I recently had the rare opportunity to leave my messy, paper-strewn desk to recharge, relax and have a cup of coffee with the very talented Elizabeth Messina. I asked her to dish a bit on some of her recent projects and interests, including her obsession with Instagram and Pinterest, gearing up for photo workshops and WPPI 2014, and her involvement with the upcoming release of The Silver Lining, A Supportive and Insightful Guide To Breast Cancer (Atria Books, March 2014).
Jacqueline Tobin: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so this seems like an especially good time to talk about The Silver Lining and your photography that illustrates it. How did the project come about?
Elizabeth Messina: A couple of years ago I began photographing my dear friend, Hollye Jacobs, as she was going through breast cancer. I offered to photograph her as a gesture of friendship and to show her how beautiful she was even in the most unlikely circumstances. I thought it might somehow ease the challenges she was facing. From chemotherapy to her double mastectomy to having a cup of tea, I was there. I approached our shoots with the same tenderness I’d bring to a newborn shoot, and the same enthusiasm I have at a wedding or editorial shoot. The only images I’d ever seen of a mastectomy were clinical (and with bad light). I wanted to capture the reality of what Holly’s body was going through with an artful eye, beautiful light, film and patience. At the same time, she was writing a personal blog about her experiences—The Silver Pen—which went viral and is now a regular feature on the Huffington Post. The Silver Lining is our book—part memoir, part practical information with a series of beautiful photographs full of inspiration. It began as a personal project between friends and is now a gift for anyone who has ever been touched by breast cancer.
JT: It’s a beautiful book and a very meaningful one. What else have you been working on that you are so passionate about?
EM: I just finished A LOVELY WORKSHOP at Sunstone Villa in Santa Barbara with an extraordinary group of talented people—Mindy Weiss, Mindy Rice, Found Vintage, Small Masterpiece, Claire Pettibone, Elizabeth Colling, Wiley Valentine, Maybelle Imasa, Erin Skipley and so many more. This was the first year I’ve done two in one year. I don’t know how to do anything halfway, so I go a little crazy preparing for and working on all the aspects of a workshop. Right now I can’t imagine doing another one but it’s a little like having a baby— probably in a couple of months I’ll start thinking about the next one!
JT: Are you speaking at WPPI 2014?
EM: I am; It is such an honor to be asked back and this year. I want to share some of my insights on how powerful working on a personal project like The Silver Lining can be. I think when your heart is truly invested in something, that passion comes through in your photographs. I’ll also share some business tips and how I, a middle-aged mother of three, handles life, work and motherhood. I’d also like to speak on the incredible possibilities of thoughtfully curating your Instagram feed.
JT: I know you love your Instagram! How come? What does it add to your business profile?
EM: Instagram has the instant gratification that a Polaroid photo does—it is a glimpse into your life or work or whatever you are doing in a particular moment. It makes me feel connected to the world in a way that I don’t always feel on Twitter or Facebook. I treat my Instagram feed with a lot of respect—I might make 100 iPhone photos and share only one. I like the challenge of creating images with my iPhone that look like my film work and I am thoughtful about light and composition, just as I would be with my other images made with my Contax.
JT: Why are you obsessed with Pinterest?
EM: Pinterest is a magical place. At first, though, I didn’t get it. I was reluctant to “pin” any image that I didn’t create; it went against my instinct as a photographer. I didn’t want to share another person’s work without their consent…but then something clicked and I realized it was a place to collect dreams and inspiration. I have boards honoring photographers I admire—ADORATION —and another board called YEARN which is a collection of images that just tug at my soul. My favorite board is DREAM HOME. I seriously think I have the most wonderful imaginary home! I am captivated by design and style and I love finding and sharing beautiful things.