Navigating the distance from art to business is a tall task, and one fraught with roadblocks and doubts. Is the work good enough? How do you stand out? Where will the money come from?
For Vancouver-based photographer Alexa Mazzarello, the key to making the leap from hobby to profession was identifying a signature style and then nurturing her inherent strengths. After hiring Vancouver based agency Salt Design Co. to help develop her brand, Mazzarello physically printed out and studied four years’ worth of her work – the good, bad and evolution of her photography.
“In that process I had to go through all of my content – shit that I hadn’t looked at in years,” she explains. For the very first time, her entire catalogue was on full display, and by looking at the entirety of it she identified a thread that ran throughout, right from the very beginning.
📸 s by Alexa Mazzarello
“My work definitely has a distinct style. I would say it’s quite feminine and natural. Someone recently said to me that women look comfortable in my photos, not overly stiff or done up. Feminine, comfortable, natural, ethereal.”
And with that simple discovery, Alexa Mazzarello Creative had its direction, and Mazzarello had a niche that separated her from the throng of competition. She would focus on work that was imbued with a feminine energy, and seek out clients who were looking for her particular aesthetic.
“It’s done a lot for me from a business perspective. I am booking work that I would never have gotten a year ago because I wasn’t portraying myself this way,” she says.
Mazzarello was a late bloomer, and was a young adult before she picked up a camera. She describes herself as a creative kid, who lacked a way to channel that energy. One night at a party in university, she grabbed her friend’s DSLR and with a single snap Mazzarello was hooked. That Christmas, she asked for her own camera and it was like someone had removed the blinders.
“It was the tool that gave me access to communicate how I saw the world. I hadn’t had that tool before,” she explains.
And so she began to shoot, and shoot some more. Photography became her passion. After finishing her masters in public health, and taking a nine-to-five working for the City of Ottawa, Mazzarello daydreamed about ditching her desk job to shoot full-time. A steady diet of books, photography blogs, and podcasts about female entrepreneurs only fueled her desire to turn her hobby into a business.
Her first big break came when she created an art show called BodyThoughts. It was a collection of self-portraits that featured her naked body – a comment on the expectations society has for women’s bodies.
“I was super passionate to talk about bodies and the way I think women are oppressed through this expectation of what our bodies are supposed to look like. Also, the fact that we’re still talking about female bodies all the time.”
It was a big leap for Mazzarello – a true investment in her work that required a space, networking and her own financial commitment. By putting herself out there, she was committing to her dream. Having just moved to Vancouver to be closer to nature, Mazzarello needed somewhere to showcase her collection. She connected with thisopenspace to find the right venue. Even early in her career, Mazzarello appreciated the way a space affects how her work is portrayed, and wanted something that spoke to her.
“I’ve always been very inspired by spaces. When I found the spot [on Clark Drive], it was a nothing space. There was nothing in it, but that’s why I liked it. It was concrete floors and 20-foot ceilings. You could see the beams. It had character and life, but it was also a space that I could create something in. It was like a container, and I’ve always looked for spaces like that to either host things or feel lived in,” she says.
The show was a success, spawning a subsequent exhibition in Toronto and a spot speaking about BodyThoughts at TEDxSFU. It was a whirlwind experience that showed Mazzarello that her photography was a viable career path. People were interested in her work and the stories she was trying to tell. It also exposed her to a new way of doing things – discovering new inspiring spaces and connecting her with a network of likeminded people with whom she could build relationships.
This initial breakthrough set the stage for Mazzarello, and its influences still resonate – discovering new spaces, travelling to new cities, and forging lasting relationships. “As a creative person, spaces really inspire me and my brain needs to jump around and be experiencing new things,” she says.
Mazzarello recently traveled to Ottawa, found a new space and turned it into her temporary studio away from home.
“I steer away from typical studios and instead want apartments or styled spaces so that when my clients arrive I can style them in a spot that makes sense for their ‘brand.’ The colourful wall here provided a fun, unique backdrop.”
This method has opened up a world of possibilities for Mazzarello, who doesn’t feel limited by her surroundings. “With thisopenspace, I can actually imagine working anywhere, which wasn’t possible before.”