Location: San Francisco, CA
Design. The word gets used and misused a lot, but when you look at Melissa Kaseman’s work, you can see the images of a professional with a true sense of design. She crafts the frame like an architect crafts space. Beyond her work for Dwell, T: The New York Times Style and Room & Board, Kaseman has a portfolio of evocative images of aging people that are remarkable for their sensitivity and frankness, laying bare the realities of growing old in America.
I started studying photography in the Netherlands while on an exchange at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht in 2000. After the year was over, I returned to North Dakota, sold nearly everything I owned and moved to San Francisco to finish school. I received my BFA from the California College of the Arts in 2005.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned either from a teacher or mentor?
Stay true to the kind of work you want to make. Follow your instincts and intuition, and don’t get caught up in the trends. Focus on what moves you about photography. Also, the importance of being knowledgeable about the kind of work that already exists, looking at books, visiting exhibitions, exposing yourself to as much photography as you can so that when you talk about your own work, you know the history and influences behind it.
What was your first job?
I did a travel shoot with T: The New York Times Style magazine. I spent two days in Lake County in Northern California photographing the “local color,” a winery, an inn and a café. The trip was amazing. I spent the day with the winemaker, and after the shoot, he invited me and my assistant to one of the most memorable home-cooked dinners I’ve ever had.
What advice would you give to a photographer who is still in school?
Nurture the relationships with your teachers and fellow students. They’re a great resource for understanding your work and also will continue to be a part of your photographic community once you’re out of school. The transition of graduating and developing your own art practice can be challenging, I struggle with it constantly. Having the continued contact with my mentors and colleagues has been a great way to keep motivated and inspired.
What inspires you about photography?
The ability to make visual order out of chaos; it’s the inherent nature of suspending moments or observations that resonates with me, and having the ability to create a visual language that expresses how I interpret the world. Light and color are elements that I’m keenly aware of when shooting, and I love how things can look one way in person, but the magic of photography and light can give it a luminosity that takes the image to a magical level.
What kind of camera equipment do you use?
For my digital photography, I use the Canon EOS 5D Mark II exclusively. I like to shoot some film, as well, and for that I use Mamiya cameras.
What’s your favorite piece of Canon gear?
The EOS 5D Mark II. I just upgraded from the Canon EOS 30D, and I’m loving all the features, the image quality and the HD video capability. My father taught me how to use a camera with an old manual Canon, and I appreciate how the user interface stays similar.
To see more of Melissa Kaseman’s work, go to www.melissakaseman.com.