COURTESY OF ALLEGRA MESSINA

Allegra Messina started photography when she was 15, doing senior portraits around her hometown of Seattle. After high school, she moved to LA to pursue her studies in diplomacy, and while taking classes also began shooting fashion editorials. Today, she’s photographed celebrities like Lili Reinhart (for the cover of our Winter 2018 issue!) and counts Nike and PacSun as her clients, but her career path wasn’t free of challenges. Messina details the pressures she felt as a young, queer woman in the industry and how she learned to embrace her most authentic self on set.

Tell us a little about yourself. For those who don’t know who you are, how would you introduce yourself?
Hi! I’m a Los Angeles based photographer with a love for photography, tacos, and napping!

How did you get started in photography?
I started five years ago with senior photography and gradually transitioned from that to editorial and celebrity work—shooting for Pulse Spikes was actually my first time working with a celebrity! I’ve always loved connecting with people and found that photography was a way for me to best get to know others while creating art.

Starting in the industry so young, especially as a queer woman, was challenging at first. I initially felt pressure to masculinize the way I was acting on set—be more authoritative, be louder, be more direct—in order to be successful. I felt I had to have all the answers and wasn’t comfortable reaching out to others for help, because it seemed like otherwise people would de-legitimize me and my work. I initially felt I just needed to work harder and sought legitimacy in others. After some time, I realized I actually just needed to work in a way that was more authentically ‘me,’ connecting more closely with people, acting kinder, and fostering relationships with people I love.

How would you describe your work?
A grounded reverie; a bit dreamy and definitely a form of escapism, but still something approachable.

What do you love most about photography?
To me, life is all about connecting closely with people, and the ways people share themselves with others. I think that photography brings out people’s personalities and that continues to constantly draw me to photography. 

What’s a challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
Starting in the industry so young, especially as a queer woman, was challenging at first. I initially felt pressure to masculinize the way I was acting on set—be more authoritative, be louder, be more direct—in order to be successful. I felt I had to have all the answers and wasn’t comfortable reaching out to others for help, because it seemed like otherwise people would de-legitimize me and my work. I initially felt I just needed to work harder and sought legitimacy in others. After some time, I realized I actually just needed to work in a way that was more authentically ‘me,’ connecting more closely with people, acting kinder, and fostering relationships with people I love. I never assume I know anything at all and instead, gravitate towards mentors who help me to grow!

Talk us through your creative process, from idea to shoot to post-production!
Oooo, for me half the fun is coming up with the concept! I watch a lot of movies and try to listen to all genres of music in order to spark new ideas (though nothing is ever completely new)! A tool I love that I wish I’d known earlier was gomoodboard.com—it allows you to create professional mood boards really easily. I’ll scour for images on Instagram and Pinterest for days and compile them into a mood board; sometimes just doing that is enough for me and I’ll sit on a concept for months! The shoot itself is always a bit of a blur. I try to give relatively vague directions so people’s natural posing and character will show through—instead of demonstrating a pose, I like to say “do yoga,” or something a little weird, and just see what happens! In post-production, I definitely edit heavily in Photoshop, but I think you can do so much now with FaceTune and VSCO. Really, I think it’s all about enhancing the mood you’ve already created.

How are you staying creative now at home?
I keep doing fun mini FaceTime shoots to pass the time and it’s really challenging and different. But honestly, I’m also taking a lot of time just to watch Netflix and cook, giving myself a much-needed break for once. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to create constantly, but a break can really help revitalize my love and interest in photography. I think I come up with my best work after a good break. Burnout is so real, and I’m trying to listen to myself a bit more when it seems I need some time off!

What’s a song you’ve been listening to?
A Sunday Kind of Love” by Etta James

What’s a movie or TV show that you’ve enjoyed watching?
Avatar is back to Netflix… enough said!

There is a lot of collective sadness right now, but that also means there can be a lot of collective healing; reach out to your loved ones and help others in your area who are in need!

Let’s spread some kindness during these times. Shoutout three artists that inspire you! What makes them special? 

  1. I really love Alok Menon‘s modeling work, poetry, fashion designing, and everything else they do, really! They constantly destroy gender binaries and are forging a new world for queer people, and they look great doing it. They’re transgressive, brilliant and so necessary.
  2. Elizaveta Porodina always inspires me with her incredibly sentimental and humanizing work. She was one of the first photographers I ever loved because I feel like she’s inside my brain sometimes…which is a bit scary, and exciting, all at once!
  3. My friend Bin Nguyen is a fantastic stylist who centers QTPOC in his work and always makes people feel so unbelievably cooool. 

Any advice for aspiring photographers?
Experiment with anything and everything, assist when you can, and be open to growing and learning from any source (I learned almost everything from YouTube). ANY person can be a model for you if you have fun playing with posing and lighting, so just get out and shoot family members, significant others, grandparents, whoever! Whatever you’re initially drawn to is probably what you love most, so trust your gut and go with it! 

A positive message you’d like to share with our readers during these times:
There is a lot of collective sadness right now, but that also means there can be a lot of collective healing; reach out to your loved ones and help others in your area who are in need! I’ve been delivering a lot of groceries to elderly and immunocompromised folks, which I absolutely love—I think it feels a lot better to be creating, assisting others, and getting closer to people in my community than hanging out. Mutual aid feels really good and is so important right now!

 

PHOTOS ALLEGRA MESSINA