Creative Feature: Bessie Calabrese

Meet: Bessie Calabrese


Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Bessie and I have a passion for photography, travel, and food. I was born and raised in a suburb of Chicago, but I consider Canada my second home. Some things I love are exploring downtown Chicago, trying new restaurants and cafes, learning about other cultures, experiencing new places and countries, and food. I'm Italian, so loving food is a given! I grew up in a traditional Italian home with my mom's home cooked meals every night. She's an amazing cook/baker and inspires me to learn more. I really enjoy trying new recipes and photographing them. I have an endless list of recipes I want to try and restaurants I want to go to! 

When did you fall in love with photography and what made you pursue it?


I have always been a creative person ever since I was a little kid. I have been drawing since I was 3 years old and took art and drawing classes in high school and a class or two in college. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was arts and crafts projects. I got my first camera (film of course!) when I was about 10 years old and I started taking pictures of everything!

Every time we went to Canada to visit family, I always had my camera in my hand trying to capture everything and everyone. I later got a little Canon powershot digital camera, and around 2010, I started to be more creative with photography and trying different things with it. I went on a missions trip to St. Vincent in 2011 which really inspired me. I took so many pictures trying to capture the culture and the beauty of the island. In 2012 I did my first photoshoot! I didn't have a DLSR camera at the time, so my friend Allysa let me borrow hers to play around with. I eventually got my own and started doing photoshoots for people on the side - family, engagement, baby, portraits.


Ever since I got my first camera I've loved photography and capturing memories through my lens. I do photography on the side, and my dream would be to work as a photojournalist someday and tell stories through my work. Stories of other cultures, stories of how people live, stories of cities, stories of God's creation. I would also love to be a food photographer for restaurants, magazines, or cookbooks. I started a food Instagram account (@bessiestavola) a few years ago where I feature what's on my Tavola (table) at restaurants and in my kitchen, and I'm trying to pursue it more.

What inspires you?

Traveling and experiencing new places inspires me. Traveling is one of the things that gives me life! I think it's so important to see new things, go places you've never been, learn about other cultures, and other people's way of life. That's something that's always interested me, and I love capturing it through my camera lens. I think it's important to try new things as well. I once took a pottery class on a random Wednesday night with my cousins, and it was one of the funnest experiences! Another thing that inspires me is learning about people's stories. I love learning about people and asking them questions, especially if they're from other countries! It's also so encouraging for me to learn about what God is teaching people and how they're growing. 


Do you have a favorite thing to photograph?

I love photographing real, candid shots of people. Like the sweet face of a child while playing outside in the grass, with the sun streaming across her face. I love the real moments. I'll just be walking downtown or at a family event, and I see all these raw moments that I want to capture. I see things and moments that mean something, rather than just a person sitting in a cafe, or standing in front of a building. I see moments to capture while they're standing there. I was at stop light one day next to a local coffee shop, and while waiting at the light I looked through the windows of the cafe. I saw a mom and her 3 year old sitting inside on stools next to the window, looking at each other smiling. The little girl was reaching up, holding her mother's face in her hands and it was the sweetest moment. I wish I could have taken a picture of it and given it to them! I love genuine moments like that. I also love photographing food. To me, styling food and taking pictures of it is an art. A lot goes into styling - use of background, angling, utensils and other foods to add to the scene, adding color from a dish towel or other foods to make a contrast, good lighting, etc.


Describe your dream set.

My dream set for photographing food would be inside a fresh, light gray kitchen with marble countertops, and lots of windows with natural light pouring through, especially at golden hour. Golden hour makes everything look magical. There's this amazing cookbook author/photographer I follow (@halfbakedharvest) and ALL of the photos she takes are my dream set! I love the way she uses the natural light and the mess the food creates. Certain dishes and food look better when they're perfectly set, but other foods look so much better when the mess is there and you see the crumbs, or chocolate dripping, or berries smeared across the cutting board. 


Refinery Co. Tribe believes we're better together.
Why do you think it's important for women to encourage one another & build each other up?

We weren't created to do this life alone, we were created to have genuine relationships. Especially in a world where there is so much comparison and competition, we need people in our lives to tell us we are good enough, and to encourage us to reach our fullest potential with the talents God has given us. Receiving encouragement motivates us to keep going and not give up. It's so encouraging to hear about how some of the girls in Refinery Co got started and how God has been using them. 


Do you believe you are called to create? If so, tell us about about that.

Yes! God is our creator and He created us in His image. Being creative is in His character, and He created us with the desire to create as well. Just look around outside at how intricate he made the plants, how he paints the sunsets, and how he created the changing seasons. God's creativity is amazing. God gave me this talent and I don't want to waste it. I want people to feel the moments in my photographs of people and God's creation, or have their mouths water when looking at my food photos. I want people to be inspired whey look at my photos. I want my photos to evoke a memory or an emotion. I want people to be in awe of God's creation through my work.