“There’s just something about a blank space that makes my mind explode with inspiration.” With one look at Melissa de Mata’s photos and short films from her latest shoot, you can see this rings true. The initial concept for her menswear shoot came about after Melissa saw this spacious studio in San Francisco. She wanted the blank slate to bring out the uniqueness of her subject, Michael Wayne Turner III, saying, “I wanted to find someone that would be able to stand out and perform with little to no props.”
With three distinct looks, each short film conveys a different feeling — which plays to Melissa’s strengths. She admits she’s not the most technical of photographers, but her strength lies in the innate ability to evoke emotions in the images she creates. To learn more about the concept behind this shoot, Melissa takes us through her process.
When did you start taking photography seriously?
I’ve always taken photography seriously but didn’t see myself pursuing it as a career full-time until two years ago. I was at a place where I was able to work part-time from home and dip into freelancing slowly. After about six months, I felt comfortable enough to fully freelance and it’s been the best decision I’ve made career-wise.
How would you describe your photography style?
I feel like my style is more emotional than technical. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not the most technically advanced photographer but I do have an innate ability to evoke emotions with the images I create. But if I had to choose, I would describe my style as minimal, dynamic, and visceral.
What was the concept for the shoot? How did you come up with the idea?
Once I picked the studio space, then the idea came to life. It was a simple yet striking backdrop — white, huge windows, plenty of space, and very tall ceilings. I’ve always been interested in what makes an individual unique and bringing that out without any extra distractions. I knew I wanted to find someone that would be able to stand out and perform with little to no props and someone who had a great sense of style and magnetic personality that would translate on film.
What drew you to this studio location?
I’m inspired the most when I see a blank canvas. That’s what I saw in this studio space, a blank space that I could create on. It didn’t distract from the subject and allowed to be front and center.
How did you find Michael Wayne Turner III for this shoot?
I came across Michael’s account on a friend’s Instagram feed. From there, I knew I wanted to shoot him somewhere down the road. I was struck by his impeccable style and on-screen persona. When I finally met him in person, I found out he was an actor and a dancer (among other talents) and I knew he would be the perfect artist to collaborate with.
We love the combination of photography in addition to the short films. Why did you decide to do both photography and video for this shoot?
I’ve been interested in videos and filmmaking lately and I wanted to mix that along with a medium that I was more familiar with. While the concept of the videos originated first, the photos became an accompaniment to them and I wanted them to work together express three different moods.
Why did you decide to do menswear?
I’ve always been more intrigued by menswear for the simple fact that there’s more than meets the eye. The art in men’s clothing comes from the skill in the craftsmanship, the harmony in the proportions, and the subtlety in adornments. With Michael, I wanted to showcase how the clothes perfectly fit him — they’re not just a layer of fabric on his body but almost like an extension of his personality. He styled himself, and brought that yellow scarf which ended up being my favorite set of photos and film.
How’d you find the music for the short films?
I keep a library of music on my hard drive that I find online. For “Constantinople,” I felt that it was a more showy song that would be a great upbeat tempo to match the dance moves Michael was doing. “Lost” is a Frank Ocean cover by Khalid that was just so memorable to me because it was performed acoustic only using the singer’s voice to create the melody. It’s such a mesmerizing song that perfectly captured how hypnotic that yellow scarf was in slow motion. “Try a Little Tenderness” was the actual song playing when we filmed that last set. I wanted to share that with the viewers plus, it’s such a great song, how could you not have a big smile on your face when listening to it?
What was your favorite part about the shoot?
We only had one hour to shoot with Michael and everything came together perfectly! Most of all, we all had the best time and that is the most important part — when you have chemistry with your team and everyone is truly enjoying themselves, the end result reflects that.
I can’t leave the house without: Besides my phone, lip balm! Chapped lips are annoying.
If I could shoot anywhere in the world it’d be: Versailles Palace
Some of my favorite films are: Before Sunrise, Sleepless in Seattle, My Best Friend’s Wedding (I’m such a RomCom sap)
Advice to aspiring filmmakers: I’m still learning and growing myself but from what I’ve learned so far: Music is vital. Learn what feeling you want the viewers to have and find music that gives you the same emotions.
Life motto: Better to try something then regret it, than always wonder what could have been.