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Meet Trailblazer Mela Laval

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mela Laval.

Mela, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a French photographer living in Los Angeles, I have traveled a lot since my youngest age, I grew up between France and Brazzaville in Africa, my mother was an artist, my summer was spent on the roads of Europe and I think that is what gives me that taste of the adventure that dominates my life today. I have trouble staying for more than four years in the same place.

In France, I was raised in my grandparent’s house, my grandmother loved the pictures, I remember spending whole afternoons watching these albums full of memories that made her smile. Like her, I am not the best with words (I m getting older so I am better and my journalism studies helped a little). But I felt all her emotions, joys, sorrows, nostalgia, it touched me a lot. The moments of our existence are erased and the photos allow us to return to who we were, what we felt, all those moments that have made what we are today.

At 14, I had my first polaroid and I spent my time taking pictures of my friends, then disposable cameras and finally the first point and shoot always in film, but I then changed for digital. I left the family at the age of 15. I went to Bordeaux and then Toulouse where I was studying Applied Art and  Graphics.

I spent a few years in Paris, I made my child at barely 24 years, the most beautiful achievement of my life… it was uneasy, I was the only one to have a baby in my group of friends and I did not really have any social life anymore. A job in a nice start-up, shorts nights and long days after a year like this  I was already brimming. During this time in Paris, I took pictures of every moment of my life, the life of my son, each familiar faces, I started to create an archive of this existence, this experience. My friends used my photos for their profiles and told me that my eye was different. I especially think that I like human beings very much and because of this I capture what pleases me in them and it is not necessarily aesthetic. That’s what I see. After five years in Paris, I wanted to get some fresh air. Direction Buenos Aires with my boy who was then three years old and his dad, a year to explore the culture and where I finally got to photography, took audiovisual classes, meet people so moving and talented, a year that I will never forget.

We lived in Uruguay in Cabo Polonio is a village without current water and electricity, our gaucho house was 15 meters from the ocean, a unique experience in the light of candles at night and under bright sunlight during the day. I think that’s where I really found myself. Without the internet or phone, just with the people I loved most in the world, it was like a spiritual retreat, a journey to meet my inner self, without me expecting it at all. I then decided that I would do what I like with my life, taking pictures, capturing moments, gazes, joy and fears. And in our society today, it takes courage to really just dream about what you want more than anything.

Then, back to France and this time near to the Spanish border in the Basque Country, a magical place where I go on vacation since my youngest age, there I raised my son near the Ocean and set up a high-end jewelry company. I loved the experience and obviously what I liked was all the visual branding around the brand, photoshoots, videos, Instagram…

After three years, there had been great changes in my life and I moved to New Orleans with my son, a year exploring the culture and taking pictures of Second Line and listening to the most wonderful musicians that can be found live. Music is part of my life and I could not live or think without it.
Then we headed to Los Angeles

Has it been a smooth road?
Most of the People do not realize how to be a foreigner and try to develop their career is challenging, this city is made of people more talented than each other, ultra-confident, already connected, teeth scratching the floor… in France, we are much less aggressive with our ambitions so the adjustment was not easy, I felt very lonely the first year, the time it took me to meet my community.

I did not know where to start or where to go, a great moment of loneliness. I was working in a French bakery, I got up at 4:30 am, my son had to do his first day in a new school without me, I was like” what is happening in my life now” I had been my own boss for the last four years, what am I doing here.  I ran everywhere to try to provide for our needs, I was miserable but I didn’t want to drop it, I want my son to understand that in life everything is possible, even if sometimes the obstacles seem insurmountable, they are not. It is enough to take one step after another and not let the stress invades our thoughts.

I met a French guy who gave me my first contracts here and for important brands, then I realized that there was work for everyone. Right here at hand, but if you do not have the right connections, nothing comes to you, whether you’re good or not does change anything here, I see  pictures every day, everything looks alike, Instagram has kills the imagination of people, their creativity, because today if the style is not up to date, then the work passes unnoticed, I have the feeling of living in a sheep farm sometimes haha. I don’t see the purpose of this.

My friends from France who are in the industry put me in contact with their contacts here and so on I met fabulous people, but again everything is very paradoxical, if you’re not already known, nobody gives yourself a chance, so how to show that you exist? It’s very frustrating to know that you can deliver great work but no one gives you a chance to.

We’d love to hear more about Mela Laval.
The second-year here I started working on a personal project that is close to my heart, Women Are Gold, I paint women in gold and photography them. Being a woman requires so much courage, we are incredible creatures, sensitive and strong, we forgive, we love, we help, we create life, we are badly treated, violated and we survive, I think we are simply different.

This project is dedicated to all the women of my life. Maybe it will take me a lifetime before it will be exposed!

I work freelance today, my first client is a big newspaper. it allows me to pay my bills, I am not yet accomplished as I would like. I do a lot of fashion photography and I like to see movement, I like when there is life, it’s not my first passion but I do love beauty and I really like to capture my subjects when they aren’t aware of it.

I am so passionate about visuals that I could take pictures night and day.

I would like to be a photojournalist, to contribute to NatGeo, to capture our world every day, leave a trace of what it is to be alive here. This digital age is saturated with images, not easy to show your soul. 🙂

Meanwhile, I created a t-shirt and then a mark “L.A. IMMIGRANT” because I realized that no one was really from Los Angeles and that all of us were attracted by this city, wearing it people in the street started talking to me spontaneously.

The feeling of community in this city is just incredible because one can feel lonely, in some kind of bubble, stuck in the traffic, the reactions to this T-shirt have been so positive that I decided to trademark L.A. IMMIGRANT. I have not had time to really develop it yet but I’m working on it.

I feel very lucky to have a life’s experience in this city despite the difficulty. A love/hate relationship has developed.

So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well-positioned for?
Yes, I think that in a city like Los Angeles there are many opportunities for women, thanks to groups of women who work together to allow this progression in our society.

I work with women most of the time.

Contact Info:

  • Email:
  • Instagram: melalaval

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