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Florida Strawberry Festival
Plant City Observer Thursday, Mar. 16, 2017 1 year ago

Behind the Scenes: Meet the photographers of the Florida Strawberry Festival

Harry Jeffcoat’s mother and Billy Friend’s father were photography rivals. Decades later, their sons have a common focus.
by: Emily Topper Managing Editor

From livestock shows and concerts to eating contests and parades, Harry Jeffcoat and Billy Friend have been capturing every moment of the
Florida Strawberry Festival as a dual effort for the last seven years. 

Jeffcoat became the official festival photographer in 1987. Friend joined forces with him in 2010. And while the two have established a strong camaraderie, a feud preceded them. Jeffcoat’s mother, Gladys, and Friend’s father, Bill, both worked as photographers — but they weren’t on the same team. 

“They liked each other,” Friend said. “But they were vicious competitors.” 

Jeffcoat began helping his mother in 1967. 

“I was still in high school,” Jeffcoat said. “I started coming out on weekends and during parade days. My mother was the first official festival photographer, when Louise Gibbs was the general manager.” 

Harry Jeffcoat and Billy Friend have worked together for the last seven years, but have been covering the festival individually for much longer.

While Friend’s father wasn’t an official festival photographer, he was still allowed to bring his camera to the festival grounds to take photos. Friend began helping his father in 1975. 

Even back then, the men said, their parents were fiercely competitive. 

“They competed,” Friend said. “They wanted to see who could sell the most photos, who could get them out the fastest.” 

One of the festival’s most popular events — the annual Baby Parade — was a top seller for both photographers. Price haggling to attract customers from the other side was a norm. 

The parents were devoted to being the best in town, and were as equally passionate about passing their skills down to their sons. 

“My mother would tell me something once,” Jeffcoat said. “And you’d better remember it.” 

“My dad would always tell me what I did wrong, and not what I did right,” Friend said. 

Even then, Jeffcoat and Friend were aware of their parents’ feud — but the men never took issue with each other. 

Still, it took time for them to join forces. Jeffcoat began shooting for the festival in 1987 without his mother. 

“I started doing it myself,” he said. “I was archiving for the festival. I didn’t see Billy as a competitor.” 

After Friend’s father died in 1999, Friend wanted to keep his legacy going. The festival grandfathered Friend in under his father. Though he didn’t work for the festival at the time, he was still allowed to take

Around 2004, both Friend and Jeffcoat made the jump from film to digital. Soon after, Friend came on board permanently and the festival’s photo website was born. Ordering photos was quicker and easier than ever before. 

Together, the men use the lessons their parents taught them — and the lessons they’ve picked up over the years — to cover every part of the festival. There are currently thousands of photos on the festival’s website, and Jeffcoat and Friend are solely responsible for sorting through their uploads — often taking over 2,000 photos each per day. 

“At some point, I want to stop doing this,” Jeffcoat said. “I want to teach him (Friend) to lead a team to take over.” 

“Without Harry and all the knowledge he has, the festival wouldn’t have the photos they have,” Friend said. “But every year he shows me something different. Harry’s taught me a lot since we started working together and we’ve become really close friends.” 

During the festival, the men often arrive as early as 7 a.m. to upload photos, making trips back to the office during the day to post images online. 

“In the future at some point, he’ll need help,” Jeffcoat said. “It’s bigger than one photographer.” 

“It’s bigger than two photographers,” Friend added. 

Together, the photographers split up the festival’s 11-day workload. Jeffcoat gets sponsor shots and covers parades and headliner shows, including meet and greets with performers. 

“I enjoy doing the shows, I really do,” Jeffcoat said. “I’ve met all the major country stars.” 

Friend covers livestock shows and the crowds, often serving as a backup photographer at the headliner concerts. 

“I like the Queen’s contest, and the livestock,” Friend said. “I’ve always loved that.” 

As Jeffcoat continues to prepare Friend to one day become the lead photographer, the men are already on the lookout for a potential addition to the photography family. 

“Anyone who’s interested,” Jeffcoat said. “Come see Billy.” 

Contact Emily Topper at [email protected].

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