I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Tessa Paisan for about a year now. Her love for color play, human interaction, and out-of-the-box techniques in her photography caught my eye in our advanced photography class. She’s a talented female photographer taking over the electronic scene, working for artists such as Rezz, Liquid Stranger, and San Holo. Not only is she probably the easiest person to feel comfortable around, she works hard and takes every challenge head-on. Her determination and skill mixed with a wonderful sense of humility is taking her to far places, and it’s been incredible to watch her journey. I luckily had the chance to catch her during her busy schedule of work and school. I was also happy to catch her dog, Bernie.
Let’s start with an easy one. Introduce yourself and what you do.
Hey guys, I’m Tessa Paisan, and I am a photographer and videographer with a focus on electronic music.. *waves as if she’s on camera*
How were you introduced to photography, and what drew you to the medium?
I would take pictures of the sunset when I was younger. I was probably about 16 years old. I would take it on my iPhone, and then edit it using some app like Afterlight. I definitely thought, “Wow, these are so good.” They obviously weren’t good, but I would see people use DSLRs, and they were good. If they could do it, why couldn’t I? So I started using a DSLR.
You mentioned you work in the electronic scene so what introduced you to the scene? What made you fall in love with it?
When I was 16, I went to my first rave and thought it was so much fun. I loved the music, so I kept listening to it and eventually went to Sunset Music Festival and Ultra. When I went to Ultra, that’s when I really thought, “Wow, I love this.” And then when I started getting into photography, I thought it would be really cool to photograph the people.
What’s one thing you wish people understood about the behind the scenes of the industry?
People think it’s so flashy and glamorous. But really, we sit around and wait a lot. We wait in the green room, at the airport, waiting to be picked up, and whatever else. Most of it is us waiting. Then they have that one hour where they place, and I work. It goes from super high energy to a low energy situation. It’s a really weird situation. Most DJs are actually super sober. Pretty much all of the ones I work for don’t drink or do drugs. Most of them want to get to the venue to play and then sleep because they are tired from traveling all the time.
When someone makes a comment like, “Oh, are you dating the DJ? Is that how you got up here?” I let them know they are being misogynistic. A lot of men don’t even realize they are being misogynistic. I don’t want anyone thinking that me, any female photographer, or female DJ got to where we are because we are pretty or whatever. I worked really hard to get where I am and so did they.
I know you personally so I know you’ve mentioned misogynistic comments from guys also working a show or people assuming you got onstage because you’re dating the DJ. How do you deal with those, and what can other people be doing to grow a greater appreciation for females in the scene?
When someone makes a comment like, “Oh, are you dating the DJ? Is that how you got up here?” I let them know they are being misogynistic. A lot of men don’t even realize they are being misogynistic. I don’t want anyone thinking that me, any female photographer, or female DJ got to where we are because we are pretty or whatever. I worked really hard to get where I am and so did they. I think a main thing we can do is just keep spreading awareness. Everytime I go to a show, security guards look at me weird or ask me if I know how to use my camera. No shit I know how to use my camera. It’s just really obnoxious. People need to keep talking about it or it will be ignored.
There are tons of DJs who do support photographers and good work no matter the gender so who are some ones you’ve worked with that stick out to you?
I love Liquid Stranger. I know he values my work and isn’t just trying to add a girl to the team. He loves my work and values me as a photographer. We are really good friends, and I’ll tell him if there is an issue. There was a problem going on at a festival where people would introduce themselves to him and our managers but not say a word to me. I would be standing there and thinking about how I’m just as much of the team as everyone else. Why would they ignore me and just talk to the three dudes beside me? I told him and the managers, and they were like, “Wow, we didn’t even realize it.” They now go out of their way to introduce me to everyone as their photographer and part of the team. Honestly, everyone I’ve worked with has been great, especially when I’m working with other women. If I’m working with Rezz or Whipped Cream, they automatically make a point to introduce me.
If you could trust one DJ you’ve worked with to take photos of you, who would you pick?
Oh my god. I’m gonna say Whipped Cream because she knows her style and angles. She has a lot of direction for the photos I take of her so she would do a good job.
It can be intimidating to go onstage and do what you do. How do you mentally foster your own confidence?
I’ve honestly never even thought of it or have had a problem with it. I don’t even think about myself as human when I’m up there. I’m just this entity behind a camera. I don’t think about people seeing me, and it’s funny when my friends mention seeing me at shows. I’m surprised I haven’t had anxiety issues. Sometimes at big festivals like Ultra, I get worried about getting all the right shots. I just kind of blackout in a way and do my job.
You’re still finishing college. How do you balance school work, especially when you know there’s that light at the end of the tunnel?
Caffeine saves lives. It has been really hard because it is my last semester. One of my classes has been extra hard because I have a reading disability so it’s hard for me to focus. I’ve tried to set a routine for when I’m home with things like the gym and whatnot. I don’t even really cook because I don’t want to add another thing to my schedule, but I try to prepare food. Or order UberEats. I try to give myself time to watch a movie and lay in bed.
What are things you do for yourself to keep pushing yourself?
For photography, I try to mix it up. I had two weekends off from shows so I took self-portraits and worked on editing. I love editing, but it had been a while since I went in deep with editing. It was refreshing. I also watch a lot of YouTube videos on videography because I’m trying to get more into it.
Creators know self-care is important because being burnt out can take a toll on your work. How do you take care of yourself?
Honestly, I just take a day off when I need it. If I come home from class and I’m exhausted, I’ll do a face mask or get my nails done. Taking care of my body makes me feel good. I’ll go to the gym or buy a face serum. Sometimes I just lay in bed and shut my brain off.
What’s one overarching goal you have for your photography right now?
I want to go on a world tour. I have a US one lined up, but I think China would be an awesome place to tour.
What’s one thing you always keep in mind as a creator?
I have been trying to keep in mind that I need to find new angles. I feel like I’ve been getting repetitive lately. It can be easy to look repetitive when there’s just one person standing behind a DJ booth. I always try to challenge myself whether it be at a crappy venue and I need to use my flash in a creative way or trying to get more interesting stage shots.
What’s one thing the camera has taught you?
You can’t rely on the machine. You can’t rely on auto focus or whatever all of the time. Photography can be unpredictable in show environments because of all of the lights and whatever else. It’s taught me to rely on myself, and if something isn’t going right, it’s probably my fault.
What are two things you want to accomplish in the next 6 months, one personal and one career?
Personally, I want to keep getting in shape. I’ve been going to the gym a lot. I used to have bad mental health so now that it’s better, I want to get my body into shape. I want to be well-rounded. For my career, there’s a couple festivals I want to book like EDC Las Vegas, Electric Forest, and Coachella.
STORY & PHOTOS ELIZABETH STAFFORD