“Syndication keeps things rolling. Usage fees, things like that. Advertising work and catalogue work. Campaigns bring in money.”
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: In your early years of high school, were you involved in the yearbook ? What sparked your interest in photography? Do you recommend all the weekend photographers out there to initially stick with the subjects they know and build from there? Do you have any suggestions on how to build that progression? How did you progress to where you are today in photography?
MELISSA RODWELL: I worked book in my senior year of high school. I was visiting Paris when I was 17 and happened to walk into a gallery where Helmut Newton’s pictures were hanging and knew immediately that I wanted to become a photographer. Yes, shoot what and who you know and expand from there. Try to work with people who could work as models or have that look and then try to get into working with the professional model agencies.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Do you still have photos taken from the early years when it all started? What were your subjects? Are the pictures online to share with everyone to compare with your work today?
MELISSA RODWELL: Most of my early work is not available online. And yes, I still do have some of my early work.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What books did you read at the beginning of your photography career that helped you prepare for today? Title of book, author and price of book please…just messing around, the title of the books should be fine thanks to google search. Do you recall any other resources that you referred to heavily to help you prepare for the photography business? We want to know what the must have resources are to fully equip ourselves when and if we ever plan to take that leap of faith.
MELISSA RODWELL: My father bought me the Time/LIFE series of books in the early days on photography. They were grey and black. I also read books on the history of fashion and The Vogue Book of Fashion Photography was like a bible to me.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What was your very first professional photography job? Was this purely out of luck that you were at the right place at the right time? Was there a hidden plan to penetrate the market from within? Would you recommend it to new photographers trying to break into the market and that are having difficulty breaking in? Once you had your first job under your belt was it difficult to get another gig? What did you do to acquire more work besides providing awesome images? Have you ever considered being agency represented? If you are agency represented how did you attract a photography agent?
MELISSA RODWELL: In my last year of college, I shot for a jeans company called Paris Blues. I had a friend who worked for the LA Weekly and they had an advertiser that needed new photos for an ad to run in the Weekly so she suggested me and I shot the job. No it didn’t become easier after my first gig. I had to learn how to cold call and schlep my book and travel and continue to pursue work from day one. It’s just gotten less intimidating now. And now I get work or leads for work through word of mouth. When you’re new, that’s impossible. I don’t have a rep per se. I have a producer who handles everything for me. My producer found me from a source book I advertise in, At-Edge.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: After your first job, What was the next photography gig you obtained and how did you go about your execution? Did you apply all that you’ve learned in all the books you’ve read ? Did you buy more books or accessed any more resources to help you jump to your next big step in the game of photography? What tools do you recommend that are a must have that helped you get to where you are present day?
MELISSA RODWELL: I went to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and graduated in January of 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in photography. So I applied what I learned in college mostly to the jobs I starting getting after school. The tools you need a big huge desire to make it and a bit of a thick skin and the willingness to travel and do what it takes to make it happen for you. Of course, you have to be able to shoot. So learn the craft backwards and forwards and build a good strong portfolio that can compete in the market.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What keeps the money rolling? Your brand is possibly a huge factor to your longevity? Am i right? Do you have any recommendations on brand building for weekend photographers and/or Photographers in general.
MELISSA RODWELL: Syndication keeps things rolling. Usage fees, things like that. Advertising work and catalogue work. Campaigns bring in money. Brand building is an identity of who you are and your style. Figure that out and build an “image” around it. I’m sort of a rock and roll kid and so black and cool fonts work for me as oppose to daisies and pastels.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What is currently in your photography bag? Please be as detailed as possible for those starting out photographers that want to be just like you. From your photography equipment arsenal, what do you bring most of the time for your commercial shoots?
MELISSA RODWELL: filters, lens cleaner, duct tape, clothes pins,
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What is your favorite image in your current portfolio and why? How did you approach the execution? Give us a glimpse on how you construct an image from scratch.
MELISSA RODWELL: I don’t really have a favorite single image. I’m leaning towards this shot I did of a young male model named Peter who I shot at the beach one day. There’s something classic and filmic about him and the shot. I cropped it in an unusual way and I like the results.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Is having your own studio space essential for any commercial photographer. Do you have a photography studio of your own? If so, what do you look for in a photography studio?
MELISSA RODWELL: I don’t have a studio. I don’t want the overhead. I look for enough shooting space when I rent them. I’ve have studios in the past. I’d rather spend my money on travel.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What types of commercial gigs are you currently involved in now and how did they surface? What are your recommendations on how we photographers diversify their product offering from Commercial and stock in today’s marketplace?
MELISSA RODWELL: Work surfaces overnight from all sorts of places. Even facebook, believe it or not. I get work from my site, or a magazine spread that someone will see, or a stylist. Right now I am heading to NYC in October to show my book and I’m going to be testing in the next few weeks for it.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What are your immediate goals as a photographer and artist? Are you planning on releasing any how-to books? What are your recommendations to people thinking about starting a photography book?
MELISSA RODWELL: We are having a store built for my blog, www.fashionphotographyblog.com I want to sell prints and books and continue to do seminars. I have one planned for November 7th and 8th.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: A lot of professional photographers are starting to run workshops. Will you start offering workshops in the future? I know TIME is not your friend, but there are ways to get around that maybe offering internship opportunities to intern with you for a small fee during one of your paid shoots. Or maybe provide an opportunity to be a spectator for one of your weekend shoots?
MELISSA RODWELL: See above ; ) I always am looking for assistants and interns.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: I am sure you’ve read many articles discussing how in the future videography and photography will be one? What are your thoughts on that and how will you evolve to the new morphed medium?
MELISSA RODWELL: I’m excited to explore that and have begun to.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Ok so thinking about the future and how it is very important in any endeavor especially the photography business. What do you suggest photographers do in the future to solidify their presence in the industry? What will you do to ensure that you remain on top, not taking into account your photography niche?
MELISSA RODWELL: Remain true to my self and true to my art!