Today we’d like to introduce you to Tess Elizabeth.
Hi Tess, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
Thank you for having me! I grew up in Los Angeles. I took photos all throughout high school and in my 20s. I took some photography classes in grade school, and over time I’ve combined technical knowledge with learning on my own. After high school, I bounced around between Washington State and New York. When I was in New York, I made my first coherent photo series.
Since 2014, I’ve been in Los Angeles.
When I got back to LA, I got a job in a vintage store. The owner (Melissa Simpson, The BlaNk Studio – she makes magic) restored Victorian wedding dresses and moved a lot of vintage from all eras. In addition to managing the shop, I shot the clothes on and off models (some models were brought in, some were just friends who would visit me in the shop) for the website and social media. During this time I felt a lot of elements I love coming together and photographing in this way felt cathartic. Each little shoot felt like a story.
In October of 2018, I ran into an old friend at a cafe in Venice. We talked for a while and she asked if I would take her photo for her professional website. It was pretty amazing that she asked because I had never titled myself a photographer. At that moment it dawned on me that I wanted to really pursue photography. I haven’t looked back since.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I don’t know if freelancing is ever smooth – you have to really love what you do. There are times when things burst open and it feels like there is a lot of movement and other times when things are slower. During the slower times I’ve had to remind myself that just because I can’t see anything happening, it doesn’t mean that nothing is.
I am not currently represented, so a lot of the time organizing shoots falls on me as the photographer. Sometimes logistics can be challenging, but I love assembling a team and creating a shared vision. I’ve found that the most committed people always stick around – and those are the people worth finding and knowing, and continuing to work with.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I love shooting fashion for brands, shooting editorials/stories, and even events – but I’d say I work mainly in portrait photography. I love capturing and releasing real moments – a little raw and full of genuine beauty. In portrait photography I feel I am given access to people’s internal landscape and their stories – it’s really a privilege.
What were you like growing up?
Growing up, school was hard for me but I loved and still love the random adventure, the in-between moments. I have a little sister who is 9 years younger than me – I felt more at ease with her than anyone my own age. I’d take her around and we’d go on funny day trips – collecting recycling from the alley near our house to create “sculptures,” trading off with a disposable camera and setting out to “find a story.” We had so much fun. We still hang out all the time! Now our age difference doesn’t feel as dramatic.
Interest-wise, I was always digging into the work of Sam Shepard and Bob Dylan. I’d say they are my two biggest influences. Even though they are writers they have somehow influenced my photographic work. Robert Frank was my first real photographic influence, among so many who came after.
I genuinely have always been fascinated by people. It used to feel like a defect – I’d feel awkward and frozen as an observer and a watcher.
For as long as I remember, I’ve had a nagging internal yearning to document the people and places around me. I used to not like that about myself, but shooting pictures helped me love it. The desire to document has been in the background of everything in my life, and it’s taken many forms.
I’ve always had a lot of people around me that I genuinely love and have loved but simultaneously always felt there was a part of me that no one knew. Maybe everyone feels that way. I felt afraid to really be myself – no matter how much I wanted to. I think that’s part of why chasing authentic moments with a camera has felt so important to me over the years. As I continue in my photographic work, that gap seems to close more and more. Photographing feels connected to who I am as a person.
- Website: www.tesselizabeth.com
- Instagram: @tesselizabethw
Image 1 Model: Danielle Burgess MUA: Daphne Chantell Hair: Erik Jon Stylist: Janet López Image 2 Model + Stylist: Wysenia Jones Image 3 Models: Mya Richardson + Morgan Skeries Image 4 Model: Khalil’Allah Image 5 Model: Myeshia Mayo MUA: Denise Medina Stylist: Wysenia Jones Image 6 Model: Kelsey Loren Van Soest Stylist: Wear The Future | Dress: Gigi Moda Image 7 Model and Stylist: Darren Pitts Pants: The New Norm Clothing (Owned and designed by Darren Pitts) Image 8 Model: Bianca Wiles MUA: Sam Bates Stylist: Tess Elizabeth