Amanda Marsalis In the Director's Chair for Ava DuVernay's Queen Sugar
When Ava DuVernay created Queen Sugar for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network, she did it to tell incredible black stories in ways that would be appealing to all audiences while retaining narrative integrity. But the show also offered her the opportunity to issue a challenge to Hollywood. If other shows can have entire seasons of television directed exclusively by male directors, why can’t she do the same with female directors? “It’s not necessarily about the storytelling,” Amanda Marsalis, who directed two episodes from this season of Queen Sugar cautions. “Of course you could argue a female’s point of view is going to be different from a male’s point of view but all women are different. To me it’s more about creating the opportunity to show that female directors are as talented as male directors.” In fact, thinking of a female point of view being inherently different from a male point of view is problematic on its own - instead what DuVernay, OWN, and Marsalis are proving is that it’s just about making good work.
Amanda met DuVernay when her feature film Echo Park was picked up by DuVernay’s ARRAY worldwide. Soon after they met, Amanda spent time on set while Queen Sugar finished up filming the first season. As Amanda was leaving that first season DuVernay pulled her aside and asked her if she wanted to direct any future episodes – of course she did. It wasn’t until Amanda woke up on Christmas morning in Japan that she got DuVernay’s email inviting her on for season 2. “I woke up on Christmas in Tokyo and just burst into tears,” she says with a laugh. “I will never get a Christmas Present this good again.”
Queen Sugar hasn’t just offered Amanda an awesome environment in which to tell stories, it’s also a supportive creative community. “It was absolutely thrilling to be on set and to just be there and get to pull all of the toys out of the toy box and play with them,” says Amanda. “There’s a network of support that really is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I was so fucking thrilled and happy.” All film production is a massive undertaking, but on Queen Sugar Amanda found a family that all worked together to create magic for a second season, and was graciously welcomed into it. That kind of community allows for creative to work together with optimum effect for a fantastic final product.
Queen Sugar airs Wednesday nights on the OWN network. Season 2 is on now, and Amanda’s first episode “Caroling Dusk” airs on July 12.
Amanda Marsalis Tastes Inspiration
A couple years ago Amanda Marsalis got an assignment from Vogue that brought her to the Edible Schoolyard, Chez Panisse’s educational hub. It was through that assignment that Amanda forged a relationship with the Berkley landmark restaurant, but it was a later tragedy that brought her back. “They had a fire and they were closed for four months, it was a really big deal and when they had the reopening of Chez Panisse they asked me to come document that,” says Amanda. “This was right before we were going to start filming Echo Park, it was the kind of thing that I ran up there because I wasn’t going to say no.” She squeezed the project in right before embarking on her first feature film and it’s a good thing she did. That relationship ended up coming back to her at an important time.
After she was finished Echo Park Amanda was exhausted. Even a little depleted. She was looking for something that would bring her back to the heart of creativity and her mind fell again on Chez Panisse. She called up her new friend Alice Water, the founder of Chez Panisse, and proposed a yearlong project. She would embed with them every season and just take a lot of photographs. “I would spend about three days up there every time just kind of documenting the ins and outs of the restaurant and their real commitment to craft, and how everything there is just very much a meditation and it was exactly what I needed to find my way back to inspiration,” Amanda says. She didn’t know what it would be at the time that she started, but they went for it anyway.
At the end of the year, Amanda looked at all her photographs and tried to figure out what she had. She linked up with her friend Mark Ankner, a partner at William Morris Endeavor, and decided she had a book on her hands. She and Mark started the process of putting it together, not just because it’s a document of a year in the life of this restaurant, but because of what the restaurant is doing and what it means. “Chez Panisse is a really special place in that it’s unique in its commitment to craft and they believe in really beautiful products served with very little fuss. You have to have a clean and healthy environment in which these things are raised and grown and everyone who works there is respectful to each other,” says Amanda. “Chez Panisse is the kind of place where if you are interested they will teach you. They’ll show you how to do what it is that you want to know how to do. It would be wonderful if more places in the world were that way.” Amanda is happy to admit that she almost put on an apron and joined Chez Panisse in the pursuit of a new career. The siren song still calls, but she’s happy with the camera.
The book is for sale now, and ships tomorrow November 15. Plus, the profits go right back the Chez Panisse’s educational program. “All of the profits from the book are being donated to The Edible Schoolyard. So that’s something we’re really proud of,” says Amanda. “I just hope people enjoy the book and take it for what it is which is basically a love letter to Chez Panisse.”
Amanda Marsalis and People Magazine Invite You
Film festivals are no joke. As the bar has been raised for Hollywood profits, most international movie stars also work on smaller, independent films that do the film festival circuit to drum up interest and support on their way to wide releases. They’ve become the training room for smaller projects, and one of the most reliable places to find a huge amount of celebrities. This year at the Toronto International Film Festival, People Magazine asked Amanda Marsalis to set up a photographic experience and capture the names and faces as they floated by. It was an incredibly intense five days with just a few minutes per sitting, but Amanda knows exactly how to get her subjects to open up quickly no matter how famous they are. “I tell a lot of goofy stories. What we’re going to talk about just depends on the person,” explains Amanda. “Honestly, I’ve been working at it for twenty years.”
Facing some of the biggest names in Hollywood like Ryan Gosling, Oscar Isaacs, Bryan Cranston, Sigourney Weaver, and Nicole Kidman could be intimidating for anyone – especially in the tiny amounts of time that Amanda got to sit with them. But for Amanda, it’s less about handling a personality and more about creating the right tone for the right moment. “I really make sure I have a moment where we feel like collaborative equals,” she says. By putting everyone on equal footing, their time together opens up so they can work together towards the same goal.
It’s not an easy charge to keep the energy up for five days but Amanda and her team made that the center of what they were doing. That’s how they got so many incredible photos over their time by making the set an enjoyable place to be. “We had a good vibe on set, a good playlist, and basically invited everyone to the party,” says Amanda. “Welcome! We’re having fun over here, come join us!” The festival is over now, but thanks to the expressive nature of the photographs that Amanda created with People the party continues in each image and you’re invited.
Amanda Marsalis Lets Angel Olsen Be Her Truest Self
Most of the time photographers are hired to help fulfill a vision, using the command of their artistry to tell stories. But sometimes they’re more than that. Sometimes a photographer is an advocate, a safe space for other artists to do their work in. When Amanda Marsalis was commissioned to photograph Angel Olsen by Bust magazine she found someone that she thought was very special, and someone she could connect with. “I photographed her and we really got along. She’s not a person who loves being photographed or was very comfortable being photographed, but she liked me and I liked her,” says Amanda. They created a relationship quickly, one that Olsen tapped into again.
“She was coming back to LA, I think it might have been a year later and she asked me if I would come photograph her and that’s basically how our relationship started,” Amanda explains. Olsen was in the middle of recording an album, and Amanda suggested that she act as a fly on the wall during that process. Camera in hand, Amanda hung around and photographed moments that she found. They never went into the process with expectations, but when creativity is bouncing off itself good things happen. “That’s actually when I shot her record cover,” says Amanda. “We didn’t even mean to shoot it.” A photograph that Amanda took was so captivating to Olsen and her team that they decided to use the image, unmarred by type or filtered processes, to speak Olsen’s message. The message was strong enough that Stephen Colbert held it in his hands introducing Olsen on The Late Show, and in the pages of The New York Times on August 31.
“It meant a lot to me as a photographer that the record cover doesn’t even have any type on it, it’s just my photograph,” says Amanda. “They just gave me so much respect by doing that and it just means a lot to me.” Amanda never forced anything out of Olsen, just sat with her, observed her, experienced her, and it was just enough of a window for this other artist to find trust and a safe space to be herself, her truest, most expressive self in the face of uncertainty.
Amanda Marsalis Goes Unfiltered for People magazine
It’s impossible to escape retouching. At every turn we’re inundated with photographs that are manipulated to expunge imperfections. And it makes sense. Advertising was created to sell products, and the way we’ve learned how to sell products to each other is through aspiration and perfection. But sometimes it gets a little out of hand. This year, for the second year in a row, People Magazine published a story featuring famous faces from entertainment that weren’t retouched at all. The magazine invited Amanda Marsalis to photograph Rachel Bloom, Miranda Cosgrove, Michaela Conlin, Hilaria Baldwin, Gabrielle Reece, Robin Roberts, and Tracee Ellis Ross. “Whenever you’re a photographer you are asking somebody to trust you and there is a real back and forth but this one really felt special,” says Amanda. “It meant a lot to me that all the women I photographed trusted me. A lot of them mentioned that they post photographs of themselves on Instagram all the time that aren’t retouched but this feels like they’re more exposed.”
The rules were simple: the final photographs couldn’t be retouched to lengthen or narrow body parts. Ripples and wrinkles wouldn’t be smoothed. Instead, the women that Amanda photographed would be presented as they are in their natural glory, totally unfiltered. But this is more than an experiment, it sends an important message. “It’s really good for women to see how other women are not perfect,” explains Amanda. “We’ve just gotten really far gone in how much everyone’s been retouched. Not that I don’t use retouching; I love retouching. But it’s also about a natural balance and I also think the women that I photographed were all really awesome for saying yes to that shoot and also for trusting me. That was a really super big deal.” Retouching is a tool to be used, and one that Amanda does use. But it shouldn’t be a cudgel to reshape images into impossibility, creating standards of beauty that are beyond human accessibility.
For Amanda, this was an awesome project, but it wasn’t so different from what she does every day. Her historical career experience goes back to a time before digital manipulation so she relied on the skills she’s comfortable with. “I always just want to shoot people looking their best,” says Amanda. “I pay attention to detail when I’m shooting, always. I started my photography career in the days of film. So I’ve spent many years where the kind of level of retouching that we do now wasn’t an option for me anyway. That’s how I learned to be a photographer. So in a way it was perfect. Just like the old days.”
Amanda Marsalis Harnesses Norwegian Tradition
If you’ve ever worn a pair of penny loafers, you’ve worn a piece of Norwegian tradition. The shoes were originally made by Aurlandskoen, a shoemaker from Norway, and have since been adopted into the larger fashion casual conventions, injecting a timeless style into the every day. Amanda Marsalis came together with Aurlandskoen to help introduce their new season of boat appropriate penny loafers that add a deck shoe sole to their classic upper. Amanda and her crew shipped out on a boat in Marina del Rey, California to place the shoes in context. What they found out there was bright, fun, and totally in line with the iconic shoes.
Amanda is no stranger to the high seas. Her work with Norwegian Cruise Lines helped to solidify her love for shooting on the water even though she finds herself combatting a little seasickness from time to time. But she doesn’t mind. For her, she’s willing to make the sacrifice of a little imbalance for some really amazing photographs. “They look so good! I can’t help it,” she says. She and her crew spent the bulk of the day in the marina shooting on a boat in a stable atmosphere. Then moved out onto the open ocean to really get that sea breeze and sun. Finally, they took the shoot back to land, photographing the rest of the collection on the sand, highlighting the traditional soles.
Like most of Amanda’s projects, she surrounded herself with people who she jives with on artistic and personal levels. It makes for a relaxed set that allows everyone to do the best work they can. Since Aurlandskoen is a shoe company, the styling was particularly important “It was a fun shoot and the styling is really cute,” says Amanda. “It’s really nice when all those things come together.” The fusing of this classic shoe with effortless looks and timeless sophistication create an execution that fires on all levels, on land or on the sea.
Amanda Marsalis' Incredible Access
There is a castle is Western England, near the border of Wales, by the name of Eastnor. Just south of Worcester, it is surrounded by lush forest and dirt roads. You can visit these grounds, driving between the trees, overlooking the vistas, and experiencing the environment as long as you can pay the cost of admission. That cost: a Land Rover.
Eastnor is the location of “The Land Rover Experience” where new Land Rover owners go to learn how to use their cars, and just recently Land Rover invited photographer Amanda Marsalis to the experience to help them show off how amazing these cars are. “You literally drive thought mud that comes up to the windows, you go down hills that you think are impossibly steep to go down and all that stuff,” explains Amanda. They only had one day to squeeze in all these experiences, and they weren’t disappointed. In fact, that one day ended up feeling like more than just one because of how packed it was.
Like any all day shoot, Amanda and her team arrived before sunrise to start photographing as soon as the light allowed. They saw that beautiful sun rise as it threw its morning light across the English countryside, and then everything began to change. “It started to get really cloudy, then it was pouring rain, then it was flurries for a minute, then it cleared up, then we had a beautiful sunset, then after sunset it started snowing,” says Amanda with a laugh. “And it snowed like eight inches. It was a really crazy day.” All of these different weather patterns afforded Amanda and her team all the different experiences a Land Rover driver can expect facing in their vehicle. And she caught everything. From the water filled mud divots, to the beautiful golden light streaming through the windshield. The assault of weather patterns extended their single day shoot, making it feel like an impossible array of experiences, condensed into one.
Its days like this that makes being a photographer so rewarding for Amanda. “A great joy of being a photographer is getting access to things people wouldn’t normally get to do,” Amanda explains. “At the end of the day I wanted to buy a Land Rover,” she says laughing. Amanda’s job this time allowed her onto a literal path that she wouldn’t otherwise get to tread, and she does it for us. She goes on these adventures to show us what they’re like so that we may make the decision to bring those adventures into our own lives.
Agency: Brooklyn Brothers
Art Director: Esin Cittone
Amanda Marsalis' M.O.
The trick to taking intimate portraits is trust. When Amanda Marsalis shot Jaime King for People Magazine, they had already created a rapport. Amanda, whose directorial debut Echo Park was the crown of the LA Film Fest, met Jaime at a party long before they came together for this project. “She was very sweet and wonderful to me at this large party and I was looking forward to seeing her again,” Amanda says about their meeting. “Jaime likes intelligent, successful women. She’s really supportive of other women.” The entertainment is, in many ways, a boys’ club. It doesn’t take much more than looking at any given year’s Academy Award Nominee list to see that women are underrepresented, so it could only help Jaime and Amanda to come together to create beautiful work.
Right off the bat, on the first shot, Amanda turned the camera around to show Jaime how the shots looked. And Jaime was instantly won over. “It was a really awesome to start the day,” says Amanda. “She immediately started to trust me because she liked the photograph, and then for the rest of the day was just smooth sailing. Everyone knew I was there to make her look good.” That “everyone” included Jaime’s child, her husband, team, and even Amanda’s dog, Queso – who is generally pretty trusting as it is.
For Amanda, building trust has never been difficult. That’s because she doesn’t have any ulterior motives. Unlike some other artists who want to leave their mark with wild interpretations and crazy ideas, Amanda just wants to make beautiful work. “I’m trying to make people look their best selves, I don’t want them to look different than who they are,” Amanda explains. “I don’t have an agenda except to take what they’re willing to give me.” That collaborative process means that both Amanda and her subject arrive at the final portrait together. Amanda needs them as much as they need her. The images are created in the space between them, they are a reflection of the trust that the photographer and model build. That’s always been where Amanda does her work, in that relationship. “That’s sort of my M.O.,” she says.
The Generosity of Lapo Elkann
When a photographer arrives to shoot a subject, they can never be sure who exactly is going to show up. Whether it's a Hollywood celebrity, and newsworthy politician, or a pedestrian 14 minutes into their 15 minutes of fame, any number of personalities could appear in front of the camera, with a myriad of egos and showboats that need to be managed.
When Amanda Marsalis met Lapo Elkann, heir to the Fiat fortune and president of Italia Independent, at the Gucci store in Beverly Hills, he really could have been another personality to parent. But that's not what she found at all. “He is Italian royalty, basically. And he is phenomenal,” Amanda explains. “He’s not a regular guy. There’s nothing regular about him. He does amazing things. It was a real pleasure.” She found Elkann to be completely affable. It really could have gone either way. Faced with the background that he has, coming from that kind of wealth and attention, it's entirely reasonable to expect a different kind of man, a lesser man.
In fact, Elkann was so friendly and easy to work with, that it almost got in the way. "He’s one of those people that when you’re around him you feel the energy in the room electrify," says Amanda. And she wasn't the only one who felt that way. Bystanders were constantly stopping them, interrupting the shoot, and Elkann was gracious at every turn. Instead of it being an obstacle, Amanda found that it loosened the set even further and allowed her to capture his authentic energy. “I was so impressed. Because it didn’t throw him from our shoot, even if people were interrupting us, he still came right back and was right with me as soon as they left, instead of being distracted. His ability to be present was mind blowing.” He needed to be present.
He and Amanda only had 45 minutes to get everything they needed for The Wall Street Journal. That included the four different looks he was in, and it all had to be done around his broken foot. The shoot could have been stressful, rushed, focused on minimizing distractions, and trying to stay on task – especially with all the interruptions. But it didn’t go that way at all. “It didn’t feel so stressful because he was giving me what I needed,” Amanda says. They started inside the store, then went outside, and then shot him in a Maserati. “I just wanted to get in the car and go where he was going to go for the rest of my life,” Amanda says. Instead, he drove off to his next appointment in style and Amanda stood, surprised and impressed.
Amanda Marsalis Is Surprised in W Magazine
Sometimes projects get a life of their own. When there’s the perfect pairing of model and photographer, the collaboration can reach beyond the limits or needs of the project. When Amanda Marsalis shot Gigi Hadid for W Magazine, they only needed one good shot. But on that day, they didn’t want to stop. So they just kept going. “Gigi is such a great model, we had such nice clothing, and it was W Magazine so everyone involved was tops,” explains Amanda. “It just seemed like a waste to only take one picture.” With all those resources and willing participants, that joining of passion and work flowers into a bigger experience.
It’s a situation that has to be handled delicately. You don’t always get to follow the energy on set. Sometimes you have to cut out early. “Sometimes with a celebrity, if you know you’ve got it, you don’t push it too much,” says Amanda. Shoots are as much about maintaining great relationships as they are about creating great work. When this shoot was gearing up, there was no way to know that it was going to turn into one of those special situations. Everyone had made it to set, each department was setting up their wares, and then they waited for Gigi to finish being styled. “And then she comes out and she’s dressed and as soon as we’re taking photos she was just totally engaged with me,” Amanda says. “I could tell that she would give me anything it was that I needed. And she just was constantly moving, but in a way that she was aware of the camera. She knew what to do, and she just gave it.” It didn’t hurt that both Gigi and Amanda are amazing at what they do.
Many models need more direction than what Gigi required, and it made everything work so much better. Many models are just hangers for clothes with beautiful faces. But the models that engage and change the campaigns they’re a part of do so by living in front of the camera. “When you meet someone and they have that sort of special sparkle, she had the special sparkle,” says Amanda. “As soon as I had the camera in my hand, it was like ‘whoa.’ It was really fun. So I got lots of options and then I got more, because she’s a really freaking good model.”
Ironically, they weren’t planning on having this be anything more than a typical shoot. They had a finite number of dresses and so they eventually ran out of options, and had to stop. "We were just like ‘Ah, I wish we had more dresses.' We could have shot a feature in the end," says Amanda. “I wouldn’t have known when I got to set how special Gigi is." Talk about a great surprise.
Amanda Marsalis Won't Trick You
There’s much more to an image than the contents of the photograph. It’s not just the set and the subject, it’s a captured moment. A slice of time frozen in form. Every element, whether it shows up directly in the silver or pixels, is a part of that moment. Everything must be considered.
When Amanda Marsalis welcomed Lizzy Caplan, star of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” and the cult classic "Party Down," into her home for the cover of Bust Magazine, Amanda knew that the shoot was starting off with the perfect tone. “At my house I’ve photographed Jason Scwartzman, Lizzy, a few different lookbooks, Julie Delpy, and it always ends up being a nice, more intimate experience,” Amanda explains. “Maybe somebody who has their guard up lets it down a little bit because they’re actually in your space, and you’re hosting them. And so they’re acting more like a guest.” That gracious, collaborative energy comes through the photos in a feeling of intimacy. Amanda had already let Lizzy into her world, so Lizzy opened up for Amanda.
When Amanda picks locations for her shoots, she takes all these variables into account. Initially the project was slated to be set somewhere else before it fell through at the last minute. She had chosen that first space specifically. “I knew it basically had good vibes. And it was like a place where every person in the crew would be relaxed and have the space they need,” she says. Luckily, they were able to find the same elements in her home. “Every element is an important part of making sure you have good photos. Especially when you’re doing a cover and you have a few hours and you want everyone to be happy,” she explains. When everyone is relaxed and comfortable, that permeates the image and creates a better story in the photograph.
This way of working isn't a trick. She's not managing the emotions of everyone in the room for the benefit of the photograph. Instead she's inviting everyone along with her. That relaxed energy is kind of Amanda's thing. And she gets it through the collaborative spirit. "I always get permission to take my photographs and that’s why there’s an intimacy to them. It’s something we’ve agreed upon and we’re entering it together," she explains. "I’m not taking anything from anybody, and I’m not tricking anybody." Amanda doesn't have to hide behind manipulations and tricks. She shows up to work and invites her subjects along with her.
For Amanda Marsalis and Norwegian Cruise Lines Respect Means Quality
Before boarding her 7-day Eastern Caribbean Cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines, Amanda Marsalis had never been on a cruise before. She gets really seasick. But she wasn’t going to let that get in the way. “I was a little nervous about my seasickness, but I was otherwise so excited about the job,” she says. “And then it turned out really great.” Norwegian tasked Amanda with capturing what a Norwegian Cruise is actually like. They wanted to use her authentic eye to present the feeling behind their trips, whether the passengers were a family on a vacation, a couple escaping together, or a solo cruiser taking some time for themselves.
Besides her cruise experience, she found that Norwegian was more than a delight to work with. The pleasure came from a surprising direction, in the form of trust. “They hired me to do exactly what it is that I do. And then they let me do it,” Amanda explains. “I felt very respected by them. It was very collaborative.” Sometimes to get the best work possible the photographer needs the space to work. And Norwegian gave her exactly the right amount of space to work best. Amanda explains, “[Norwegian] wanted quality, not quantity. Even though we got so many good photos, we didn’t sacrifice.” Image quality is directly proportionate to trust and the freedom to do the job described. Norwegian gave Amanda that freedom, and it is reflected in the photos.
It also doesn’t hurt that she had a blast. “It was a nonstop job, but it was also super fun,” she said. Between restaurant hopping, catamaran sailing, and dashing from one deck to the other, Amanda got to experience the entire ship. Not just behind her lens, but also in front of it. To capture the delight that comes with sliding down one of their many water slides, Amanda suited up and headed down the slide right behind her subject. Luckily her assistant captured it on film.
The fun was in service of the images, something that Amanda is grateful she got from her relationship with Norwegian. “It was one of the most fun shoots, with one of the best clients, I’ve had. Ever.” Despite the fun, she still got the job done. “I’m really proud of the photos I got on the shoot,” she says. “We took really gorgeous pictures that are nice, experiential, and what they wanted.”
We’ve displayed a selection from what Amanda did with Norwegian, with more to come as the campaign continues to roll out.
Amanda Marsalis brightens up Merida for Conde Nast Traveler UK
When you live in LA, like Amanda Marsalis does, tacos become your default food. Hungry? Only have a minute? Grab a taco. So, when she went to Merida to shoot for CondeNast Traveler UK, she had a familiar experience to hold onto. And it was so, so good. She says, about Merida and their tacos, “It’s just a plethora of amazingness and just absolutely wonderfully delicious.”
Condé Nast Traveler UK put their trust in Amanda, giving her a few specific directions, but mostly saying “Here’s the story: capture the vibe.” She spent her week in Merida chasing that vibe, and piling it in her images. Merida is an old town that has transferred cultural hands so many times it builds a proverbial mosaic that manifests itself in actual mosaics. Cool-tiled entryways sit shaded behind ornate wooden doors opening on to cobblestone courtyards peppered by potted cacti buffeting wading pools against bright pink walls. Amanda explains it’s the kind of place where you could go to, “Have a nice life where everything moves very slowly and everything’s really beautiful.”
But travel photography isn’t just tacos in the hot closeness of a historic Mexican town. Capturing that kind of lugubrious life requires getting to know the town intimately in a very short amount of time. And you do that by talking to the locals. “You spend a lot of time talking to people,” she explains, since they’re the only ones who can tell you where to get the best shots. She’s not a fluent Spanish speaker herself, “but I can understand a lot of it. I know what’s going on, and can figure out how to get myself a Mezcal.” Which is what’s truly important at the end of the day.
Schlepping her camera bags and tripods, running to capture the right location in the right light meant that Amanda was able to catch a glimpse of this city that we should all be so lucky to see. Guided gently by John Powell and Josh Ramos of Urbano Rentals, Amanda was let into private opulence that hides behind the misleading dilapidation that wraps Merida. “What was most exciting was being allowed past those big giant doors and seeing inside peoples’ homes,” Amanda says about her time there, stopping to reflect, “This is unreal.”
Lucky for us, Amanda brought those experiences back with her, inside her camera. The pops of color coating terra cotta and ancient wood deliver us to that historic town tantamount only to sipping sangrita on a Meridan poolside terrace.
Photographing a site like this isn’t the easiest gig, but Amanda says, "I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I feel very blessed and lucky that I’m able to do it."
'Echo Park' Premiers a film and a director
When Amanda Marsalis was approached to direct Echo Park, she was not a director. An established photographer with a resume that would impress anyone, sure, but directing a narrative motion picture was foreign to her. She knew she was jumping into uncharted territory but that was not going to be an issue. She was primed for it, saying, “Obviously I understood it was going to be a lot of work so, I was ready to be surprised daily.”
The collaborative process of movie making totally took Amanda aback initially, remarking, “All these people are there to help you make art. There’s all these people who are just excited that you asked them to help you make art.” Usually, she explained, on a photography set, everyone works towards the same goal but in a different way. “I learned a lot,” she says. “I think I’m a much better photographer because of this experience.”
It wasn’t just a great crew on her film, but also incredible actors, like the compelling Mamie Gummer. Mamie has been gracing stages and screens for more than a decade, she’s a pro, and it supported Amanda a ton to have someone so formidable on her set. Amanda says, “I was really lucky that [Mamie] trusted me, and helped me. I’m proud to have someone who’s such a great actress in my film.”
Amanda didn’t leave anything on the table with Echo Park, it’s deeply personal. Not only has the story become personal to her over the process of shooting and editing a film, but her life is literally on screen. She explains, “I put everything I had into this. The furniture was moved out of my house onto the set. My friends gave music. My photos are on the wall. My friends are extras in the background. I gave it everything. Everything I had.”
Just like any fulfilling endeavor, the more you pour out, the more you have left to give. And she’s not going to stop now. “It’s my complete intention to direct another movie,” she proclaims. What’s her next project? She’s keeping that to herself for now.
Echo Park will finally be seen by audiences at the LA Film Fest on Saturday, June 14. Even though the film is cut and ready to go, Amanda hasn’t relaxed quite yet. “I don’t feel like it’s done yet. It’s exciting.” It’s not over ‘til it’s over. “Once the world has seen it then I feel like I’ll deserve vacation.”
Amanda Marsalis Catches Mexico City's Magic Moments for CondÃ© Nast Traveler
B&A newcomer Amanda Marsalis documented ancient traditions mingling with cutting-edge architecture in Mexico City for the February issue of Condé Nast Traveler.
"Shooting a travel piece is a lot of exploring, sun watching, waiting, and imagination," the photographer said. "I'm always looking for what will tell the story – sometimes it's in unexpected places and you have to keep an eye out for it. I am also always looking for a building to get on top of, a mountain to drive up ... anything with a view and a great overall perspective!" She added that on shoot days, thoughts of dusk always cross her mind: "You can't waste a sunset by being in the wrong place."
Marsalis eschews flashes and noted, "setting up is more about waiting for the light to be right." On location, "I am usually laying out the story in my head. I'll keep a tight edit of the photos I have taken so far with me, and continue to look at it to see if the story is showing through," she explained. "I really love piecing it all together."
The California-born photographer began her career as a teenager, when she would chronicle punk shows held in her mother's basement and skip class to spend time in her high school's darkroom. She typically finds inspiration in her home state – specifically, the magic hour of Los Angeles and the intricacy of its landscape – but brings that spirit with her to other locales, like Mexico City.
Marsalis counts Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, Dazed & Confused, InStyle, GQ, The Guardian, Apple, Adidas, and Visa as her clients. Her imagery has been published in two books, "Reproduction" and "Landscapes," and her debut feature film, "Echo Park," comes out this year.