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Meet Vanessa Filley of Vanessa Filley Photography in Evanston

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vanessa Filley.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born and lived in New York City until I was twelve, at which time my family moved to Connecticut, where my parents still live. I went to college in Oberlin, OH and moved to San Francisco for the three years following graduation, then Atlanta for another four, and in 2006, moved to Chicago. My husband and I thought we’d be in Chicago for three years and then move back East to be closer to family, but twelve years later we have grown roots and developed community that feels like family. Being able to walk, bike, and take public transit most places I want to go is important to me as is access to an active and engaged arts and culture community. The Chicagoland area is ripe with both.

As a kid, I remember my father being interested in photography, he toted around his Nikon, pockets stocked with slide film. For entertainment, the family would cuddle up on the couch on Saturday nights and watch slide shows of our lives projected on the living room wall. I always remember loving pouring over old photographs, whether they were of my grandparents, parents or my sisters and me, I was always transported into the past, memory, what the world was or might have been, whenever I was looking at those images. I had a point and shoot from as early as I can remember, but don’t remember making any interesting images until well into my twenties. My relationship with making images has evolved slowly. In 2006 I began to dedicate myself to making and selling things that I made. At first, it was one of a kind clothing pieces made out of recycled fabrics, then I dove more deeply into art making from various stitched works to letterpress, painting and mixed-media pieces. After attempting to get an installation project out in the world and failing, I realized my house was filling up with work that I couldn’t store. I began making photographs because I could synthesize my various art-making skills in a single image and there wasn’t as much of a storage problem. Slowly, I began having more and more photography based ideas and that put me on the path I am now on.

Has it been a smooth road?
I don’t know of many smooth roads in the world, especially for working artists. It has been a complicated road for me filled with potholes of self-doubt. As an artist I am compelled to make things, it gives my life meaning and helps me to process and understand the world, but sharing work with the world is harder. Marketing and selling work to support the making of the work is a challenge. I have thought of changing career paths on many occasions, returning to investigating human rights violations or committing my life to environmental and political activism, but I know how my brain works and my compelling need to create in order to find happiness and so I come back to the hope that my work is worthwhile and can move people, compel them to think or see differently even if for a split moment. The opportunities ebb and flow, but over the past couple of years I have been able to show more work, had residency opportunities and built relationships with collectors both locally and internationally. Hopefully, the ideas will continue to come as will the opportunities.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I am a fine art photographer who is deeply compelled by history, whether it is personal/familial history or whether it is a history of a space, a movement, or even an object. I dream and envision most of my images in their finality at the moment of conception, so my ideas usually come complete with the color palette. I work in series and am usually working on several different series at once. Many of my images require costumes, props or locations. I make many of the costumes in my images, paint backdrops, stitch props and hunt and gather other props and for locations. But I also do commercial shoots which are more about styling. I am a one-woman show so sometimes, for personal projects, it can take months or even years from conception of an idea to the actual making. I like to think of my work existing in and being inspired by the present, but very much in conversation with the past, from whence we come. I am proud of my depth of commitment to making work and seeing the vision through. I don’t know exactly what sets me apart from others beyond each of us having a unique voice in the world.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I think Chicagoland is a great place to live and work. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity and a great community for networking. It doesn’t feel nearly as cutthroat as New York and I am thankful for this.


  • My prints range from $575.00 to $1275.00 and are in editions of 25.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Kerri Sherman, Vanessa Filley

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