Kristan Lieb is living the dream as a freelance visual journalist in Chicago. She gets to spend her days exploring Chicago, drinking coffee and probably petting your dog. Recently, Kristan helped make our Brew Methods page a reality with her excellent photo skills. We’re so excited for Kristan to Spill the Beans!
Hi, Kristan. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. How about we start with you telling me a bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m a freelance visual journalist based out of Chicago. I grew up in St. Louis and I’ve lived in Chicago for almost 9 years. You can find me out in the world making photos & videos, eating large amounts of food with my friends or reading on my couch.
Kristan Lieb, absolutely not drinking blood.
What brought you back to Chicago?
After grad school, there were 2 different directions that I could go: I could do several newspaper internships for 3 months at a time in different cities until I (maybe) got a job at a newspaper in a small town, OR I could pick a city and try to make a go of it as a freelancer. Chicago is my favorite place. It feels like home to me and it really fuels me creatively. I’m also lucky to have a really supportive group of friends here. I decided to move back and try to make it work. It was rough at first, but I’m glad I did it!
Your work seems to keep you moving all over the city, allowing you to experience more of Chicago than your average person on a regular basis. Are there particular neighborhoods that you look forward to visiting?
All of them! I know that’s a cop out but that’s really one of my favorite things about Chicago: I can never see all of it. There are so many little pockets of culture to explore that I often had no idea were there. I’m particularly excited whenever I get an assignment on the South Side. So much of the media representation about the south side is negative and yet there are so many amazing things happening there all the time. It makes me really happy to experience something (like a restorative justice center or a secret movie prop warehouse or a first generation college student who got his degree at age 18) and then tell that story with my photos.
Photos by Kristan Lieb
Any events or experiences that stand out to you?
Oh man, so many. I’ve gotten to hang out behind the scenes at the Shedd, on the field at Wrigley and Soldier field, and I’ve followed around a bunch of musicians. But what I’m constantly amazed by are the people who really open up their lives & homes to me for a little bit. I’m a total stranger and I have to get people to trust me enough to feel comfortable, usually in about 5 minutes. The best is when I’m able to take my time with a subject, which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. A couple years ago I made some portraits of a woman who lost her son to gun violence. I was told that she was very nervous and had specifically asked for a female photographer because she felt more comfortable around women. I remember showing up and talking to her for a long time before ever taking a picture. We wound up talking for a couple hours and taking pictures for such a small amount of that time. Her honesty really moved me and I feel honored that I got to meet her. On the way out she hugged me and thanked me for making such a painful process so much easier. Everyone has a story and that people keep trusting me with theirs blows me away every time. It’s an honor to do what I do & I’m so thankful that I get to do it.
Photo by Kristan Lieb
OK, it’s time to talk about coffee. How big of part does coffee play in your day to day existence?
My ideal way to start a day is with a cup of coffee and a book. I’m not a morning person at all, so coffee is crucial.
Kristan shooting photos for our brew method tutorials.
What is your preferred/regular brewing method?
Chemex, photo by Kristan Lieb.
And if you’re out and about and grab a coffee?
During the winter I drink Americanos and the summer it’s cold brew all the way.
Do you have a favorite growing region?
I am honestly not sophisticated enough to tell the difference!
How do you feel coffee influences your creative process?
As someone who doesn’t have an office, I’ve spent a lot of time working in coffee shops. I like La Colombe in Andersonville (my neighborhood) but I really enjoy finding new coffee shops to work at when I’m out and about for shoots. It’s a good way to get a feel for a neighborhood and a quiet (usually) place to get some editing done.