Andrea Wise

Balance: Melissa Lyttle

Andrea WiseComment

Balance is an interview series with creatives about how they find balance in their work and lives.

This time on Balance, I'm doing something I've never done before: interviewing someone I technically have never met. But I feel like I've known Melissa Lyttle forever. I first came across Melissa's work on Danielle, a severely neglected feral child, my sophomore year of college in Clinical Psychology, long before I thought I had any interest in photography. My professor showed the work in class to help us understand the importance of socialization in human development. It wasn't until a few years later, when I was getting started in photography and my friend Bettina Hansen told me to get on APAD (a website/listserv/photo community) that I realized how much Melissa's work had subconsciously shaped my understanding of what photojournalism was, and more importantly, what it could be. 

Melissa continues to be a strong voice in the photojournalism community and an active mentor for emerging photographers. If you don't already read her blog, please do. And start with this post: An Extended Dear Young Photographer. Melissa also organizes GeekFest, the most incredible photo festival that I regrettably have yet to attend but that I'm trying realllllllllllllly hard to make it out to this year, September 12 - 14 in Philadelphia. 

And now, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I bring you... (drumroll, please) Melissa Lyttle!! **clap clap clap**

What has your creative journey been so far?

Melissa: Such an open-ended question... I fell into photography while pursuing studies in another matter all together, and since then have just submersed myself in the photo world. My photo book library is massive, and a constant source of inspiration. It's definitely pj heavy, but there are definitely some subtleties of portrait and art photographers that I've learned loads from, that now grace the shelves too. I definitely believe in the power of community and the inspiration drawn from collaboration, so I try to attend at least a few photo workshops (as either an attendee, coach or speaker) a year just to keep the wheels greased and the batteries recharged. I also read a lot, fiction and non, and both inspire the creativity in ideas that I want to delve into photographically.

You recently wrote a fabulous blog post with some wonderful words of wisdom for young photographers finding themselves hitting that inevitable plateau, usually after graduating from college and you wrote "When you understand that you have to feed the beast, but you also have to feed your soul, you’ll start to figure out where that balance is." Why is finding that balance point important?

Melissa: Thanks. I've seen too many young photographers burn out, far too soon. It's especially important for young photographers who have taken the newspaper path, because newspapers are unforgiving, methodical beasts that will chew you up and spit you out if you let them. Nothing grounds down creativity and passion faster than the systemic dulling of your sense and sensibilities, by a corporate entity and a bunch of unhappy middle-managers. Believe me, I speak from experience, and that blog post was written from a place of love and saying... I get it, I've been there.

Although you may not realize it now, balance is important for the long-term. Plus, you're an all together better photographer if you're a well-rounded, grounded, balanced human being. 

Where is that balance point for you, and how do you find it?

Melissa: For me, balance is being with the ones I love, and no talk of photography. Having friends outside of work. Beach time to unwind. Long walks with my dog to clear my head. Cutting toxic, negative people out of my life (especially those that only want to talk shit about work and office politics). Staying in the field and out of the office, most days (there are no good photos to be made in there anyways). And perhaps, most importantly, knowing when to put the camera down and live life.

Why do you do what you do? What keeps you from burning out?

Melissa: I do it, because I don't know how not to do it. I am drawn to telling stories in my community that wouldn't get told otherwise. I'm sucked in by the humanity which has grabbed ahold of me and won't let go.

As far as what keeps me from burning out... See #3. Also, a good therapist and a perfect gin & tonic at the end of the day.

Melissa Lyttle is a photojournalist at the Tampa Bay Times, in St. Petersburg, Fla., specializing in documentary project, editorial and portrait photography.

Her work has been recognized by UNICEF, the Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism, POYi, NPPA's Best of Photojournalism, the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, the Southern Short Course and the Alexia Foundation.

She is an alumna of the Eddie Adams Workshop (Barnstorm XIV) and has been back for 11 of the last 13 years as a member of the faculty.

And she is the founder of the online photo community called APhotoADay, which started in 2001 with exactly two members, and has grown to over 2,500 worldwide.

Melissa is available for editorial and commercial assignments worldwide. One of her biggest passions is travel, and her passport is up-to-date and currently awaiting its 25th country stamp.