New York City draws creatives from all over the world. When Frances Tulk-Hart arrived almost two decades ago she knew this is where she was supposed to be. From a styling career to photography, Frances has excelled in her field to be one of the city's most inspiring talents.
When did you arrive in New York?
I first came as an exchange student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1999. I came for a semester, and after that, came back every holiday to work as an intern. I interned at Oscar De La Renta and Betsey Johnson.
Also, I was in love with a boy. About a year after I first came as an exchange student I moved to New York for good.
Did you feel like New York was a place you were meant to live?
As soon as I landed the first time, even at the airport, I knew. I fell in love instantly. It became my sole purpose to figure out how to come back and to get a visa.
Was it hard trying to do that in a creative field?
Initially Nylon Magazine sponsored me, and then a designer sponsored me for a little bit. It was actually quite interesting how it happened; I was wearing this dress I had bought in a store on Broadway that isn’t there anymore, it was by this designer called Sally Penn who is from New Zealand. A friend of mine commented on the dress when I was wearing it. When I told him it was by Sally Penn, he said, ‘Oh, she’s a friend of mine’. He ended up giving me her number (there wasn’t email back then). I called her up, and she said ‘come and intern with me’. Through her I got a J1 visa for eighteen months. I worked with her and started styling from there.
You’ve changed careers since then to photography, how did you make the change?
When I first moved over to photography it felt very much like going back down to the bottom of the ladder again. It was becoming more and more apparent that I wasn’t enjoying styling anymore and at the same time I had picked up a camera and was doing photography as a hobby. I loved it so much. For a couple of years they overlapped.
Photography was always my favorite part of researching when I was at art school. I just never put two and two together that photography was what I actually really loved. It took another ten years for me to realize that.
It was difficult to make that change, but I was really enjoying it so it didn’t really matter. When I was starting out I would make little books of my work, and glue the photos in. I would take those around to friends of mine who were in the business and show them what I was doing. I would ask them for feedback and advice. Everyone was really encouraging.
A friend of mine started a magazine that’s no longer around, she asked me if I wanted to style a story for her and I said, "No, I want to photograph it". That was my first shoot.
How did that first shoot go?
It was amazing. Technically, I knew absolutely nothing but somehow I managed to pull it off. It was sheer luck, especially looking back knowing what I know now. I was absolutely terrified.
The fear never goes, I still have the same fears now though before every shoot. That hasn’t really changed that much. Although I feel more confident in my work, it's such a creative process that you don’t always know how it’s going to turn out. There is always that element of the unknown.
Especially shooting in people’s homes, which you do a lot …
Yeah. You have no idea what you’re walking into. I loved that first shoot, and it stayed in my portfolio for many years. Gradually I did more shoots and put together a proper portfolio of my work.
So you still have an actually book of your work to show around?
A lot of companies want to see an actual print. That part of it is obviously shrinking more and more though.
How did you come to a point where you could leave the styling behind and focus on photography?
The agency I had when I was styling was really supportive of my photography and were happy I was doing both, but it ended up getting to a point where they suggested that I focus solely on photography. To have that support is quite rare. It was amazing.
Was there a shoot that was a turning point for you?
There was an ad campaign for Tsesay cashmere, that was one of my very early shoots. A friend of mine worked at Tsesay. She and I got a model and a makeup artist and went to the beach to shoot. I got some really pretty shots. We only showed Tsesay afterwards and they really liked it. They ended up buying the photographs. We did it a different way round, it was awesome.
Photographers that had been around for a while were surprised that I’d already done a Tsesay ad. At the time I wasn’t sure why that was so crazy or weird. Now I realize how amazing it actually was. As I kept working I realized that it’s actually really really hard.
It is not just talent that you need, I think everybody needs a little bit of help, a lot of hard work, incredible amount of faith in oneself and a little bit of luck when getting started. In fact I would say that is the case throughout one’s whole career, right?!!
Who would you say are some of the people that helped you?
I met a lot of people while I was styling. They were all very helpful and supportive as I was starting my photography but there were also a lot of people who projected their own fears of change onto it and said, ’You shouldn’t, it is going to be so hard etc etc.. It can be scary but I had not choice, I loved photography so much. Even in the short period of time that I’ve been doing this; the industry has changed so much.
You also run a blog called 5 Minutes with Franny …
It’s always been something that I really wanted to do, and it’s something I really enjoy doing. It is hard to make time for it, with everyone involved, their schedules etc.For a shoot that you’re hired for, it’s all set and everybody is getting paid, so everyone shows up. For ‘5 Minutes with Franny’, everybody is doing it for free. The production side of it can be testing at times, but it’s always really fun and the people are so inspiring. The love for it fuels the next shoot. It’s beginning to make money as I’ve started to do collaborations.
I’ve also started doing watercolors, which I worked into a recent collaborative project. The watercolors have really started to take off. It’s not something I’ve always done, but I was always doodling this same character for years and years. It literally started as a circle and an oval shape and grew into the character I draw now.
My friend is an interior designer, and Domino Magazine commissioned these four apartments to be designed by four different interior designers. Her company Dekar Designs, was one of them. She asked me to do some illustrations for the walls. I got some great feedback that prompted me to do more. Now I’m getting more commissions for them. It’s great to be able to make something away from the computer and with my hands.
You have so many creative pursuits!
I’m also in a band with my husband Jason called ‘Love Taps’ and we recently completed our first album that’s out now on iTunes. We’re actually working on a new single right now.
Do you travel a lot for work?
Most of my shoots are based in New York. I do a little bit of travel. I’ve been to London, Miami, LA and Japan. I don’t travel as much as other photographers because I haven’t been shooting that long. I’ve only been working solely as a photographer for about six years. I have a few years to go before I start getting those bigger international jobs. It’s kind of great though because I don’t want to travel too much anyway with my daughter.
How do you balance everything, especially now you have a daughter?
It’s difficult. I don’t think I’ve really recovered from the shellshock!!! I had my daughter later on, but that’s not unusual for New York moms. I was very used to this independent, whirlwind life. Being able to get up and go and do whatever I liked. It’s so different now. Initially it was really really hard. Everyone can warn you, but you have no idea until you actually do it. I’ve had her for two and a half years now though and I can’t imagine doing it without her now.
The fashion and photography world can be crazy. It’s really nice to have my daughter and husband to go home to. Far far from that maddening world ! She’s as real as anything is going to be. It’s a nice balance, but it’s still hard. It’s so much juggling. I take my hat off to single mums. I don’t know how they do it. My husband is amazing, really hands on with her, the apt, with everything and even then is still a big juggle.
Raising a child in New York must be different to most other cities …
Yeah, you can’t just throw stuff in the car and go. You have to think ahead. I try and not do any shopping the days I’m taking my daughter out, because you have to carry everything.
It’s totally doable though, and I love both. I wouldn’t want to just be a career woman, or just be a stay at home mom. I do want both, so I make both work. It’s hard work, but it’s a good hard work. I’m lucky; I’m doing it all.
Obviously there are some days when I’m sticking daggers in my eyes. [Laughs] I would love a Sunday where I could stay in bed and read, but you make sacrifices.
You live in Greenpoint, how do you like living here?
I love it. We’ve been living here for three years now; it’s filled with moms. Although Greenpoint is already becoming unaffordable it still has a very Polish village feel. Greenpoint is not as ‘in your face’ as some other areas of Brooklyn. It still has an element of community.
Are there any favorite places you go?
To be honest we don’t go out much in the area, but we will take our daughter with us to Manhattan Inn. We also go to Café Mogador, it’s lovely. There are more strollers in Mogador than there are people!
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
You have to be absolutely obsessed with your work if you are in a creative field. The road is insanely hard, and you’re going to be rejected, rejected, rejected. Competition is so fierce, especially now with things like Instagram. It will get to the point where it bums you out, but it won’t matter because you will jump up again two seconds later because you love it so much.
Secondly, build up your relationships. There are so many photographers for people to choose from, it’s overwhelming for you and for the companies hiring you. They want to work with people they have a relationship with, and so you have to work at that. Grow with people.
What does New York mean to you?
For me it’s the city where dreams come true. You can do anything here. It’s filled with inspiring and energetic people who are all on the same dreamboat as you.
Photography by Stephanie Geddes ©