Fashion / Interview

An American Photographer: Marlena Maidhof


When were you first interested in photography?

My senior year of High School is when I really fell in love with taking pictures. There’s nothing quite as fun as taking a photo, developing it in the dark room and seeing it come to life, that was really inspiring.

Did you know that you wanted to be a photographer professionally?

Not completely I had wanted to go to art school originally for fashion design and then my dad didn’t like the art school I applied to so he started researching photography schools. He found Brooks for me and then I wound up going there because of him, and it was an amazing school.

Was going to college worth it or do you think you could’ve self-taught?

I think for me personally going to school to learn photography was necessary because I can’t self teach at all. There’s a lot of technical mathematical parts that go into lighting a subject and go into your exposure and your camera and everything that you do and I would’ve never been able to teach myself that.


Can you remember your first photo shoot?

The first one I ever really tried to orchestrate was in high school. I made my sister model for me. I dressed her up, put some makeup on her and we were walking in our backyard down these steps and she walked under this giant bush and this leafy branch was sitting on top of her head. And I remember I turned around and I was like STOP Oh My God you look amazing just stay where you are. And I remember going to class developing them and having my teacher say these are really good you should enter these into the del mar fair I think you could win. He really wanted me to submit a different image but I was really insistent on submitting the leaf one and so I went with my gut and I ended up winning first place.

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You interned for Michael Thompson after graduating why him? Why New York?

New York had been a dream of mine for a very long time since high school my friends and me dreamed of moving there. Michael Thompson inspired me to be a photographer, looking at the magazines he shot for like W and Allure. My ultimate goal in college was to intern for him in NY. I actually found out while going to school at Brooks that one of my teachers was his teacher when he went to Brooks, and that he could get me an interview with him. So when I graduated in 2008 I got an interview and flew out to New York with my mom. I interviewed for the internship and I got it right away!

How was the internship?

It was amazing I basically did all the things you would expect of an intern I cleaned, I scraped paint off the floor, painted apple boxes, drilled holes into walls, organizing anything and everything. When they had a photo shoot I made sure everyone had drinks, food, anything they needed and I also assisted on the shoots setting up lights, watching him shoot and watching him direct models.


What was your best story during your internship?

I interned for maybe a month and it was the slowest season when I started so their had been no photo shoots really just cleaning and I remember he had a shoot coming up in LA for allure. They were shooting Julia Roberts at a house in Malibu and I remember him telling me you’ve done such a good job here and so we are gonna take you on the shoot with us. A little back-story to this is that I am super clumsy I mean they nicknamed me slipsalot. The shoot theme was like this boozy housewife themed photo shoot and she’s you know vacuuming the floor in a ball gown and reading a children’s book with a glass of whiskey. After the children’s book shoot was done I was putting away this giant diffusion panel and I tripped and fell over this ottoman and totally ate it in front of everybody, and Julia Roberts looks at me and goes I thought I was the only one drinking! You couldn’t help but laugh it was so funny and she was just uber witty and nice. And it got even better later on when they were shooting the cover on the beach and she’s lying in the sand and there’s water coming up and I’m holding one side of this giant diffusion panel and I was supposed to be making sure the water doesn’t come up and totally wipe her out.   Well at some point I’m just intensely watching them, not watching the ocean and of course a wave comes and just douses her. I felt so bad I was like I just got Julia Roberts soaking wet didn’t mean to do that.  But it was a really fun shoot and I wound up in allure magazine in the behind the scenes section!


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Why did you decide to move back to the west coast?

It’s cold in new york it’s really cold and it snows and you have to walk in the snow to the subway and I’m just I love my car I love the sun.  So I think west coast was a better fit for me all of my family and friends are here. I love New York though I would love to live bi costal.

How do you come up with concepts for a photo shoot?

I’ll be listening to music and I’ll picture it in my head, then I sit down and I bang it out.  It always starts with listening to a song and the song inspiring me and then me seeing it in my head and taking that and creating it into a photo shoot.

What’s your worst memory during a photo shoot?

The worst was this client who wanted beauty shots of hair do’s for their ad campaign. They brought in these girls to my studio and the girls where not models and their hair was so, just bad. It was a sad mess and I shot the whole day and then I went home and I was trying to upload the images to my computer, and they were all gone, they weren’t on the memory card.  So I was up the entire night balling and crying with sad music playing and trying to figure out how to save this memory card, like loosing the images was not an option. I was up for maybe 8 hrs straight googleing how to recover a memory card and I downloaded all these programs and none of them worked until I finally found one at like 430 am and it uncovers all the photos. I had such a panic attack for like 8 hours straight it was insane I cant even tell you the amount of tears and exhaustion. That was the worst of the worst.

What project are you currently working on?

In another life I would’ve loved to have been a dancer I’m not coordinated or flexible but I just obsessively want to be a dancer. Sway was a way fay for me to photograph something I love which is movement and dance and getting a variety of subjects from people who actually aren’t the best of dancers who have never danced in their life to professional dancers. I’m just showcasing movement and what that means to people and to me. That’s how I came up with sway.  Realizing that I could turn something I love into a shoot and have it mean something to me is the best part.


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How do you choose your talent?

I choose talent in all different ways, my sister is a huge muse so everything I do she’s in it. I use a lot of friends that aren’t models some of them are lawyers or volleyball players but they still have an interesting vibe to them. I also use models that I meet and that I know and dancers that I know and that I meet through other people. It’s just a network and you discover talent randomly and then you become friends with them.

How much Photoshop do you use?

You know when I first started I had no Photoshop because it was all developing in a dark room and it was all film. When I learned it in school my second year, that was the end.  I started for a while there over using it and making peoples skin just so perfect and fake and plastic looking like a Barbie. And you know taking things and painting them in that weren’t there in the first place and making images out of multiple images that I had. Lately I’ve been feeling like you loose so much of the artistic element by doing that because your not creating this image, your making a bunch and putting them together. Which is doable and I’ve done that but I’d like to be able to shoot an image and have that image be the way I want it exactly the way I want it or close to it. I have no problem using Photoshop to color correct or to pop up a little bit of contrast. I want to be able to take a photo and have it be perfect I want to use minimal Photoshop.


Have you thought about what’s after Sway?

I have ideas and things pop into my head and I have this list this running list of like ideas and if I get an idea for a shoot I jot it down in my phone or on a random paper’s in my purse. I have all these papers and notes in my phone about ideas for shoots and then when its time and sways done and I’m like what am I gonna do I’ll either look at them and be like oh I’m gonna do this photo or ill just think of a random idea right then and go with it and all the other ideas go out the window. I would love to do a series on peoples lives like the stages of a day, waking up in the morning, getting ready, putting on her clothes, walking to work, at work, what she does after work, coming home. Showing the lives of different people but fashionably done in a fun way I think that’d be so interesting like a series on life I would like that.


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