The Fanciful Photography of Elise Mesner
Los Angeles–based cross-media artist Elise Mesner is focused on photography these days, but she’s also a painter, an illustrator, a costume designer, a set designer, and a creative director—whose latest projects involve video. Taking inspiration from nature (with a special fondness for fruit), she creates bright, whimsical images with a very California vibe.
It was a need to photograph concept paintings for her teaching website that led Mesner to buy a camera. She says, “Once I picked up the camera, I just never put it down. I started taking pictures of everything, and the painting went a little bit on the back burner.”
Because she was living in Detroit, many of her first clients were musicians who hired her to take photographs for album art and promotional material. Then Mesner got into food photography, and eventually she set her sights on California.
“There’s just a lot of things to photograph out here,” she says. “It’s been great for my career, being out here and having all the other creatives around. And obviously the weather is phenomenal…. California drew me in like a magnet. It was like it was meant to be.”
A FOCUS ON PHOTOGRAPHY
Asked to describe her work, Mesner answers, “That’s a loaded question. Right now, I would say my work is pretty heavy on the photography end; however, I’m still painting, and I love making costumes and doing set design and things like that. I manage to keep my fingers in all of it.”
CREATING NEW WORLDS
Mesner’s work these days is fairly evenly balanced between commissioned and personal work, but she says that there’s a lot of overlap between the two; she looks for client work that will allow her to infuse her own aesthetic and point of view. She also keeps notebooks to jot down ideas as they come to her—by her bed, in her car, and so on—and often goes back to these notebooks when beginning work on a project.
“A lot of times, personal work turns into client work,” she says. “For example, I just got hired by a friend to do an album cover, and after I’d listened to the tracks, I thought of an idea I’d written down, and it really fit the mood and the sound of the music… Brands will often reach out because they want a new visual look, and I can plug in my own aesthetic and turn it into a personal project. I tend to work that way most often—leading with the creative direction, versus a client coming to me with specific ideas.”
Although there are exceptions, Mesner does not do a lot of postproduction work on her photographs, preferring to take advantage of natural lighting, which she says can “do a lot of the work for you.”
In the future, Mesner says a dream project would be to parlay her editorial fashion photography experience into an opportunity to photograph runway shows and behind-the-scenes action at New York Fashion Week.