Artist Spotlight: Brian Bieder

Photographs from Bunny Williams' garden

We’re always on the hunt for art that not only excites and inspires us, but matches our sense of style. As a result, our art buyer is constantly scouting out new artists and sifting through thousands of art samples. But in the case of photographer Brian Bieder, he was right under our noses all along.

Brian has been shooting the Ballard catalog since 1986, just five years after the company was founded. So most of the images you’ve seen in our catalog or online all these years have been shot by Brian. But it wasn’t until last year that we sold his photography as art.

Bunny Williams' Connecticut home

It all started with a trip to Italy to shoot our Casa Florentina line in its country of origin. In love with the amazing scenery, Brian started shooting everything he saw, from Tuscany’s famous hillside vistas to the Old World architecture that surrounded him. Ballard’s creatives and buyers loved his photos so much, they turned them into art for your walls. It happened again when he visited designer Bunny Williams’ Connecticut estate for a shoot and fell in love with her garden. The result: Bunny added his series of garden photos to her summer collection.

We got together with the native Atlantan to talk about photography and get his take on ending up in the pages of our catalog in a much different way.

Ballard Designs: When did you become interested in photography?

Brian Bieder: I had toy cameras as a kid, and started shooting with my parents’ camera around age eight. I got my first camera when I was in 7th grade, and in my early teens, I had a dark room in my parents’ basement and processed my own film.

Snapshots from Italy from Brian Bieder

BD: What kind of photography do you do on your own when you’re not working on commercial photo shoots for your clients?

BB: Nature and still-life. I enjoy the outdoors; I like to camp and hike. I’m always looking for patterns and shapes in nature. I like to find the details. My love of nature and photography is what made me pursue a career in it.

BD: Then you must have been absolutely awestruck when you went to Florence for the Casa Florentina shoot.

BB: Italy is such a fantastic place for photographers. There’s so much to capture everywhere you look. The old, crumbling textures, that’s the kind of stuff I love to shoot. I had never been to Europe before, and it just overwhelmed me.

Snapshots from Italy from Brian Bieder

BD: Did you just start taking photos when you weren’t working?

BB: They did want some scenery to go along with the collection stuff, but being a photographer, I took it upon myself to do a lot of these shots. That’s the way I like to shoot — to roam around with a camera looking for interesting details and textures and light. It’s such an amazing place to shoot.

Bunny Williams' garden, photographed by Brian Bieder

BD: Your photos capture the essence of Italy. You did the same in Bunny’s garden. Tell us about that.

BB: Once again, they asked me to shoot details of her garden, but I would have anyway. It’s such a great place. It has a more natural, organic feel. It’s not overly manicured or perfect. It looks like it’s been there forever.

BD: And the story goes you showed them to Bunny, and she liked them?

BB: Yeah, I took a bunch of shots and picked the ones I like. The second time we went up there to shoot, I gave the prints to her because she was such a great hostess. Turns out she loved them. I think her initial response was that she wanted to make notecards from them. Adding the large-scale wall prints to her collection surprised me.

BD: Much like the Italy series, the composition of these shots are exactly what you described you liked to shoot.

BB: Yes, it’s the more detail-oriented stuff I’m drawn to. Not so much the wide vistas. I love to find shapes and form in nature.

Bunny Williams' garden, photographed by Brian Bieder

BD: Both series are in black and white. Why is that?

BB: I guess I prefer black and white. I’m not opposed to color, but I think sometimes black and white helps you see the textures and patterns. You’re not distracted by the color. The Italy series has a sepia tone to match the Old World look and feel. Bunny’s garden series has a more natural black and white.

BD: Do you have any advice for novice or aspiring photographers?

BB: Look for smaller details and try not to get overwhelmed by the overall scene. Focus on creating an interesting composition, and change your perspective. Get down low or high. Try to shoot with a shallower depth of field that softens the background. It brings your subject into sharper focus and helps it stand out more. And this is important: shoot what interests you. If you like flowers, shoot flowers. If you like stoneworks, concentrate on that.

BD: Great advice! Brian, after nearly 30 years of working together, we can’t imagine you not on our shoots. Will you stay with us forever?

BB: I’ll probably shoot until I die on the set! Seriously, I’ve enjoyed working for Ballard. The people are great. We have a great camaraderie. It’s been a fun ride.

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.