California Dreaming: The Photography of Amanda Marsalis

Amanda Marsalis's (Photography 2001) photographs appear regularly on glossy pages across international newsstands. She shoots both editorial and advertising photography, and her clients have included Apple, FedEx, GQ, the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and many other household names.

It is global in reach, but she describes her style as Californian, owing much to her home state.

Early Roots in Photography

Marsalis always wanted to be a photographer. Born in San Francisco, she began shooting at age 14 and steadily built her portfolio. She had her first picture published when she was in high school; it was of the band Joan of Arc, and it appeared in Transworld Skateboarding. "It was super exciting to see my work in print!" she recalls.

She enrolled at CCA in 1996. She studied with Jim Goldberg and the late Larry Sultan. At the time she was focused on fine art photography, but as it became increasingly acceptable to simultaneously work in the fine art and commercial realms, she expanded her subject matter. Her first working gig was with Todd Hido (MFA 1996), now a faculty member at CCA.

Professional Career Growth

After earning her BFA in 2001, Marsalis went straight into the world of professional photography. "I was shooting a lot more than exhibiting," she recalls of that transition. There wasn't any big break, like in the movies -- a moment where everything suddenly changed forever. Her path has involved consistent hard work and patience. "It all happened really slowly."

Marsalis has shot for some of the biggest names in the industry, but even these gigs inevitably started small. "Your first shoot with Vogue is inevitably a small job. It's always baby steps; they're testing you." Gradually, Marsalis scored larger and higher-profile jobs. "When you start to shoot bigger stories with multiple spreads, it's a great feeling to see your photos over eight pages."

Wide Range of Photography Projects

Marsalis finds pleasure in a wide range of work, from editorial to travel to advertising to personal Polaroids. She sometimes grows anxious to get back to whatever she's been neglecting: "When I've been shooting a lot of portraits, I want to go do travel photography, and when I've been traveling a lot, I just want to sit down and do some larger production shoots."

To her, the most important thing is striking a balance that keeps things fresh and exciting.

This year Marsalis released Reproduction, a book of Polaroid photographs of flowers. In summer 2012 she had exhibitions of the photographs it features in Venice, Italy, then in Los Angeles, where she is now based. She is currently working on a catalogue of thousands of her Polaroids, a medium that for her functions like an illustrator's sketchbook.

Although Marsalis has worked for some of the world's most recognizable brands and publications and toured the world from Europe to Asia to South America, she keeps a modest perspective. She balances healthy doses of hard work and dedication with a commitment to continued learning and growth.

"I still feel like someone who just graduated from college."