Location: Washington, D.C.
Melissa Golden lives in the DC metro area, but she isn’t really from anywhere in particular. Her nomadic childhood, courtesy of the United States military, has led to a life marked by continuous change, renewal and wanderlust. Her work is influenced by all the places she’s called home at some point- the brazen oddity and beauty of Southern California, the tradition of the Deep South, the storm light of rural Florida, the heady intrigue of the Middle East and the stiff formality of the District of Columbia. She may not know where she’s going next, but her pictures help her to keep track of where she’s been. She is a contributing photographer with Redux Pictures.
I actually have degrees in Newspaper Journalism and International Relations from the University of Georgia. We didn’t have a photojournalism major, but there was a three-class emphasis within the journalism school. I had never used a real camera before college, and I studied the basics there. I learned most of what I really needed to know in the field. I interned at a couple of newspapers, and when I went freelance, I picked up a lot working for the wires, and then I learned even more when I started working with magazines.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned either from a teacher or mentor?
Never follow the pack. Watch where everyone else goes and go somewhere else.
What was your first photography job?
I was a staff photographer at my university’s student newspaper. I think I made $8 per assignment. It was all about beer money and experience.
What advice would you give to a photographer who is still in school?
Strictly for photojournalism students: Don’t major in photography. Study the humanities or social sciences like history, psychology, political science, sociology or anthropology. For everyone: Take business classes!
What inspires you about photography?
Photography can transcend language and communicate profound, human truths at a glance.
What makes you go out and shoot?
If I wasn’t a photographer, I’m not sure I’d ever leave my house. I’m deeply curious about people, but I’m also deathly shy. My camera and my work compel me to go out into the world and engage and learn. That I can look back at a long-forgotten shoot and be transported immediately to that time and place is undeniable magic and another reason I do what I do. My pictures are my memories.
What do you like best about the whole process?
Sometimes, I experience synesthesia, which is where your senses get cross-wired. I can actually hear beautiful light. It sings.
How long have you been shooting?
What do you think it takes to be successful in today’s challenging and competitive marketplace?
Above all else, basic business sense is key. I also truly believe your work and talent only have to meet a certain threshold. Beyond that, it’s all about your work ethic and personality. You have to be likable, memorable and willing to reach out to the photo community—your colleagues as well as your potential clients.
To see more of Melissa Golden’s photography, go to www.melissagolden.com.