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Keeping it 100 With Krissy Saleh

Krissy Saleh is living the dream, quite literally. At 13 years old, she got her hands on her first camera, and, as a self-described “nerd”, got to work. Since then, the artist has honed her craft and made a name for herself in the world of fashion photography, rising to the top with a simple yet important mission: to make people fall in love with their own image. Saleh is a firm believer in positive self perception, manifesting your dreams (yes, her 16-year-old self is “freaking out”), and pursuing what you feel most passionate about, even if it can sometimes feel out of reach. Armed with a new FUJIFILM X-T100 camera, Saleh roamed LA for a 90s-inspired shoot, then sat down with Milk to talk more about the humble beginnings of her career and where she’s headed next.

I’m super excited about having you on this project! Have you gotten a chance to play with the camera yet?

Yeah, I did! I did a full blown photoshoot on it yesterday, and it turned out amazing.

Where did you pull inspiration from? Can you just tell me about the shoot a little bit?

Ok, so I photographed this model named Riley Rasmussen and she’s this beautiful redhead with freckles and I was just honestly inspired by her look. I wanted to do kind of like a 90s or more vintage photoshoot with her because I love just film and I love 90s style fashion and pink. It’s just girly and fun and bringing out the best in people so I wanted everyone to know her personality through the photos. I live in West Hollywood so I just drove around with her and found really cool locations, like we found this motel sign that had pink writing on it and it was just so cute. I actually filmed her too, because she’s actually from Portland so she doesn’t come to LA often, so I wanted to kind of do a “girl in LA, just exploring and having fun” kind of vibe.

Cool. Do you normally shoot mostly digital or mostly film?

I actually shoot mostly film. So when you approached me with the opportunity to use the camera and everything I was so excited because of the film simulations in the camera. I was so stoked.

Yeah, it’s interesting since you shoot mostly film, what was your experience like with a camera like the X-T100 that simulates film but obviously isn’t true film?

I was a little, I don’t want to say skeptical but I was just curious because film is so hard to replicate in my opinion. But I’m not kiddingI used the camera and it looked exactly like it was straight off a film camera. It’s amazing, the film features are so similar to a film camera.  

Have you ever worked with any other FUJIFILM products or mirrorless cameras before?

I shoot a lot of their film, but I haven’t used another FUJIFILM camera before.

Cool. So to rewind a little, how did you first get started in photography?

So, when I was 13I would say roughly 13I was kind of a nerd in a sense, like I loved to code websites and was just so curious about technology. So I randomly had this desire to learn Photoshop, and my parents are so supportive and I’m so grateful for them and they really just supported my hobbies and interests and they invested in me and purchased Photoshop for me and then also purchased a little point and shoot camera for me for Christmas. I was freaking out, just so happy and just experimenting. It was honestly just a hobby because in high school I wanted to be a psychologist, that was my dream, because I love helping people and I love giving advice and just talking to people and getting to know them. So I kind of just did photography as a hobby and for fun, and then I started photographing my friends and when they saw the photos they would just light up and fall in love with themselves, and that was really an eye-opener for me. I was like, “Oh, I can just do photography and help people through photography and make them love themselves and really see how beautiful they are from my point of view and others’ point of views.” So I decided I would do photography and realistically thought I would only do weddings, which is fine, but my heart really wanted to do fashion. So now that I’m 22 and basically living my dream, like my 16-year-old self is freaking out. I can’t even believe I have the life I have, it’s really insane.

Looking back at your 16-year-old self, is there any advice you would give yourself? Or just in general, to any teenager who wants to pursue something but thinks it might be out of reach?

Yeah, I think just following your dreams is so important. And again, I’m so grateful my family supported me. I don’t feel like a lot of parents would support that dream ‘cause it’s not so realistic. Finding a support system is so important, and to keep practicing and not give up on your dreams. But also to find a backup plan is always a good idea, like if I wasn’t successful at what I was doing right now I would probably still be in school and pursuing photography. I think school is very important as well. But, yeah just to keep following your dreams and never give up, as cliché as that sounds. There was a point in my career, or not my career, but in high school, where I was like, “I don’t think photography is for me,” and I was gonna give up. I had a really dark moment I guess and I was like, “I don’t know if photography is for me, I’m not very good at it,” and if I gave up I would not be where I am right now. Sometimes there will be dark times in your journey, but it’s so important to just push through it and believe in yourself. Finding that support system is so important.

What’s the creative community like out in West Hollywood?

It’s really supportive and fun because everyone is in a different industry so it’s really interesting to learn from other people and become inspired by them. I get inspired by all types of people—from models to actors, actresses, directors, producers. I’ve even met poets and they’re so inspiring. The community out there is just so creative and it really drives you to be even more creative and step out of comfort zones. Yeah, it’s a very inspiring place.

Speaking of people that are inspiring, who are some specific people who you look up to in the industry?

Raul Romo for one. So Raul Romo is such an incredible photographer and also an incredible human. He has the biggest heart, and I feel like he almost has the same mindset as I do of making people feel beautiful when people see themselves. He actually photographed me about a year ago and I have never felt more confident. I felt so beautiful, so strong and so empowered, I was honestly kind of shockedlike I didn’t even know I looked like that. Wow, he made me feel so good about myself and he’s so easy to talk to, so humble. Like, so talented but so humble and I just thought of him first.

Then there’s Anna Zhang. She’s 16 and she is so hardworking. I wish I was her when I was younger like she is such a boss. She started her own fashion magazine and I actually photographed for it—it’s called Pulse Spikes—but I had no idea she was 16, that’s how mature she seems. She’s just a hard worker, her photos are beautiful she’s a beautiful person, and yeah, I was just like, “Wow, you’re so inspiring to all these 16 year olds and all these young people who want to start photography.” She’s a really great representation of not giving up on your dreams and having a goal and trying to achieve it at such a young age.

And then Alexsey Reyes. He’s just such an amazing person and we actually talk a lot over Instagram DMs and we have a lot in common. His photos are really fun and really cute and have a lot of personality to them.

Cool. So, I know you talk a lot about wanting people to feel true to themselves and just love the images you create of them, so how do you feel like you pursue that authenticity in a photo and are portraying an honest version of the person you’re shooting?

Well, I always try to get to know the person very well and I honestly kind of ask some more deep questions and more emotional questions and just have them open up and feel like they can trust me and feel comfortable around me. I always tell them, you can do weird poses and if it doesn’t work out I just won’t use the photos. So, I just feel like getting to know them and breaking down walls and letting them be themselves in photos, and then showing them the photos after, which is also an amazing feature for the FUJIFILM camera. Since I shoot on film, people obviously can’t see themselves till the film is developed; even yesterday when I was shooting Riley I was showing her the photos and she was freaking out and so happy. She was really going for it, like I said I want a lot of energy in these photos and she was just going above and beyond my expectations. It was just an amazing feeling, and the energy is so important, so I try to bring very good energy and be in a good mood when I’m around them because you can feel someone’s energy. If someone’s energy is off, obviously the photos won’t translate well. So I feel like just breaking down walls, having good energy, and giving the models freedom to be who they are in photos really helps.

My last question is more like about your career as a whole, when you’re thinking about the purpose behind why you shoot or what you’re trying to create with your body of work—what is the most important thing to you, or kind of like your North star when thinking about your portfolio as a whole? In five years, what do you want to be known for?

Great question. I think I want to be known for, again, just bringing out people’s’ personalities in photos and for being a well-known fashion photographer. I absolutely just love fashion, I think it’s so fun. But, even with actresses and actors, when I photograph them I really want people to know them other than just the character they portray on a TV show or in a movie. I want my photograph to say a thousand words. I want people to see the person I photograph and think, “Ok, I see this girl is fun and happy and loves life and is glowing.” I almost just want to inspire people to be more authentic and really just be themselves, because in this industry also I feel like there’s such a persona, I guess, where models are so seen as almost an object, people don’t really know models, they’re like, “Ok that girl’s beautiful,” and that’s all she’s known for. But I want people to be like, “No, there’s more to this girl, or this boy, than just their looks,” and I want people to fall in love with them, like I mentioned before, and I also want the same for actors and actresses or anyone I photograph in general. I just want people to fall in love with them for the person they are, and not just what they should be known for.

“Keeping It 100” is a series in partnership with FUJIFILM North America

Stay tuned for more from our “Keeping It 100” series for the FUJIFILM X-T100

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