We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Fitzgerald West and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
My love for the arts goes back as long as I can remember. Even as a little girl, my mom tells me I always preferred reading, coloring and craft projects to anything else. There was rarely a day that passed that there wasn’t some sort of large scale chalk drawing spanning the length of our driveway. As I grew older, that love for art only deepened. I became inspired by the French Impressionists and taught myself how to paint copying masterworks by Van Gogh, Monet and Matisse (though falling woefully short of their genius, just to be clear!). By the time I was in college I knew I wanted to pursue something in a creative field, I just didn’t quite know how to do it. I settled upon a Journalism degree with an Art History minor, as I thought it would be sufficient to write about the creative works I loved, though deep down, I was still happiest when I was making my own. I graduated and found an amazing job promoting Downtown Houston and the Houston Theater District, which connected me to so many influential people in the city, which laid a foundation for my future client base. I picked up photography as a creative outlet and quickly fell in love being able to capture people in a way I never could through painting. At that time, I never dreamed that photography would be become anything other than a hobby. Though as the years passed, it became clear that my day job was holding me back from the heights I could reach in my photography business, not the other way around. So I made the leap, and it’s been the greatest professional decision of my life. I feel so grateful that I get to have a job that not only fulfills a deep innate desire in me to create, but also brings joy to families I document. At every shoot, I feel like my work is preserving their unique history which is an honor I don’t take lightly. Every day on the job feels like a fleeting opportunity to freeze moments in time that would slip by if I weren’t there to capture them, and that is a sense of purpose I’ve always dreamed of in a career.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m considered a “lifestyle” family portrait photographer, which means I have a goal of capturing your family in a more loose way than the family portraits of my childhood. I often shoot in people’s homes, or in an outdoor space where they feel comfortable to be themselves. My goal of every session is to draw out the true personality and essence of a family and their children, so that the images reflect the most beautiful version of themselves, but also the most true. When I get feedback from a client that I’ve accomplished that after seeing their gallery, there’s nothing that makes me feel more happy and gratified.
I would say I’ve gotten to where I am today professionally because of years of hard work, long (long, long) hours, fierce dedication, and a passion to try to be better every year. There were definitely years where it wasn’t easy, and there are always seasons within years that are more challenging than others. But staying true to who you are as an artist and a business person always wins the day. I’ve learned that there is a style for everyone and there is a client base for everyone. You just have to remain consistent with your work and be willing to face and improve upon your shortcomings.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite neighborhood in the city is definitely the Heights and surrounding areas! It has a small town feel only minutes from downtown. I love the mix of delicious restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops, fitness spaces and nature trails. My ideal week in Houston would include a chocolate croissant and coffee at Catalina, lunch at Postino, class at Citizen Pilates, shopping at Forth and Nomad, lounging under a tree at the Woodland Park, dinner at La Lucha and after dinner drinks at Julep.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My husband, Joseph West, is the person I most credit with inspiring me creatively, pushing me as a businesswoman, believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and above all daring me to pursue this passion as a full time career. Secondly, the amazing Julie Martin Thomas, is a person I credit for having the incredible client base that I do today. I’ve found that in family photography, as in most things in life, a personal recommendation from a current client is gold in this industry. Julie found my work when I was very early in my career and proceeded to spread the word to everyone she knew. Her belief in me and endorsement of my work turned into an absolute dream of a client base, including many people I still am shooting with nearly a decade later and am happy to call friends!
Portrait of Melissa by Bianca Gillen. All other images by Melissa Fitzgerald West.