PageCrush is once again honored to have the fine opportunity to interview another PageCrush fan and Featured Crush, Melissa Rodwell. Originally from Pasadena California, Melissa now lives in Los Angeles with her husband, actor David Skyler. David has proudly helped bring Melissa’s online identity to life, featuring an array of her latest exhibit, The Boys Collection. This latest exhibit deriving from the most intimate level of Melissa’s creative soul, is a reflection of her life’s history and profound work. After years of shooting young females in suggestive manners for the fashion industry, she decided to give life to an exhibit titled “BOYS.” Her goal was to turn things around and present the young male body in an erotic manner from a female perspective. Amongst many other ventures in her life, Melissa graduated from the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. This kickstarted her journey that has spanned the world in fashion and entertainment photography. Her work has lead to exposure in international advertising campaigns and major publications globally.
The Boys Collection will proudly be on display at the In•dependent Gallery at District Lab within Florida’s Wynwood Art District. Grand Opening will kickoff on February 9th at 7:00 PM. The exhibit will run from February 10th through April 9th, 2008.
We’d love to take the time to present Melissa Rodwell and her life passion for photography. The following is a wonderful combination of talent, hard work and life experiences.
Q. Where are you located?
Los Angeles, CA
Q. Design, photography, modeling, how did you get your start in the world of professional photography and design?
Initially, I wanted to go into fashion design. But at 17, I accidentally wandered into a gallery that was showing Helmut Newton’s photographs and his work completely changed my mind! I became obsessed with photography, specifically, fashion photography.
Q. Is photography your prime specialty and how does one survive in this ever so competitive world?
Photography is my prime specialty. I studied at the Art Center College of Design, graduated with a degree in photography in 1987 and started working as a professional photographer pretty much straight out of school. To survive in the competitive world of photography you have to be tenacious, persistent and develop a thick skin against rejection. I’d say a certain amount of “charm” helps as well, especially in the fashion industry because everyone’s a Diva who’s involved in fashion. But yes, there is a ton of competition and you can’t give up even after repeated rejections. I’ve always been the type of person that will come up twice as strong if I’ve been knocked on my ass. It’s just my personality but I think that has helped me in the past to stick with it and not give up. I love proving people wrong!
Q. Do you have a team that helps bring life in what you do?
It’s always about the team. I need a team to execute my shoots. Make up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, assistants, gophers, animal trainers, you need it all! My team players have changed over the years and depending on what I’m shooting or where I’m shooting it. I couldn’t drag my favorite team players with me around the world. But I would’ve if I could’ve. I got attached to certain people on my teams. I used to fantasize that we would all stick together and create big amazing things together, traveling together all over the place. It doesn’t usually work that way though. And now with the digital age and all the post production that is needed, the team just got bigger and more involved! Sometimes it’s a pain to have to depend on other people, but that’s the way it is.
Q. Is this something you’ve always wanted to do in life, and what has helped you accomplish obstacles that have seemed impossible along your journey?
Yes, photography is all I have ever wanted to do as far as a career and as an art form. My biggest obstacle in the past was all the traveling I had to do in order to make a living. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and while LA is a great market for photographers, it isn’t a strong fashion market. At all. No matter what anyone tells you. So I had to go to Europe and NYC and even Sydney, Australia in order to work. The problem was that I was attached to my friends and to relationships in Los Angeles, so I always felt a void in my life because I was constantly moving to strange lands and surrounded by strangers. It was lonely, at times. I mean, when I was younger, I liked it more. But as I got older, it was a sacrifice I didn’t want to make any longer. And unfortunately, I never could base myself in places like NYC or Paris where the fashion industry is strong for very long because I was in a relationship with someone back in LA. It was tough.
Q. Your focus exhibit at this time in your career is “The Boys Collection”. How many different themed exhibits to date have you accomplished?
I have had 3 themed exhibits. Monet Mazur, the actress, was my first exhibit. I shot Monet when she was 16 and just starting to model. My second exhibit was on photographs I had shot in and around Sydney’s heroin scene. I wasn’t able to finish that body of work because I moved away from Sydney after 2 years.
Q. How many showings do you exhibit in a year for a particular theme?
It really depends. Sometimes I’ve only shown an exhibit once, like my Sydney heroin series. Monet showed 3 times, once in LA, twice in Sydney. The Boys Collection has shown 3 times in LA, back to back, then I took a year off. Now it is showing in Miami this month. After Miami, it will go to Orlando. New York is next and then hopefully Europe will follow.
Q. Is “The Boys Collection” your biggest project to date?
Well, the Boys Collection took a lot of time and energy to produce and also to promote. So yes, in that way, it has been my biggest project to date.
Q. It appears “The Boys Collection” is quite an active piece. How does this excel your reputation in the industry and for your future?
Last year I made the decision to leave behind the commercial fashion world and just “do my art”. I had a real break down last year where I didn’t shoot much and didn’t pursue work and sort of secluded myself in order to find out what I wanted to do next. I have become increasingly unhappy with shooting fashion, per se, and it got to the point that I didn’t even want to shoot anymore. I was really freaked out by that, by the idea that I wasn’t inspired to even shoot anymore. I had to really go inside myself and ask a lot of questions. I realized that I was missing the “old school” days of shooting film and shooting what I love. So I made the big leap off that scary bridge and decided to chuck in the fashion world and focus on doing my art! By doing the Boys Collection and having it show again, it is re-establishing my name as an artist who shows and not a photographer who is hired to shoot someone else’s story boards. Obviously, the Boys Collection is not going to be the last show I do, but it will open doors for the next series of photographs I want to show.
Q. What gives you the greatest inspiration towards your projects, past, and present?
I get inspiration from a lot of things. A great line in a great book. A moment of awe that is unexplainable. Amsterdam at dusk. David Bowie’s music. Meeting someone new that shines above the rest. Tremendous design. Stanley Kubrik. Even triumph, over terrible odds, is inspiring. My greatest inspirations have come when I’ve been totally seduced. When I’m really drawn in by someone or something it is when I feel the most inspired.
Q. How often do you travel for your career and what’s the most unique location you’ve proudly exhibited your work?
As I mentioned before, I used to travel constantly. In my ‘20’s and early ‘30’s, I lived out of a suitcase (or duffel bag). I belonged to the Jack Kerouac school of, “if you own a rug you own too much”. Sydney was fun to exhibit in. And since Miami is new to me, this will be pretty sweet to show here. I think Miami is really rising up in the art world and I’m really excited to be part of it and feel this great rush of activity going on down here. Art/Basel was an amazing time here in Miami this past December. There was so much to see and to take in….it was really incredible.
Q. How much of what you learned in school has taught what you know today?
Well, I learned how to actually expose, develop and print FILM. Hah….what a concept nowadays. I learned a lot in school, and then I learned pretty much nothing. Like I said, I learned how to expose and develop film and I learned how to print film. And seriously, if you can’t go into a darkroom and print a damn good print, you are not really totally able to call yourself a photographer. It is my belief that if you can’t print, you can’t shoot. And if you can’t expose film you aren’t really a photographer either. Also, believe it or not, I learned how to stay in the moment when I was in school. Having 12 hours of darkroom homework a day 4 times a week, you have to stay in that little dark room and work. You can’t run out to address every petty little trite drama that’s going on “outside” that dark world. When you’re agitating canisters of film for 27 minutes and you can’t leave the room or you’ll fuck up your images, you realize that whoever’s pissed off with you and waiting to yell at you outside the door will still be there in 27 minutes when you’re done. What I didn’t learn in school was how to get through the rough times throughout my career. That’s stuff they can’t teach, that can only be learned through experience.
Q. What are your biggest achievements that you are proud to make mentions of?
There are many that I am proud of yet the biggest one I that I am most proud of has nothing to do with my career!
Q. In your career, have you catered your talent to the world of Hollywood and celebrities?
That is the one area I have had a really tough time with. Because I kept re-locating back to Los Angeles, I was coerced to shoot celebrities. I was urged to put my book together to get more celebrity work. I have to say I never had an interest in shooting celebrities. I find it totally boring, for the most part. It’s not the celebrity that’s the drag, it’s their publicist, manager, agent, personal assistant, boyfriend, hanger on, those people are the drag to deal with. And again, I’m not usually shooting that celebrity how I would see him or her. I’m shooting them how the client wants them shot. I can’t tell you how many agents told me to “gear my portfolio” toward getting more celebrity gigs. I hated it! But that’s where the money is in LA.
Q. What was your first published piece or series?
My very first published piece was a 8 page fashion editorial for Sassy Magazine. I was very proud!
Q. What have your toughest challenges been?
I’m not the world’s greatest business woman. It took me forever to learn how to save money in the “feast or famine” hoopla of freelancing. I am a big fan of living life and living it large. When I was younger, it was devastating on the bank account. I’m not a techno geek either. I know it in the back of my head, but while I’m shooting I like to let it go and focus on capturing the moment with my subjects. BUT….I do hire great assistants so they keep track of all that! It’s a must! Another challenge is self-promotion and marketing. That’s where a good agent comes in. And honestly, I’m happy to pay them a commission for doing all the promotional work and negotiating the fees. I’m a real “shooter”. That’s where I get off. After I’m done shooting, I leave it to the assistants to process my film or files, and I move on to the next thing I’m going to shoot. The business side and technical side I like to let people help me who are passionate about those things. Lastly, my toughest challenge has been learning how to balance my personal life with my career. It’s hard to “live on the road”. It’s tough on a marriage. It’s tough on your spirit. It’s hard to stay balanced and centered with no home, so to speak. Or base.
Q. What do you hope to achieve in the long run?
Well, for one, stay married this time! But seriously, I would like to continue to keep shooting what I want. I am beginning to shoot a new series that I hope will be exhibited and published.
Q. Here’s a question many modern folks would like to know? Digital or film?
Oh dear….well I think you can guess by now what I’m going to say. Film. Hands down. Honestly I can’t stand digital. I shoot it because I have to shoot it because clients insist on it. But I never liked it. Nothing beats a really great image shot on film. To me, there’s no comparison. But I know there are millions who disagree with me. You go, techies!!
Q. Any advice you’d like to leave inspired photographers and artists with?
As long as you love what you’re doing, you’ll be fine. The minute you wake up and you’re not inspired to shoot, or wake up resenting that you have to go shoot to pay your rent, get out! For one, life’s too short to be miserable. And two, there are too many others out there who are intensely passionate about photography who will gladly snatch up all your gigs!
Q. Do you have any closing comments?
Thank you so much for interviewing me for your Crush Review. It’s been a real pleasure!
Keep up the fantastic work! You are truly an inspiration to many and it has been an honor to feature your Crush Review. PageCrush thanks you for your time and dedication.
For more of Melissa Rodwell’s work, please visit her latest exhibition at: www.melissarodwell.net