freelancer and the Network found out I could do commercial photography, they started hiring me separately to do headshots, and playful player and coach portraits during Big Ten Media Day to air during football and basketball games.
Eventually, I ended up down here in Austin and got a job doing photo editing and graphic design for a real estate/architecture photography company called Twist Tours Photography. During that time, I participated in the portfolio reviews at the (then annual) Texas Photo Roundup and ended up getting my foot in the door with Austin Monthly shooting monthly “Character” portraits. That was sort of my in here in Austin.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I generally get to the studio around 8:30 am. I like to hit the ground running and get as much done as possible in the morning while it’s quiet and there isn’t a line at the coffee shop. I grab a coffee and start making my really nerdy to do list for the day in my extra nerdy graph paper notebook (shout out to the Paper + Craft Pantry for my latest book). If I don’t have a shoot that day, I usually start editing and retouching projects that’ve been in the queue, starting with whichever deadline is most pressing. I’ve been retouching a ton of projects lately, so I actually ended up bringing a pair of free weights from home. And when I’ve sort of hit the proverbial wall and my brain wants to shut down, I lift weights for a little bit, preferably when I’m alone in the studio, but it doesn’t always work out that way, ha! I try to spend some time working on longer term projects, a few times per week, and I also try to squeeze in an Instagram post on my account somewhere between noon to 4 pm (because that’s when my analytics say I should). Depending on how busy the day is, I’m generally out of here between 6 to 6:30 pm.
What are your go-to tools and devices when it comes to work?
Besides those free weights, I’m a Mac user, and am definitely on my computer a lot. I also use a Wacom tablet exclusively; I’m honestly not sure where my mouse is. I use noise-cancelling headphones a lot so I can stay in the zone and listen to music or podcasts while my studio mate, Annie Ray, is working on other shoots in our shared studio. Lists and note-taking are musts for me and I always have my graph paper on hand. I also recently switched over to Sony for all my camera equipment. My new camera is mirrorless (read: much smaller), so I carry that with me a lot. I also fell prey to some Instagram marketing and bought a pair of Felix Gray glasses to block the blue screen light from my computer. I have to say, they really help and I don’t feel like my eyes want to fall out of my head during long retouching days. Also, not really a “tool or device,” but having good people on your side from assisting to styling, and just general support, is essential. The more experience I get, the more important I realize that to be true.
What would be your dream gig(s)?
I’m working on adding a lot more to a personal project I started last year called “Dope Beets”, which is a conceptual still life series of rapper/food puns (Busta Limes, Tupac Liqueur, etc.), so hopefully in the near future I’ll have a good collection of those to shop around. In the last year, I’ve done several conceptual projects through EmDash for various magazines, so I’d love to do more of those. I’d love to work on some projects with Pentagram. For me, the specific client or company is just as important as working on projects that I find mentally engaging—anything that’s tongue in cheek, based on interesting concepts, or sends me to interesting places always makes me happy and excited to make good work.
I’d also like to make more fine art series. I’m fortunate to have a collection of music-based abstracts as part of the permanent collection at Modern Rocks Gallery, and have done a couple of solo exhibits of that series, as well. I’ve been working on a lot of collage work lately, so I’d love to make something happen with that.
One thing I've always admired about you is how task-oriented you are. You pay attention to small details and have a very strong work ethic. How do you keep it all together?
Ha, yeah, I’m definitely all about details. I think that’s where a lot of the magic happens and that’s where the opportunities to show craftsmanship are, regardless of your field of work. Also, as a business owner, it’s always apparent that the buck starts and stops with me. It’s less about willpower to get projects done and more about just making a decision to work until it’s done and do the highest quality work I can. It’s always a work in progress, though, and that’s what helps me grow and develop new systems to work smarter.
Also, full disclosure — I definitely don’t have it all together all the time. I don’t think that’s possible. I have my fair share of blank-staring at the wall or crying it out when I’m super frustrated. No shame.
I've seen your business expand over the years, but I know it hasn't always been easy. What's your best advice for entrepreneurs and aspiring photographers?
For one, make sure you have as much financial runway as you can get. And there’s no shame at all to work on other things to pay the bills while you’re getting your business up and running. I would say that as long as you can endure being poor for quite some time — probably years — and that you still are engaged in your work, that’s a good sign that you have what it takes. I’d also say, try to do your best work for all clients, regardless of how “big” they are. Those smaller clients might know each other and refer you to others. Making a good impression. Doing quality work, being reliable and easy to work with go along way and will eventually pay off. For me, it was tough being self-employed for YEARS, and things have really turned around, this year especially, because I stuck to it and tried to be a good person to work with for all of my clients. You have to be ready to play the long game.
What are you doing when you're not working?
I like to travel a lot. I was in Bogotà, Colombia recently and am working on several collage projects using those images. I’m also a big reader (library book junkie here), and love learning new languages. Working on Spanish and brushing up on French and German right now.
Where can people see your work?
Several places! a) My website. I post on Instagram pretty regularly at @sarahfrankielinder, and Twitter at @SarahFLinder. b) Our studio will be open for EAST, the East Austin Studio Tour (November 10-11 and 17-18), here at Canopy. I’m not sure what our tour number will be yet, but we’ll be in Building 1, Suite 123. c) My music abstract series “On the Bright Side” can be seen here. d) Also, here’s a link to a feature on Medium that I photographed for The Alcalde this Summer.
Thanks Sarah Frankie!