Melissa Lazuka is a Cleveland based portrait and fine art photographer. She loves light and emotion, experimenting and exploring new techniques such as free lensing and multiple exposures, and the endless possibilities of creating with photography.
We love Melissa's emotive, layered, fine art photography!!
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Fine Art Website
1. How long have you been in business and how did you get your start in photography?
My husband gifted me a Nikon D300 Christmas of 2008. I had wanted a nicer camera to take photos of my children and so I was ecstatic. It felt overwhelming at first, and so I kept it in auto for 2 years, just learning to see moments that felt special to me, for another 2 years I kept it in Aperture Priority mode, again just slowly learning the technical aspect. In the summer of 2012 I finally put my camera in Manual and never looked back. For me that was a defining moment, when I was able to be in total control of the image. In hindsight I went into business too soon, excited at the thought of capturing the beauty I saw for others as well. But I do not regret the path I took, because I had to take it to get where I am now. I never stopped shooting, and along the way developed a strong interest in fine art. I will never forget the feeling I had in the summer of 2014 when I was doing a “100 days” project with some friends. It was evening, I was sitting in our pool, looking at the water and the light, and feeling the heavy beauty of it, and I remember thinking, “I am in this deep, this art, and I can’t go back.” It was a feeling of “seeing” the world differently that I fell in love with that I think comes with time.
2. Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
I happened upon the work of Roxanne Bryant early on in my journey. In her photos I saw that you could make images of your children that looked like art, that were art. I loved her use of color and unusual compositions. When I reached out to her, she was so kind to me and I am always grateful because when you are just starting out, you desperately need a few people to believe in you. I ended up taking her color theory class and that too, was hugely art changing. I also started to study the greats on my own, because I do not have an art degree, rather an English literature degree. I would go to the half price bookstore with my son and hope to find a good photography book to take home. The very first one I stumbled upon remains a dear favorite, “A Retrospective Monograph of Paul Strand.” His tonal range in his black and whites is incredible, his portraits move me; I leaf through its pages often. Also I am crazy about Keith Carter, Edward Weston, Cig Harvey and Deborah Parkin. All inspire me to work harder at creating an image that speaks to the viewer in a powerful way, and to keep working to find my singular voice in this art.
3. What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
Well I recently read this quote from the artist Andrew Wyeth and I think it sums up what I have discovered along my journey but wish I knew when I started. “The great men [ Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy] forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of an artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event. I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect—to score a hit—does not know what he is missing!” Unfortunately, because of social media, there is a great temptation to be “liked” or “score a hit”. I do think an artist must share their work with the world, but it must not be with the intention of being popular. I think that one must accept that not everyone will like your work, not everyone will even care, but if you are putting something out there that comes from the purest place of self, then perhaps it will resonate with one person, and that should be enough.
4. What does photography mean to you?
I had a dream recently that I was dropped off at college for the first day, I was 20 again, and my friends and I were all moving into our house at OSU. I was sitting on the step, and I knew I didn’t have children yet, but I felt completely lost and in the dream thought, what am I going to do without my camera? It is that important to me now that if I had to stop shooting I would feel a sense of emptiness. It has become a way of existing in this world, and understanding what being human is on a deeper level.
5. What is the best part about being a photographer?
There are many! I think the best part though, is this way of “seeing” the world on a deeper level. I have always loved trying to find the beauty in people and places that maybe others might not notice. This art lets me capture it forever and help others see it too, whether it is in their everyday surroundings, or in a portrait of themselves. It is truly powerful and a wonderful way to fully realize how beautiful this life is.
6. If you could shoot with any photographer in the world, who would it be and why?
This is a difficult question! For color work, I would pick Cig Harvey. Her style is very different than mine but I adore her work and think I could learn so much from her. I would love to take a workshop from her in the future. For shooting in black and white, I would pick Keith Carter because I am so curious about his unique techniques and love his photography, especially of children.
7. What is your favorite image you have taken to date?
This image from my series “Child”
8. How do you feel about breaking the perceived rules of photography?
I think in order to break the perceived rules, you must know your camera inside and out, so that the technical choices you have to make become innate. Once you have that down, then you can break them. And I think breaking them creates the best art. In 2014 I joined a freelensing group. Freelensing is a technique in which you hold a lens unattached to your camera and move it around to create a dreamlike effect. Parts of the image are blurred, often there are light leaks, but the unpredictability and imperfections make the images that much more beautiful. It was only when I started breaking rules, layering images upon each other through multiple exposures, purposely blurring my photos, free lensing and just experimenting with “what if I….?” just to see what would happen, that my artistic voice started to form. I actually think it is a must if you hope to become a better artist. I always tell my daughter “perfection is overrated”. Keep making mistakes and failing, and breaking rules, until magic happens. Because I do think it eventually does, and that is the most exhilarating feeling.