Cameron Salehi: Firecracker with an Eye, Part 1

This emerging 24-year-old photographer has talent, family support, a great camera, and the right stuff to make it. Cameron Salehi was raised in a small town in the middle of the West Texas desert and graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas with a degree in philosophy and photography. But her heart never left the picturesque “big sky” country where she grew up, and that visual and emotional connection is what inspired her to pursue her passion for photography and to make it her life’s work. A petite woman with a penchant for abundant bracelets, jewelry and colorful attire, she’s an unlikely looking street and travel photographer, but her commitment to creating images that reveal the beauty and truth of the world as she sees it are clearly evident in her captivating photographs. Here is a transcription of our lively and fascinating interview with this up—and-coming pro, a Leica shooter with her sights clearly set on expressing her vision and focused on success.

Q: We’ve taken a look at your striking images of Cuba and you seem to be a street and travel photographer with a photojournalistic flair. How would you describe your work?

A: I’m not sure that I’ve developed a consistent style quite yet, but my work is artistic and often conveys a dreamlike sense. I try to create something in the camera that says something more than a straight shot can. I don’t think I’m quite at the level of a fine art photographer, but I am a full-time pro and my images do tend to point in that general direction.

Q: How did you first get involved in photography and when did you first decide to make it your life’s work?

A: My story is kind of typical—I graduated from college in May of ‘08 and I had no idea what to do with my life. I knew I was not cut out for an academic career, so I looked up the photographic travel programs offered by the National Geographic, and asked my parents if I could immerse myself in these for the next 6 months. It was expensive of course, but I justified it as kind of like grad school. I had just started to shoot digital and I wanted to advance my technical knowledge and travel the world. I went on 5 trips and was very fortunate to be traveling with a group of people that included Jim Richardson, one of my mentors. My National Geographic experience has included trips to Santa Fe New Mexico, Scotland (with Richardson), Tuscany, Provence, and De Allende in Central Mexico.

Q: You were very lucky indeed to have such great family support and to schedule such an impressive array of guided hands-on learning experiences. Did you have any other mentors who made a great impression on you?

A: Yes. I received great lessons in taking and editing pictures from Sisse

Brimberg and her husband Cotton Coulson of KeenPress and Raul Touzon in San Miguel, my best mentor for the past two years. I’m essentially a shy person and being forced into the street scene and compelled to get close to people to get the pictures I wanted was a worthwhile learning experience. Both Jim Richardson and Raul Touzon do beautiful work, and their photojournalistic approach is what I strive for—get the shot and don’t be sloppy about it. Create the image at the moment of exposure and don’t think you can go into Lightroom and correct it every time.

Q: Can you say something about your technique—how you go about creating images and the equipment you use?

A: I don’t use flash—I use natural light, and I try to capture the beauty of every moment, to communicate it so that others who weren’t actually present can experience the moment and see it in a different light. People are so busy they miss important things that are very small. I try to reveal these things by capturing the moment. I like my pictures to transcend, regardless of where they were taken—to reveal the underlying beauty regardless of the location.

As far as equipment is concerned, the first camera that really impressed me was the Leica D-LUX 4. I bought it as a point-and-shoot to supplement my first DSLR and used it to document my friends’ annual golf tournament. When I compared the pictures shot with both cameras I was flabbergasted. The quality of the D-LUX images was strikingly superior and I was hooked after that. Ultimately that’s what inspired me to get a  Leica M9 that is now my primary professional camera. I asked my dad to get it for me as a combined Christmas and birthday present and he graciously and generously complied. It was quite a gift and for the moment I am shooting with the Summilux M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH—a truly great lens. I think it’s important to discipline yourself by using one lens until you really understand what it can do before trying out another one.

-Jason Schneider

In part 2 Cameron Salehi relates her unexpected impressions of Cuba, details the unique advantages of shooting with the Leica M9 system, and reveals her plans for the future. To learn more about Cameron, visit her website. Her gallery is located at 4528 McKinney Ave, STE 101, Dallas, TX  75205.

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38 comments

  • Okay. That’s nice, but most people don’t have rich parents to buy them 7K cameras or 5 trips to wherever with other pro photographers. Most people go into major hawk getting their pro gear and pinch & save to be able to travel then take pictures. (If I combined the total cost of a Christmas & birthday present from my parents when they were alive, I’d be lucky if they could afford 100 bux. This story just sounds like a spoiled rich girl who has some expensive toys to play with while traveling.

    Now, if she worked some crummy job, saved her money for a year or two and bought her own camera, then struggled to save for her trips, I’d be impressed. As it stands, I’m insulted by this story and everything it stands for. I’m sure your readers will think the same.

  • Unlike Lainer, I am far from insulted – there are people who live such a life and this doesn’t make their photography any inferior.

    I myself am far from such a lifestyle and I have with hard earned cash been able to afford my own second-hand M8 and a Voigtländer lens (both far from Cameron’s kit) but no matter where I got the money for it and no matter how inferior or superior this kit is compared to others’, I love taking pictures and this is what matters to me.

    Of course a great camera and a great lens helps a photographer but if I give my camera kit to someone who couldn’t care less about photography, their pictures will not be hanging on any wall. And it is because of this passion, I get asked by colleagues to do photography privately for them. And it is because of such encounters, I may one day turn semi-pro or even full pro.

    Until that time comes, I enjoy reading the experiences of other Leica enthusiasts and enjoy reading about the life stories, comfort zones, challenges, life struggles, spoiling parents (yes, reading it with a bit of envy 😉 and anything else in between that relates the photographer in me to the photographer across the HTML code.

    Cheers, Konstantin

  • This is absurd. She isn’t a “pro”, she’s an amateur with an expensive camera! Two of these photos are even out of focus (“Crossed Wires”; “Lola” – which is a dreadful shot for multiple other reasons, too). The only reason these photos are “interesting” is because they’re in Cuba. The “Lola” shot also has quite marked noise – which doesn’t really do much for your marketing. Poor show, Leica.

  • Who cares really how people acquire their gear and travel budgets, it’s the final results that counts.

    To be brutally honest I think there’s some mixed results here, I like the golden hour street scene and the one with the shoes on the wire, but there’s too much camera shake and blown highlights in most to be honest.
    I know motion blur has its place, but imo that’s when you want to indicate motion or drama..

  • Yes it looks as if she was lucky enough to have parents that are wealthy enough to afford the M9, though let’s not forget that based on her photography she has talent. Wether she scrapped and saved for her equipment or not we should be judging her by her work. Not by her parents pockets. Also it’s great to hear about parents that encourage and help their daughter at that level!

  • Lainer – I agree with you completely. I was disappointed by this blog entry.

  • A man once told me when I was 17, as I salivated over his white Porsche 911, that owning a Porsche should only come with a few gray hairs. I feel the same way about owning a Leica in the sense that owning and using one should be earned.

  • @Lainer:

    I guess that’s why we find this story on the Leica blog. “Wealthy dilettante daughter takes digital color pictures in places where it’s hard to miss.”

    Totally agreed…though maybe partially out of jealousy.

  • Wow, Lainer. Bitter much?

    In the end, it all comes down to the bottom line. . . Who has the heart to make their passion a reality?

    If this young woman was just another “spoiled rich girl” than I’m sure she would have quit as soon as she ran into her first obstacle or realized that work is hard. But that’s not the case.

    You can tell how much had work and dedication has gone into Ms Salehi’s collection and gallery. She’s an extremely talented young woman, and no matter how privileged a person is, money can’t buy talent.

  • “…seem to be a street and travel photographer with a photojournalistic flair…”

    That is the quintessential definition of the demographic Leica Camera AG is targeting today and the name now stands for.

    (as opposed to what Leitz stood for; two different companies, two different cultures)

  • I cant see her soul in those photos. she just mocked M9. Great photography is made step by step. sometimes it surely needed HUNGER and PATIENT. Girl, dont even try to buy SOME FANCY STUFF to take Photos. it’s not gonna help you. when u think u’r ready, upgrade ur stuff. you should be able to share ur feeling with the moment and the object that u can see through view finder. ur photos r 30%camera, 30%lense,10% technique, 10% ur soul, 20% imitation. Use the LIGHT THAT GOD CREATED!!!!!!!!

  • 🙂

    Funny .. The comment above 🙂

    Give the boy a break …
    If your father could .. I am sure you would.
    I know I wouldn’t mind 😉

    Bottom line it’s not how we got the camera .. It’s what we make with it.
    Photos above are nice but not enough.

  • Based on what criterion or criteria are people selected to be featured on Leica’s blog?

    Having looked at the slideshow, I found the pictures underwhelming. With all due respect, but one is not even sharp, three are exposed in such a way that if the f/stop was chosen on purpose, it makes we wonder why (a.k.a. wrong exposure?).

    And the website of the photographer linked above is filled with digital stills that makes you wonder what talent is supposed to mean? Out of focus, ill-exposed, contrast just badly chosen, and all in all looking like snapshots instead of pictures taken with reflection and purpose.

    Seriously, Leica, looking at the Facebook comments, this is a very questionable choice.

  • Why does it matter how Cameron came by her equipment or her opportunities? Why would her “working some crummy job” be more impressive? You can have all that money can by and still not have an ounce of talent. Cameron OBVIOUSLY has talent. Her work is impressive because of the beautiful eye she has for the world around her. She is blessed. 🙂

  • I commend Ms. Salehi in her commitment and dedication to her craft. I see a young woman who rather than coast through a priveleged life (as many 24 year old priveleged college graduates are apt to do) uses what she has been blessed with to create opportunities to better herself and her world. Ms. Salehi’s words and story inspire me to take each day as an opportunity to find beauty in the everyday and share it with those around me. Thank you for sharing!

  • Leica’s recent strategy has been very disappointing. As a professional photographer who used the DMR for weddings until it was discontinued, I have to say that Leica has totally lost touch with its heritage while trying to go after a new market by showcasing images like these.

    I hope the famous “Leica image” is not being redefined as “poor vacation snaps”. It’s one thing to be learning a craft, it’s another to elevate it beyond what it is — especially with the associated story and perceived “values” they convey.

    I’d be interested in knowing what was Leica’s intended marketing message? Because it is lost on me when I read a “pro” saying: “I asked my dad to get it [Leica M9] for me as a combined Christmas and birthday present and he graciously and generously complied”.

    Leica should consider revisiting its corporate strategy (re-assess your core competency or re-read my presentation of August 2001) and marketing communication strategy before losing support from its established base (at the expenses of trying to “grow” with new customers).

    This is not the Leica I grew up with and used to know.

  • This profile is of a very young woman, who seems to have accomplished very little in the world of photography. No offense, but her portfolio is unimpressive, probably due to the fact that she’s young. So why has she been profiled here? Maybe try back in 20 years to see what she’s made of herself. It’s also nice when your parents hand you a $7,000 rangefinder camera. Does she really need that camera to express herself at this age? Has she earned that?

  • Leica, this is DISGUSTING. I can not believe that you choose to use this as an example of emerging talent. This is a little rich girl whose Daddy gave her what amounts to one-year of most kids’ college education in order to “find herself.” I do not find this story inspiring, I find it revulsive. I cannot imagine who in your marketing department thought this would be an interesting and inspiring story. Someone like her perhaps? Someone who thinks it is normal for this kind of thing to happen? Your idea of “family support’ is that all this be given to a person? Or perhaps Leica has decided that its target market is not dedicated, skilled, and aspiring photographers; rather it is the uber-rich, who seek to find ways to shower spoil onto their idle, unmotivated offspring. SHAME on you, Leica.

  • Obviously lainer you are a bitter person. This girl was fortunate enough to have generous parents and a wonderful opportunity. I would feel myself lucky to have the same. How you get your camera or experience has no bearing on your talent or drive to succeed. I wish her the best of luck and hope she has a wonderful career with great success. As for you lainer, you might want to consider therapy.

  • dear leica blog..
    i wanted to write and mention that i think the bias towards self gratifying advertorial articles on the blog might be coming across as a little crass and obvious..
    now..
    with 40 000 or so facebook fans and no doubt hundreds of blog readers, it could be a prime opportunity to drop the sales pitch and cover excellent journalism featuring deserving subject matter.. think of the interview subjects you could attract.. the bodies of work you could bring to attention..
    you´ve been really close to that of late, though honestly – people probably come here out of respect for leica and in the hope that the sharpest lens producer would have one of the sharpest blogs..
    at present the comments attracted on facebook towards your blogs links are.. well.. a shame..
    respectfully
    db

  • Leica Internet Team

    Thanks for the responses to this blog post. As usual we’re impressed with the passion of our Leica customers and welcome the feedback! We´d like to support all Leica photographers. If there is someone or something you’d like to see featured on The Leica Blog, please let us know with a comment too.

    -Leica Internet Team

  • this girl also spoke at the leica roadshow in dallas. i asked myself the same questions? how the hell did leica select her? it’s obvious she is a child of privilege, but the photos are all snapshots from vacations. she couldn’t answer any questions about her equipment or her approach at the show. she arrived late and threw together a brief slideshow of photos when she got there. the best answer to a question was after leica’s pro speaker had just discussed how important it is to calibrate your screen for printing and if you can’t do it the right way with materials, printer, etc that you should take it to a pro lab. someone asked how she prints and she said she “doesn’t calibrate and doesn’t do anything, they just come out of the printer looking great.” she also has a gallery in a nice area in dallas and drives a new porsche cayenne. thanks daddy for complying with that as well!

    she must know someone high up the chain at leica to be treated this way. whomever it is should be ashamed. and why nobody second-guessed her inclusion will never make sense.

  • I often read Leica blog. I did like Bruno Stevens interview which is really interesting as far as quality photojournalism is concerned.

    This post is so-so. Pictures are mostly without any emotion, and they don’t tell a story. She has talent, but still has homework to do.

    As for the way she got her M9, it is not adding any pertinent information, except that she comes from a privileged family. The article would have been more focus on her developing talent, supportive family otherwise.

    I am a defender of Leica camera in my photojournalistic project. I don’t like the bashing that goes around “the expensive camera that was once used by pro, but is no longer in the game”.

    If Leica wants to focus on quality photography (amateur or professional) it should be careful in their choice of articles and the angle they give to them. There is plenty to choose from. Unless you want to feed the proverbial “rich fan or the dentist camera” brand.

    Best

  • Did I miss something here? Or is the first sentence of the post not “emerging 24-year-old photographer”? EMERGING.

    What a lot of bitterness and resentment geared toward a young lady who is only just starting out in her career. Is she a pro? No! Leica’s point was to showcase an up-and-coming talent and I think they did so splendidly. And all I see from those making negative comments is jealousy- and a lot of it. Not only is it none of anyone’s business what wealth her family has, but it is exceedingly low class to diminish her work because of it. Shame on all of you.

    And “confused”- I was also at the Dallas event and remember nothing of what you’re recounting, especially that story of her saying her pictures just come out great- that’s absurd. I do remember a very funny girl that may not have all her ducks in order when knowing every little detail but knows that she wants to be a photographer and is passionate about it. I talked with her and found her to be charming with a wonderful personality. She was the only female in a room full of 40+ year old Leica enthusiasts, do you think it possible she could have been a little intimidated? Give her a break.

    Thank you Leica for showcasing her work and giving her a chance. I look forward to seeing ‘Part 2’ of this interview and seeing her work grow.

  • Hmmm…six months of National Geographic expeditions, Daddy buys her an M9, and then…

    “My story is kind of typical”

    When she starts living in the real world, maybe she can start taking worthwhile pictures of it.

  • Three options as I see it…

    1. There is definitely something very fishy about this and someone should investigate how this could happen.

    2. We should all lighten up a bit.

    3. In the end it is talent and ability that counts and a post on the Leica blog, although perhaps something good for a resumé will never actually by itself get you the assignment. Think of this as ‘inspiration’.

  • Well, a little rich girl with rich parents, producing nothing more than trash. I think, a 3,- $ Snapshot-Camera ist enough for this kind of… photography ?
    What´s about those great Travel-photographers like Michael Martin or Dieter Glogowski ?

  • I don’t think it’s necessary to be sore about the fact that she comes from a privileged background and is able to afford expensive equipment. You don’t choose your parents/family. If she’s lucky enough to have rich ones, then good for her, no need to be unhappy about it.

    HOWEVER, I have to wonder, why is this girl featured here at all???
    Sorry, but I don’t find her photos that impressive.

  • I think some of you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. What good does it do to verbally assault someone who is passionate, dedicated and brave enough to put herself out there and truly “go for it.”

    Those of you who choose to use internet blog message boards to bash another up and coming photographer are sad. Yes, this girl is lucky to have parents who help her. Should she be lambasted because of it? Absolutely not.

    Lanier, I feel sorry for you and hope that one day your bitterness dissipates. It is unhealthy and pathetic. Also, you should study your homophones, as your usage of “HAWK” is incorrectly used and instead should have been written as “HOCK.”

    Cameron, I’ve seen your work and think it’s great. Keep up the good work and keep growing as a photographer. You have a great eye and passion. Don’t let the naysayers keep you down.

  • Very easy to spot which ones of these comments have been written by her friends and family. What a pathetic comeback – “You’re just jealous” – What about the people who don’t find the photographs worthy of seeing, let alone featuring on the blog of “The World’s Greatest Camera”(lol)

    Are they jealous? Please, if you’re going to leave multiple posts defending this girl, at least have the courtesy to change your written mood and tone to appear as different people. Also, thanks for the English lesson, that doesn’t at all sound like a protective daddy at all.

  • Lets have some dignity in this blog.

    We shouldnt bash cameron because she has “got it all” as some would say.

    The problem is while cameras can be got at the drop of a hat, pictures cant.

    And these pictures are pathetic. Absolutely terrible. I mean, I would not even comment on these pictures if they were on flickr.

    How does leica endorse this stuff? the same brand associated with Cartier Bresson and Sebastiao Salgado puts these pictures up?

    Is there nobody talented anymore using a Leica? Is that why they have to resort to using this gimmickry. Or is the M9 not selling well so they can convince us to spend our yearly bonuses getting one?

    I think the fact is nobody is splashing out on a M9 apart from Pro’s who get one for free from Leica anyways. This is just a marketing ploy to get people to buy one.

    In the second part of the interview the girl says,..the M9 blows my “DSLR” out of water in comparison. Lol… thats hilarious.?

    What DSLR would that be? A nikon D700 or a Canon 5D Mark 2. ??

    If your DSLR is a Nikon D1X dear, the JPEG’s are good enough to compare to the M9 (or the British Journal of Photography claims.) And for one, I am sure this girl can’t shoot RAW.

  • come on! let this girl take pictures. she got talent. I´d love to get a Leica from my dad and the money for this trip. I didn´t and I won´t. I take pix at home, with a Casio. At least there haven´t been 100 professionals with a Leica before. x)

  • Sib – can you point out the talent – you must have magical goggles as you’re the only one seeing it. Also, can you please furnish what credentials allow you to make such absolute statements?

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