Interview by Bre Graziano
Images by Lauren DeFilippo
Written into the core of Fellow is the hope to connect. Whether you’re a maker or simply someone with an appreciation for good work and words, we come to this space to share in the things that exist to bring us together: food, art, nature, and fellowship. It is our namesake, and because of it, we have had the privilege of meeting some wonderful people. Lauren DeFilippo is one such person, and she’s doing so much more than just sharing her photography talents with our magazine and its readers. It was an honor to chat with her about her story and to learn about the person behind so many of the images we have loved in this space.
Tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to Denver.
I grew up in a small Connecticut beach town, about two hours outside New York City. My mom is a native New Yorker, so we went into the city often as kids. After college in rural Pennsylvania, moving to Manhattan was a natural progression, and I stayed there for eight years. During that time period, I found myself visiting Denver more and more frequently, so I packed up and drove out here two and a half years ago.
We know you as a photographer, thanks to some of the beautiful work you’ve contributed to Fellow. But you really do more than just take pictures.
Professionally, I have one foot in graphic design and the other in photography. Linked by my love of all things visual, they go hand-in-hand. It’s my greatest pleasure when I have the opportunity to use both in projects. I currently work for an international restaurant group based in Denver as their Brand Manager, handling all restaurant creative, signage, menu design, and photography. It’s a big job, but I still find the time to pursue other passion projects on the side—namely working with entrepreneurs and small businesses. To that point, my sister and I recently brought our talents together (she’s an incredible storyteller and copywriter) to start Cognoscenti Creative, a branding agency with clients in both Denver and NYC. Our tagline is “establishing artisans as influencers” We take a very editorial approach, working with both emerging businesses and organizations that need a creative refresh.
Plus photography, of course. Where could we see more of your work?
I’m a regular contributor at Life & Thyme Magazine, an LA-based food publication focused on culinary storytelling. Their international focus has allowed me to work on everything from city guides of Denver coffee shops to the food scene in Reykjavik, Iceland. It also allows me to champion some of Colorado’s most amazing entrepreneurs, like the owner and mixologist at Williams & Graham, Sean Kenyon. My sister and I also just published a print piece on one of our favorite bakeries in Denver, Babettes. I have some photos coming out in Denver’s 5280 Magazine soon too!
You have your hand in so many facets of design, photography. How did your creative journey really begin?
At the start of college, I transferred from being a Theater Major to a Communications Major to a Psychology Major within the first year—you could say I was a bit lost! I knew I wouldn't go much further career-wise with psychology, but loved the subject and found a real interest in the classes. (I still attribute my ability to work well with clients to this being in my background!) Around the same time, I discovered film photography and quickly fell in love with the darkroom and my classes there.
When I graduated and moved to Manhattan, I took a job as a recruiter and, while I excelled in sales, I couldn’t find a real passion in it. A close friend gifted me his SLR camera and I was hooked; it brought me back to that curiosity and hands-on craft that I had grown to love so much in school. I quit my job, took a few months off and spent the time in Europe, focusing on taking photos. When I returned to New York that Fall, I quickly enrolled in a graphic design program at Parsons. The training and mix of students really spoke to me. There were so many other 20-somethings making career shifts that I could relate to!
It makes sense that I ended up working in design and visuals. For starters, it’s in my blood: my mother is an oil painter and a floral designer. Throughout my youth, I would collect business cards and matchbooks from restaurants and admire ghost lettering on old buildings. Typography exhibits were always my favorites at galleries, and it still remains my favorite part of design to this day.
As an entrepreneur and self-employed artist, how have you developed from those early years, just starting out, into who you are now?
Starting out as a freelancer in the design and photography field was definitely a challenge—especially in New York. It’s hard to realize the advances you’re making in the moment, but, years later, I now see that my personal growth has really mirrored that of my business. I’ve become more confident, treating my projects and my clients as partners, rather than taking direction. That’s been the biggest shift.
Creativity is definitely a journey; but do you think there was a formative moment or a challenge that really defined things for you?
Most people—unless they are formally trained in the visual arts or design—don’t really know what they want until they see it. In our business, my sister likens what we do to being “brand therapists,” and that’s really my experience. We have to play Aristotle, asking our clients questions that only they can answer; and then it’s our job to represent their voice in creative assets. When a client sees himself or herself in our work, that’s when I feel the most accomplished.
You’ve had a lot of fantastic projects, but surely there’s one of which you’re most proud.
One of my proudest moments in my career was actually for a shoot in Fellow! I was asked to photograph an incredible event at Colorado’s DRAM Apothecary with Chef Daniel Asher (formerly of Linger and Root Down). The minute I showed up to the event, I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. The mysterious, hidden beauty of that space has made it one of my favorite places to photograph in Colorado.
You’ve been in New York, now you’re in Denver. How does your sense of place affect your work?
Living in NYC and living in Colorado both make you feel small but in entirely different ways. In New York, you’re just one cog in the wheel, and that mobilizing energy can either be addictive or crushing. But in Colorado, the space to stretch out, even the view of the horizon—it changes everything. I do feel in Colorado that I have to be even more of a self-starter, as I came here without an established network or any roots; but the arc of my growth has been so much greater than what I experienced in New York City. It’s a great community to be a part of.
That’s for work! What about your personal time? What are your favorite Colorado pastimes?
My boyfriend and I love to travel around Colorado—we are road warriors! Our favorite trips have included exploring the San Juans and Durango/Ouray/Silverton; skiing in Steamboat Springs; and wandering in the Paint Mines outside of Colorado Springs. We went to Telluride for the Bluegrass Festival this year and plan to make it an annual trip. My absolute favorite Colorado town, however, is Crested Butte. It’s the last real western ski town, free of commercialism. We feel so at home there and go back often.
What about hobbies? How do you like to spend your free time?
I’m trying to spend more time doing hands-on creating, like practicing drawing or hand-lettering. I love to check out live music; Red Rocks and Larimer Lounge are my go-to spots. And even after two years, I’m more curious than ever about Denver. I volunteer with the Tedx Mile High Adventures program, which is a great way to meet other curious creatives. And I’m always checking out new restaurants.
In work and in play, we find elements of creativity. What does that concept mean to you?
Creativity is such a personal thing. With social media and easy access to all types of information, it’s increasingly hard to find your own voice and not constantly compare yourself to others in your field. I think the most interesting thing I’ve found is that my most unique ideas can really pop up from anywhere. Inspiration is a different process for every one of us and manifests itself in unique ways. The secret, I’ve found, is just to show up and be attentive.