A Bay Area native, Natalie So studied photography and art theory at Harvard University and moved back to San Francisco after school – returning to her roots. As a talented all-rounder: she writes, photographs, blogs, and until recently, has also worked as a Creative Content Manager for a technology company.
During her studies she worked for the photographer Peter Sutherland and helped produce an exhibition and book entitled Smoke Bath, centered on the theme of camping. The great outdoors have always held an attraction for Natalie. One of her recent freelance collaborations includes traveling and writing with her friend Carlos Leon.
From her time as a street photographer, her love for conversations and discovering the landscapes of people’s lives has led to her involvement with Freunde von Freunden. Drawn to how FvF “elevates the ordinary, and focuses on showing people as they are in their element” inspired Natalie to work on a range of FvF portraits with some of the most creative minds in San Francisco that include: architect Cass Calder Smith, letterpress printers James Tucker and Risa Culbertson and soon, the head of innovation and creativity at Google, Frederik Pferdt and the founder of Samovar Tea Lounge, Jesse Jacobs.
As we get to know this spirited creative, she shares her favorite ways to start her day, best local places to grab a bite to eat and relax, and the simultaneous thrill and terror of existing as a free agent.
How do you describe what you do and what is the best part of your job?
I just quit my job as the Creative Content Manager of a tech company, so now I’m just existing, creating, and absorbing. I’ve intentionally placed myself in an unbounded space of unknowingness, and the simultaneous thrill and terror of that space is probably the best part.
Do you prefer writing or photography more than the other?
No, I don’t. Choosing one feels like trying to choose a favorite child. Photography is one way I interact with the world and see the strangeness of the ordinary around me. Writing is how I process that strangeness, like eroding shard of glass—a piece of infinite absurdity—until it is something else entirely.
Where do you go when you want to relax or get inspired in your city?
To the ocean, mountains, or bookstores. I like the moody, grey beaches and foggy forests in San Francisco. I’ll head to the Outer Sunset (for Trouble Coffee, Outerlands, Judahlicious, Andytown, and the General Store) or to Temescal Alley in Oakland (BOOK/SHOP, Doughnut Dolly, Crimson Horticultural Rarities, Esqueleto, Marissa Haskell). Bookstores I love: Press: Works on Paper, BOOK/SHOP , Dog Eared Books, Christopher’s Books, and Omnivore Books.
What’s your favorite daily ritual?
I tend towards entropy so ritualizing ordinary activities keeps me grounded and sane. Most mornings, I swim or go for a long walk to the top of Bernal Hill. Sightglass or Linea Caffe for my morning coffee, the farmers’ market, tea at my neighbors’ house. I like the rhythmic labor of sweeping floors, chopping brussels sprouts, and cracking open coconuts.
What do you love about your hometown?
I grew up in a small town called Saratoga at the base of the Santa Cruz mountains. I loved the smell of the redwood forests and the sounds of crickets, cicadas, and howling coyotes at night.
How has technology influenced you?
Technology has, by contrast, enhanced my awareness of the tangible. Much of what I do nowadays is sifting through information, parsing the significant from the trivial. It’s become extremely easy to become knowledgeable about obscure things; it’s lovely to stay in touch with friends who live far away and see what they’re up to; but it’s also overwhelming, so I’ve had to become more conscious about retreating from technology and spending time outside. I do not want to become a machine.
Your best travel memory?
My best friend and I skipped Christmas last year and took a road trip through the desert instead. We stayed in a little barn loft in Joshua Tree. The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum is amazing. Then we stayed at a Cistercian Abbey with a dozen nuns in the Sonoita Mountains in Tucson. We spent a few days just reading, writing, napping, and being in nature.
Your latest artistic discovery (musical, art or design)?
I’m obsessed with the spoons and bowls that my friend Carlos makes, the ethereal music of my friend Jacob Montague, Sylvan Esso, and Blood Orange. I tend to listen to one album on repeat for months on end. I like re-discovering old images, advertisements, and hand-drawn illustrations in old manuals at the library. The Prelinger Library is great for this.
What current global or local topics are you currently fascinated with?
Medicinal and healing properties of herbs. Cultural dissections of San Francisco (Nathan Heller’s pieces in the New Yorker, especially) and of technology’s effect on our culture. Women in Clothes. I am fascinated by drug, mafia, and gang culture and also neuroscience as it relates to personality and creativity—I will read any article about those topics.
Three websites – more or less – you visit daily?
The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, Poem-a-day, and Gmail. My guilty pleasure is Into the Gloss.
What was the last great meal you ate and where?
A birthday dinner cooked by friends at my house. We ate vegan mushroom risotto, roasted harissa carrots with pomegranate molasses and basil, turmeric cauliflower steaks, and a three-layer tres leches cake.
How do your friends describe you?
A curious old soul with a strange memory for names and faces.
What’s your favorite portrait or interview on FvF and why?
I really love the portraits of Sean Woolsey and Claire Cottrell — they have crafted very intentional, thoughtful, and artful lives.
What’s your most favorite photograph on FvF ?
I love a lot of the photos in the portrait of Jesse Kamm, but especially this one. She is remarkably elegant, and the drapery of her clothing is so statuesque. She’s with her family and eating a donut—the perfect combo.
Who would you like to see featured next on FvF?
Lily Stockman, Molly Young, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Ana Teget, Leanne Shapton, Maria Kochetkova.