Since graduating Columbus College of Art & Design, Texas-born, Ohio-raised — and now San Francisco-based — photographer Kelsey McClellan (Photography, 2012) has shot for the likes of The New Yorker, Lucky Peach, Wired, Cherry Bombe, SF Magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle. (And for our own blog, too.)
We recently asked McClellan to tell us more about three particularly meaningful photos she created. Below, McClellan shares the stories behind her bold, graphic photography, and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Find more work by the plant, cat, yoga, and chocolate chip cookie enthusiast here.
This image is from an ongoing series I've been working on with my good friend Michelle Maguire. Every time I am back home in Columbus we cram in a day or two to make photographs, always involving food. This particular shoot was for a small French biannual magazine called Club Sandwich, focusing on the theme of eggs. Michelle did all the prop and food styling, and my boyfriend (CCAD 2011 alum Ryan Monroe) held up one of the lights because we only had one stand. Continuing to shoot images that you want to make is really refreshing, and it’s important to clarify your own style.
This image is really special because it was shot for the New Yorker. This past summer I took my first portfolio trip to New York City to meet with editors and other photographers — to meet people in person and learn how to improve my work. Before going, I emailed all the magazine editors I thought I'd like to meet with, focusing on publications that feature work similar to my style and aesthetic. I reached out to the New Yorker and got a response back from the photo editor, saying she'd love to set up a shoot for me for the “Tables for Two” article while I was in town. The review was of Barano, which happened to be about five blocks from where I was staying. Michelle was with me on the trip as well to show her book Salami Dreamin', so she was my assistant. I didn't have a laptop on me for the trip and they needed edits within two days, so I messaged fellow alum Marcus Morris via Facebook around midnight the evening before (sort of in a panic) and he was kind enough to let me borrow his personal computer for editing! It all worked out so smoothly and perfectly and was just a really dreamy example of how rewarding the freelance hustle can sometimes be.
This image is important to me because of what I learned from the experience. It was the first time I've ever had a commission killed by the client, which is very hard because I invest a lot of myself into every image I create. The client was overseas, which made communication very difficult — our schedules were the exact opposite and the deadline was tight, so waiting 24 hours for responses felt debilitating at times. I collaborated with the client on the concept, which was an article about the diversity of food in the Bay Area/Oakland, California. I sent sketches that were approved with enthusiasm by the art director, but the team ended up unhappy with the final result, which hurt and was shocking. From this I learned the importance of being as explicit as possible with clients at the beginning of the project about what the final image will look like, so they are able to properly visualize the final result. Also, being firm and realistic about budget requirements and including a kill fee in your contracts upfront is so important to protect yourself/time/resources.