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‘It’s everything you are’: Photographer’s passion for high fashion becomes her livelihood

By Kaylin Tran

Beauty and fashion photographer Marta Elena Vassilakis was on her way to her next photoshoot. The set’s hair and make up artist drove her to the location in a convertible, specifically in an older model. As someone who loves working in high fashion, Vassilakis could not help but picture how perfectly the contrast between the vintage car and a couture outfit would translate on camera.

It is a project Vassilakis had always wanted to do, but the constant grind of upcoming jobs and photoshoots pushed the idea to the back of her mind⁠—at least, until she was able to shoot for New Face Magazine (NFM). Her latest photo story, “Roadster Chic,” finally came to fruition in NFM’s May print.

She primarily shoots for editorials, liking the ability to work with highly stylized concepts.

“Editorial is more interesting and creative shooting in the photographic sense than the commercial,” said Vassilakis in a phone call.

Though she currently works behind a camera, she has had experience in other areas within the fashion industry. Her time as a former hair and makeup stylist gives her a better understanding of how to properly direct her team members on the set. While other photographers may simply ask for a model to have red lipstick, she does not feel comfortable with such open instruction.

Instead, she opts for a more hands-on approach. By consistently checking in on the model and working closely with her team members, she has better control of the shoot, to decrease the risks of anything going awry.

“[My team members] understand,” said Vassilakis. “It’s because I could actually do the makeup side-by-side to them … so they trust what I’m telling them. Also, they want the shoot to come out the best possible, so it’s to our benefit to work together.”

Even before the photoshoot, Vassilakis plans each detail meticulously. Storyboards are created the week before to help bring her concepts and ideas to life. It is important that she has a dialogue with the stylist, who needs a frame of reference in order to pull clothes that accurately reflect what Vassilakis envisions for the overall look. These steps help her become prepared, so that on the day of the photoshoot, it is like she has already taken the photos.

“[It] is just like going through the movements because I feel like I’ve done it before,” said Vassilakis.

An important skill for her job is that she must always be quick to adapt to any situation. The reality is that photographers do not have the luxury of starting over on the day of a photoshoot. Consequently, the planning stage is perhaps the most crucial part of the process.

Vassilakis’ resume is not limited within the fashion industry. In addition to her long list of accolades, she is also a published writer and illustrator. A conversation with a childhood friend sparked her interest in creating a children’s book.

“I had my dog, Oliver, with me and [it] sparked an idea, a concept that just took shape straight away,” said Vassilakis. “It came out of left field and even surprised me since I do not have children and never, ever had a thought about children’s books. It was actually very familiar to the process of shooting a fashion conceptual story, although the focus was a dog and not a model, so it was very familiar to me.”

Even as she was finishing the artwork, producing the book and getting it into print, her day job as a photographer was never compromised. Her book, “OLIVER the Schnoodle,” was published in 2017 in dedication to her mother, who had passed away but gave Vassilakis the gift of love for animals.

Vassilakis’ tenacity allowed her to pursue this extra project despite how challenging it was to juggle it alongside her photowork. This mentality is why she is still able to work as a photographer.

“Being a photographer, you give up a lot to do what you love,” said Vassilakis. “It’s a difficult career. It always will be a difficult career, but you’re in it because being a photographer is not what you do. It’s everything you are.”

She feels fortunate to have a job that she is passionate about, but even then, much of her personal life revolved around her job. No matter how fantastic a photoshoot would be, at the end of the day, she still came home to an empty house. Many of her friends could not manage the lifestyle and had to give up photography.

However, Vassilakis is never one to compromise, especially when it comes to herself. She maintains a certain level of style and professionalism both in and outside the workplace. She has always lived in the moment—if an idea comes to her, she jumps on it straight away.

It is also this method of thinking that explains why she and her fiance decided to get married despite the current pandemic. They agreed to have a second, larger ceremony when it is safe to do so, but the couple still wants to have a small gathering with close family and friends who are comfortable attending. Extra precautions will be taken to ensure that social distancing is in effect.

COVID-19 has stopped Vassilakis from working entirely. Shooting requires her to work very closely with her team, so continuing her job would be irresponsible and completely out of the question until they are able to come up with a safer method.

“The quarantine is something very heavy and kind of sad,” said Vassilakis. “We can still have happiness. Even if no one shows up, we’ll share it. We’ll take our little photos and the happiness will spread through text messages or Facebook … I do believe that each of us, in this very difficult time, we have to make the most out of those happy moments.”

Despite the difficulties that come with her job, she still loves it wholeheartedly. She loves the independence of working for herself, but also the collaboration while working with different groups of people.

“I love creating images from how I see them in my mind and imagination, and sharing them with others that might understand and appreciate my thoughts and style,” said Vassilakis.

Kaylin Tran is an editorial writer who focuses on social justice issues and communication strategies, especially within the entertainment industry. You can find her on Instagram.


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