Milwaukee-born conceptual photographer Lois Bielefeld has had a varied artistic career which includes numerous exhibitions nationwide and New York fashion photography.

Lois Bielefeld, who graduated in 2002 from New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology with a B.F.A. in Photographic Illustration, was the 2012 Mary Nohl Fellowship recipient. In August, the photographer relocated with her wife from Milwaukee to the San Francisco area. Milwaukee Magazine caught up with Bielefeld for a recent telephone interview.


Name: Lois Bielefeld

Age: 40

Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, now lives near San Francisco

Occupation: Commercial photographer

Other Titles: Creative photographer and artist

From Lois Bielefeld’s “New Domesticity” exhibit, Nichali, Marisola, and Anais, photo credit, Lois Bielefeld

When did you become interested in photography?

In high school. I took pre-college courses at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) and I even had my own darkroom. Unfortunately, my wife and I have an apartment in Alameda which is too small to accommodate one now.

Photography has been this thread throughout my life. I fell in love with film photography and the inherent magic of a darkroom. I also work in video and installation. Art is what makes me feel good. It’s my purpose in life.

Why did you decide to move from Milwaukee to San Francisco?

My wife got a job offer there that was too good to pass up. Also, my daughter left home for college this fall. A lot of change happened this summer!

Your recent series, Celebrations, and New Domesticity, focus primarily on intimate spaces, such as the subjects’ homes and social gatherings. Could you tell me more about these?

A collection of my work is centered around rites, rituals and habits. My work focuses on things we all share as people, such as neighbors and sharing meals. I believe my work has become more curated over time. Recently, I’ve been directing my subjects more. 

For example, with Celebrations, I recreated the original event by shooting the photo in the same location and having the subjects wear the same clothes. With New Domesticity, I interviewed subjects about their home lives and created photos according to the conversations I had.

From Lois Bielefeld’s “New Domesticity” exhibit, “Frank, Makeal, Orla, and Colin” photo credit Lois Bielefeld

What’s your favorite type of photography equipment to work with?

I usually shoot digital with a Canon, but I also work in film photography, which is coming back around. I’ve worked with several college interns who work in film — it’s thrilling to experience the resurgence of this medium.

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What sort of equipment/lighting effects did you use in your recent exhibitions?

For Celebrations, I used battery powered strobe lights and a variety of light modifiers, to represent a sort of stage, or theatrical production. The subjects in the photos are striking poses, or acting.

I have a very large printer and make my own prints. I have more control over my work this way, and I do fairly minimal retouching of photos, which I’m not opposed to. I’m not a purist.

You’ve done quite a bit of commercial photography. How has this experience been valuable in your career as an artist?

After I graduated from college, I started shooting fashion photography in New York, and I also worked as a photographer’s assistant. While living in Wisconsin, I worked for Kohl’s as the in-house fashion photographer for eight years. Commercial work is how I make a living. For artists, creating exhibits can get very expensive. I’m constantly growing as an artist, and commercial work helps me do that. I feel that this informs my creative work. I’m very fortunate to be able to make a living this way.

Right now, I’m trying to establish myself as a freelance photographer in the San Francisco area, and still working on the Celebrations and New Domesticity exhibits. There’s a lot on my plate right now, which is a good thing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

Experiment. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Do a lot of things to help you find your voice. It takes time to master equipment and realize your vision, so be patient. Also, if something doesn’t turn out like you’d expect it to, don’t consider that a failure. What doesn’t work now might be perfect for another project.

From Lois Bielefeld’s “New Domesticity,” exhibit, “Sally and Eric,” photo credit Lois Bielefeld

What are some of your plans in the near future? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

Yes. I’ve collaborated with Milwaukee artist Nirmal Raja on a project called On Belonging, which addresses questions of race, culture and stereotypes within an urban environment. An opening reception will be held at The Warehouse, 1635 W. St. Paul Ave., March 8 from 5-8 p.m. At 7 p.m. March 9, Maria Gillespie will present a dance performance featuring live cello played by Janet Schiff.

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