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.