Going Into Business With Your Best Friend
Creative duo Maryse St-Amand and Julie-Anne Cassidy turned their individual passions into a food and lifestyle photography business. By combining their skills and talents, they are able to offer complete features that include photography with unique props, recipes and articles, going beyond what they ever imagined they could do if they worked separately.
Tell us about your individual backgrounds.
Julie-Anne: Above all, we have been friends for the past 20 years. I am a photographer and recipe developer and I studied photography at Emily Carr Institute of Fine Arts, Focal Point Visual Centre and Vancouver Photo Workshop. For years, I worked in some of Canada's best restaurants and ran a jam company while photographing on the side, creating images for friends and local artisans in Vancouver.
Maryse: I am a stylist and an art history graduate of the Université du Québec à Montréal. I also studied furniture restoration at École Nationale du Meuble et de l'Ébénisterie de Montréal, specializing in decorative arts. I started my career as a furniture restorer while running an online vintage accessories shop.
Julie-Anne: When I moved back to Montreal, I constantly borrowed Maryse’s treasures, and she often contributed to photo shoots. Her input was really invaluable and I felt like she was raising the bar when it comes to styling and choice of props. We quickly realized how much fun we were having and how much better our images were when we created them together.
How do you divide the work tasks?
Julie-Anne: Like all entrepreneurs, we both wear many hats. I am the photographer, writer and recipe developer. I also usually play the role of researcher, accountant, coordinator and social media strategist. Maryse is the art director and, most of the time, she is the one that comes up with the strokes of genius. She is the prop stylist and most often acts as photo retoucher. She is also in charge of everything relating to website.
Tell us about your dynamic. Why do you think you work better as a duo than individually?
Maryse: As business partners, it is our opposite yet complementary personalities that allow us to push ourselves further and it is because we feed off of each other’s strengths that we work so well together. Julie-Anne is very analytical and has a wider, long term perspective of our assignments. She makes sure that our features fit a magazine’s style so perfectly that it couldn’t possibly be created for any other client. She is also extremely organized and disciplined, which makes it easy for us to handle tight production deadlines and push the workflow forward.
Julie-Anne: Maryse has a more artistic eye and personality and thrives when we work on creative features. She is also very meticulous when it comes to the concepts we create. She strives to come up with projects that push us out of our comfort zone and her ideas are grounded in historical practices and beliefs, which adds depth to our work.
Maryse: I get more emotionally attached to our projects though. Julie-Anne is even-tempered and is a great listener, which makes her better at communicating with our clients and being in tune with their needs. It is just like most successful relationships, opposite tempers create balance!
What are the challenges or benefits of working with your best friend?
Maryse: On a friendship level, we want to support each other’s ideas. Sometimes though, we have to distance ourselves from the other person’s feelings because objectively speaking, it may not be the best business decision. We can also both be stubborn because, after two decades of friendship, we can say anything that is on our minds. Most of the time, we appreciate each other’s honesty and are very respectful in our compromises so we always come to an agreement.
Julie-Anne: Overall, I think there are more benefits than challenges. By now, we are fairly predictable during shoots and most of the time, we instinctively know what the other is thinking and we have developed an efficient work method. Clients who witness us at work will often comment that we have a great chemistry on set.
Do you ever have a hard time agreeing on which projects you wish to work on?
Julie-Anne: We may be very different in some ways but we always agree on the type of work we want to do because we share the same values. When it comes to the clients we like to work with, we gravitate to small local companies and magazines that promote artisans. We want to support these people in our personal and professional life.
Tell us about your aesthetic.
Julie-Anne: We both prefer the softness and glow of natural light and actually enjoy the challenges it brings. We also love how beautiful imperfections can be. The food photography scene has changed in the past decade; many people like to see real food, messy lifestyle scenes and a more editorial style.
Maryse: We have a simple, quiet and honest aesthetic and appreciate images that aren’t overly styled. You won’t find any glue or paint during our shoots. We also want to respect and preserve the aesthetic and historic characteristics of objects. The props we use are unique and have personality. We want them to bring our dishes to life and add an authentic aspect to the food and lifestyle scenes we photograph.
Where do you find inspiration?
Julie-Anne: I find it abroad. Whenever I travel, I always end up at the nearest food market and look for cooking classes. Then I return home and apply that knowledge to local ingredients. Also, part of my job is to research magazines and websites so I am constantly exposed to other photographers’ work and I find that very inspiring.
Maryse: I was born in a family of resourceful artisans, tinkerers and folk stories enthusiasts so my family heritage had a big impact on my sources of inspiration. As a historian, my home is filled with artistic references and I read a lot about the history of food, utensils and manners, which I am fascinated by. I also enjoy scouting and bargaining in flea markets; I will often leave with empty suitcases which l fill with all sorts of objects from all over the world.
Julie-Anne: Oh yes! If you ever travel with Maryse, make sure you bring an extra suitcase too, she will probably make you carry a few of her findings as well!
To learn more about Maryse and Julie-Anne and their joint work with St.-Amand, visit their website here.