“There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.” - Federico Fellini
All photos courtesy of Melissa Rodwell
Melissa Rodwell, a Los Angeles fashion photographer with over 21 years experience, is one of those people who don't need an introduction. Melissa graduated from The Art Center College of Design in 1987. Shortly after, she became a full-time photographer and hasn't had any other career since then. Inspired by Helmut Newton, she shot for the best fashion magazines and had numerous solo exhibitions around the world. Her Fashion Photography Blog is not only an excellent tutorial, but also gives the reader an inside peek of the lifestyle of a fashion photographer.
In an exclusive interview for Fashion Studio Magazine, Melissa talks about her career, approach to fashion, and things she considers most important in life.
Occupation: Fashion Photographer
City: New York, US
FASHION STUDIO: You picked up a camera at 17. What inspired you to choose fashion photography – one of the most difficult and competitive fields in the industry?
MELISSA: I was initially inspired by fashion design and knew that I wanted to work in the fashion industry in some realm. The day I first saw Helmut Newton’s work was the day I decided that I wanted to be a fashion photographer. At 17, I had no clue how difficult and competitive it was going to be.
FASHION STUDIO: Do you remember your first photoshoot?
MELISSA: I actually do remember. I photographed a young model in Old Town Pasadena, the suburb of Los Angeles where I grew up. At the time, in 1981, the area was desolate and abandoned. I photographed her in vintage clothing stores and the railroad tracks behind the abandoned buildings.
FASHION STUDIO: What makes you unique and different from other fashion photographers? How would you define your style?
MELISSA: My style has been called “Rock and Roll Couture”. Music has a huge impact on me emotionally which translate onto my work. My commissioned work might not show my edginess but when I have loose boundaries as far as requirements for a shoot, my work tends to be “dark”, sexy, edgy. I don’t like using a lot of light. People have always called that style “edgy”. For me, though, it’s not so “dark”. It’s just how I see things.
FASHION STUDIO: Would you say that the lifestyle of a fashion photographer is glamorous? What are the good and bad sides of this profession?
MELISSA: I think when you’re young you can get very caught up in the lifestyle. There are the parties and the traveling. It can be quite overwhelming to a younger photographer. However, it’s really about the work and you need to maintain some discipline in your life so you can be awake and responsible to accomplish the work. To me, it’s not so glamorous because I see the work involved. But to someone outside it or someone new who is transfixed by it, then sure, I suppose it looks very glamorous to them.
FASHION STUDIO: What inspires you and gives you all the energy to work? Where do you find ideas for your photoshoots?
MELISSA: As I mentioned, music is a great source of inspiration to me. I grew up around a lot of musicians and have always had a lot of musician friends. I’ve seen a ton of live music and still will go out of my way to see a band I’m interested in seeing. I am also inspired by people and the experiences I might be able to share with them. Not fashion people, per se. It could be a chance encounter with someone and they might say something that will inspire me or challenge me. I also love reading. I love day-dreaming. I don’t know… LIFE inspires me. I love it!
FASHION STUDIO: What are the most important things when shooting fashion?
MELISSA: If it’s a fashion editorial, it’s important to tell a story. You’re given 6 to 12 pages to introduce, build and finish a story line with the model and clothing. If it’s a fashion advertising job, it’s very important to pay attention to the clothing when you’re shooting.
FASHION STUDIO: A lot of people have problems with defining fashion photography. What is your personal definition?
MELISSA: Fashion photography is just that: photography of fashion. It’s photographing brands and labels and it’s done in a beautiful way in order to promote the clothing. Fashion photography is “product” photography in that the clothing is the product that you’re photographing.
FASHION STUDIO: Which photography books would you recommend?
MELISSA: Honestly any book that draws your attention is a good book to buy and study. I bought Vogue’s Book of Fashion Photography in the ‘80’s and I still refer to it for reference and inspiration. I also own Helmut Newton books. Any good book about fashion design, too, is a good bet. I own Braun and Schneider’s Historic Costume in Pictures. I like studying the history of fashion.
FASHION STUDIO: Your fashion photography blog has become very successful. Have you ever thought about writing a book?
MELISSA: Yes, I have thought about writing a book. But not about my career or about fashion photography per se. I would like to write about my life as I think it might be an inspiration to a lot of people in overcoming obstacles.
FASHION STUDIO: What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
MELISSA: I’ve never been a very strong business person and this industry not only takes talent but the ability to run a business. I’ve had to learn to outsource people to help me with the business side of things.
FASHION STUDIO: And the biggest achievement?
MELISSA: Just being able to make a living at doing something I love has been the ultimate life achievement. I never wake up and think, Oh I hate my job. In fact, I still wake up hours early before I shoot because I’m excited to get to the studio or location.
FASHION STUDIO: Do you ever attend fashion shows? Who do you consider the most interesting designer in New York?
MELISSA: Sometimes I go to shows. I’m going to go ahead and plug my dear friend and awesome stylist, Katherine Polk and her new fashion line Houghton. But honestly, there are so many talented and interesting designers in NYC.
FASHION STUDIO: How would you describe your approach to fashion and your personal style?
MELISSA: My personal style is very eclectic. I love vintage pieces but I like to mix them with high end labels. Like I’ll wear a 30 year old concert T-shirt with my new Burberry wool coat I just bought myself for winter. I splurge on good pieces but then mix them with thrift shops jeans. I love going through vintage clothing racks and finding that rare piece. I love clothes. :)
FASHION STUDIO: What is your idea of beauty?
MELISSA: In one word: Confidence.
FASHION STUDIO: Five favourite places in New York City?
MELISSA: Oh, man….so hard… I just absolutely love this city. I live uptown and I love the peace and quiet up here. I love taking my dog to Riverside Park. For shopping, I love Madison Avenue. You have to literally force me into a cab to get me off that street. But when I go out with friends, you’ll usually find me in The Bowery Hotel or in a dive bar in the LES. Williamsburg is fun too, great vintage stores and eclectic clothing stores there. I also love Brooklyn Heights for the history and Hells Kitchen for their ridiculous Irish Pubs. There are so many great things to do in NYC, it’s hard to list just Five.
FASHION STUDIO: What is your personal recipe for success? How would you define 'being successful'?
MELISSA: Success is a state of mind. I think that having one’s health and inner peace is more important than money. Valuing one’s friends and loved ones is more important to me than social climbing. I’ve never been a very good “kiss ass”. And I don’t even know the rules to some of the games out there so I just don’t play. I value my life very much and I live for interactions with people, traveling and living authentically. So, to me, that’s successful.
FASHION STUDIO: What is your life philosophy?
MELISSA: Having an open mind is the key to freedom. And who wants to live in a prison, especially in your own head.
FASHION STUDIO: Things you can't live without?
MELISSA: My Pit Bull, Mia. My 30” Mac Monitor. My health. Music. Freedom. Love.
FASHION STUDIO: Where do you see yourself in the future? Is there anything you would like to change in your life?
MELISSA: I’m currently on a huge health kick, so I’d like to continue on that path and explore it even further. Hmm… the future… I try to stay in the moment which keeps the future fascinating because you never know what’s around the corner.
FASHION STUDIO: What was your first impression of Fashion Studio Magazine? :)
MELISSA: Fantastique!! Love it!
FASHION STUDIO: Thank you for your time and good luck with the book!
Official website: MELISSA RODWELL PHOTOGRAPHY
Photography tutorial: FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG
All photos by Melissa Rodwell
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