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Meet Alena Mealy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alena Mealy.

Alena, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My journey began truly at the age of five when I was given a souvenir music box my mother brought back from New York after seeing Phantom of the Opera. I was so entranced by not only the musical aspects but also the costume design and production design. It introduced me to the world of theater, and I would later beg my mother to let me audition for Orange County School of the Arts for Musical Theater.

From there, I was enveloped by other students and teachers that wanted to support one another in the arts, an environment and education I can only be grateful for as I grew up and my mind was still being shaped. I grew up in Orange County, however my Mom is from Okinawa and my father, an African American man, was born in Baltimore. I was raised in a more traditional Japanese style, and my mother inspires me more than anyone. I wanted to grow up to be like her.

Studying theater, I started to enjoy writing and story-telling. I began to enjoy it more than musical theater, and I think it had my mind wandering as to what else I may be capable of. By my junior year of high school, my best friend returned from a student exchange program and told me what an eye-opening experience it was for her. Being from Orange County and having parents who were well-traveled, my curiosity again was struck.

I was fortunate to gain the experience I sought after and was able to partake in a six months study-abroad program in Italy. In the best words, It offered me an education that could not be found in a classroom. I arrived with absolutely no knowledge of the language and a heavy awareness of my favorite pastas. At 16, I found myself in a small southern town, with a new Italian family that treated me as their own. I learned Italian and was able to take my family around Italy with the navigation of a local. This taste of travel expanded my mind more than I could ever have imagined.

By the time it came to college, I knew I wanted to attend an International University, and where better could a girl like me dream than in Paris. I would later turn down my acceptance to USC for creative writing to attend The American University of Paris. I majored in Literary Studies and Creative Arts, which introduced me to Digital Production and Video Production. I picked up a camera and would start photographing and taping friends. I found a never-ending passion in this simple act. It never felt like work.

After finishing my education, I moved back to Los Angeles, where I knew I would need to start laying down some foundations in becoming a Photographer. I wanted to create. Bottom line. I started working with flowers, creating elaborate head-dresses as I had a knack with working with florals. This led me to work at Empty Vase Florist in West Hollywood as their In-House Photographer. I then began collaborating with my best friend Danica Kennedy and Sasha Glasser. As a model and makeup artist, they were not only so helpful and inspiring, we would go on to create and conceptualize photoshoots and art pieces of our own, facilitating and shaping our individual styles and creating and learning something new each shoot.

Today, after spending the last five years shaping my photography and style, I can only say I’ve truly enjoyed the journey. There were many ups and downs that came with freelancing and learning the true essence of what It means to “put the work” into what you want to do. Navigating the creative scene in Los Angeles offered me lessons in humility and patience, as well as fairness and equality. As a black woman wanting to be in a male-driven profession, there are no illusions that I have to work almost twice as hard. I was fortunate to work with a range of artists, from Strong businesswomen such as Payal Kadakia, founder of ClassPass to Willem from RuPauls Dragrace and A Star is Born. Working alongside such hardworking individuals was truly inspiring, and I try my best to absorb everything I learn from each experience.

In the last year (right as the pandemic was about to hit as well) – I began to shift my artistic style. I was informed of a school that specialized in Animation and Visual Effects based in Hollywood called GNOMON. While photography absolutely has my heart, I knew deep inside I could offer more than a well-composed shot. Combining my love for narrative, design, color and animation; I decided to take some courses to see if I was capable of character modeling and design. I’m happy to say I’ve found an untapped passion in sculpture and character/creature design, and upon admission for the digital certificate program, GNOMON in for the winter 2021.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
My path has led me through a number of bumpy roads, some smoother than others. I had to learn the hard way regarding the negotiation and price of my art, and sticking to my gut in terms of what I know my worth is as an artist. I’ve encountered situations where I’ve sent estimates for shoots that were low enough where the client was suspect that I would not deliver quality based off my budget. Same goes for estimating a higher cost for a shoot based off locations and extra necessities and the client expectations of paying half of what I estimate. It goes without saying it’s an art in of itself to negotiate the business side of photography. The contracts and release forms, as well as the happiness of my clients were always my main concern. Every photographer I’m sure has experienced their share of no-shows and missing/late payments, and as my business grew, so did my approach to ensuring everything was done on paper. My partner Danica Kennedy handled all release forms and contracts while I could creatively concept and execute our shoots.

As a creative, I aim to stay true to myself while ensuring that my client is happy. That being said, there were times where my creative eye wasn’t what was requested, rather my technical side. This is where I found I would struggle the most, as I constantly desire to lean only to the creative side of things.

Alright – so let’s talk business.  What else should we know about you and your career so far?
I am a portrait photographer and floral artist, and I would say I specialize in creative portraiture. I like to blend fantasy and reality in my photographs, creating a different-often more bizarre world for each of my images. Between that and creating custom floral headdresses, I would say I am most proud of shooting Fancy Nancy’s illustrator Robin Glasser surrounded by all her art pieces in her home. I also recently got to shoot for the TeenVogue Summit as the portrait photographer and I found that experience really rewarding as well.

I like to utilize the full length of photoshop that goes beyond retouching, so I think what may set me apart from others is that I often will add digital painting and other creative methods to compose an image. I avoid most product photography with the exception of florals, and that’s simply because I find it too hard to keep things on the simpler side. My hope is that what sets me apart is that I offer a different perspective to the creative side of things.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
My proudest moment of my career has been the shift or jump that I’ve taken to learn 3D Animation as well as figurative/digital sculpting. As removed as it may seem from photography, it’s been the most rewarding experience that I’m the most proud of. I see a bright future that ultimately will add an extended branch to my photography.

I was also very happy when Mindy Kaling posted one of my photos of Payal Kadakia on her Instagram page, it truly made me feel as though I was on the right track. Having other strong women of color acknowledge my work truly put a fire under me to push onwards.

Contact Info:068

Image Credit:
Elissa Freiha, Brielle Anyea, Meredith Otrowsky, Sasha Glasser, Danica Kennedy, Fiona Pitt, Blake VanAmersfoorth

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