10 minutes with Melissa Golden

Interviews with Photographers February 22, 2011 8:35 am

When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?

I went to college to study international affairs.  I wanted to be a diplomat, but I’m about as diplomatic as a box of grenades. I got the flu for the first time in my life at the beginning of my sophomore year and I was bedridden for two weeks with no one to take care of me.  I started to lose my mind a little and I entered this state of delirium where I was having visions. I only remember one of them: me, traveling around the world with a camera.  It was a sort of come-to-Jesus moment induced by high fever and dehydration.  Although I’d never so much as touched a real camera before, I had my calling and I heeded it.  As soon as I recovered, I made a portfolio out of some travel and party snapshots, walked over to the journalism school (it was closer than the art school) and began my journey.

Melissa Golden

Melissa Golden

Melissa Golden

You recently moved to LA. I find myself practically begging photographers not to move to LA or New York, but it seems to always work out just fine. What kind of reactions did you get about your moving from ‘people in the business’ and what ultimately made you decide to move?

Editors at business and news magazines mostly advised against the move.  Editors at entertainment and lifestyle magazines told me to go for it.  I’m a contributor with Redux Pictures, and I know they weren’t happy to see me leave DC.  They warned that there would be less assignment work for me in LA, but they’re still sticking by me and I love them for it.

I moved for a number of reasons.  I’d been in DC for three years and I hated it the entire time.  There’s a great photo community there, but the Mid-Atlantic might be the least inspiring place in the world for me.  Way too button-down, way too 9-5.  LA is funk and oddity and delusion and it’s a very powerful creative center.  I’m also a California native and this place has always had a very strong hold on me.  I love almost everything about this place- the ocean, the weather, the proximity to Asia and Central America.  I wanted to leave DC from the moment I first moved there, but I finally got the push last May.  I met someone while I was in LA for a shoot.  We romanced long-distance, fell in love and decided to move in together.  I don’t regret a damn thing.

Melissa Golden

Melissa Golden

What’s your daily routine like?

I don’t quite have a routine yet, but I’m slowly settling in.  At first there was an emphasis on bringing order to chaos in my apartment, but now I’m spending my days writing emails, making calls, composing the occasional blog post and laying the groundwork for some new projects.

Melissa Golden from the Project Six Flags New Orleans

Melissa Golden - from the Project Six Flags New Orleans

You make really beautiful portraits and landscapes and also fantastic documentary work, like your projects American Wildfire and Madam Secretary. Do you have a preference on the kind of projects that you do?

Thank you!

I love projects that arise out of assigned work.  Being able to approach something with a sense of mission really helps focus me.  I particularly love day-in-the-life assignments.  That being said, assigned projects are unicorns and they don’t come around that often.  For personal work, I sometimes have these magical moments of inspiration that I have to jump on immediately or things don’t get done.  I’m more of a sprinter than a marathoner and while I deeply admire the photographers who can spend years shooting a single person or theme, I’m just not good at it.  I tend to look for projects that capture my imagination, the more offbeat or beautiful, the better.  I’m a feature-shooter but I particularly love shooting news as feature.  I try to take time and narrative into consideration. I don’t want to get caught up in anything too open-ended and my ideal project only takes a few hours or days to shoot.  I used to feel ashamed that I couldn’t sustain a single project forever, but now I know that the intensity I bring to short-term work gets pretty diluted over too much time and I work better with the pressure of a looming deadline.

Melissa Golden from the project American Wildfire

Melissa Golden from the project American Wildfire

Any goals for 2011?

My primary goal for this year is to establish myself in LA.  While I’m not exactly starting from scratch, moving to another city does tend to cause career coma.  I knew that before I made the decision to relocate and all I can do now is market myself well and produce fresh, eye-catching work.

Along those lines, I want to shoot at least three personal projects in 2011.  I found myself dealing with a creative block at the beginning of this year and to snap myself out of it I took a trip north and drove Big Sur.  All those hours spent in the car by myself looking at some of the most beautiful vistas on this planet turned my brain to mush.  Fortunately, the mush reconstituted and now I’m brimming with some ideas that I’m pretty excited about- chief among them is this perverse desire to shoot a documentary short.  I’m not inflicted with Hollywood Delusion Syndrome, I swear.  I just want to see if I can.

Melissa Golden from the project Madam Secretary

Melissa Golden from the project The Holy Land Experience

Melissa Golden from the project The Holy Land Experience

Melissa Golden from the project Air Guitar

See more of Melissa’s work, here.

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