In today’s illuminating interview, photographer, Mali Azima, shares the story of the long and winding road that led to her eventual career in interior photography. In the true fashion of an artist, her interests have compelled her from one creative career to the next gathering expertise along the way and finally landing her in the pages of sought-after publications. Keep reading to see some of Mali’s work and learn more about this talented woman.
Your path to a career in photography was long sought after and incredibly winding. Before stepping behind the lens, you worked in fashion and interior design. Tell us about that journey.
When I was a teenager, I had an epiphany that I would become a photographer as I took photos of my friends in my high school photography class. Back then, I had no exposure to the photography world and didn’t know much about the career paths for photographers. I thought I would be a Rolling Stone magazine photographer for all I knew.
I decided to go to University of North Texas to pursue a fine art major to be concentrated in photography, however, when I graduated it was with a fine arts degree with a concentration in fashion design. Being a fashion designer in Dallas was not easy and I didn’t want to move to NYC. After improving all I could the job became boring, so I took a job assisting a friend, and fellow artist, making jewlery. When she moved to Montana to marry a cowboy she got me hooked up with a job at Neiman Marcus advertising.
At NM I was one of the assistants to the stylist who put together the looks for the fashion shoots. The very best photographers of the time were hired for the shoots. It was a great course on the results of high-end photography. From NM I went on to an assistant job with a well-known high-end interior designer, Paul Garzotto. Paul wanted to advertise the store in local and national magazines. He hired a local commercial photographer to shoot some dishware, but when my boyfriend and I saw the pictures we thought we could do better. Since photography was so natural for me, and I just came from the world of advertising haute couture, the photos were stunning and unique and he loved them. We created ads for him for Elle Decor and PaperCity magazine. After that, his design community friends who also had gorgeous high-end boutiques and showrooms asked him who was doing his advertising. They became our clients too and the account reps at magazines recommended us to their advertising clients after seeing our ads. For our first interior shoot, PaperCity hired us to shoot a house feature, and it just happened to be Michelle Nussbaumer’s house.
I eventually moved to Atlanta and met Clint Smith on his first day as EIC of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles (later to become Veranda’s EIC) and showed him my book and thing blossomed from there. So many experiences I had in my life led up to this time and my career took off just as it was supposed to.
How would you describe your personal photography style and what influences have had the greatest impact in developing said style?
I think my style is universal. I am always attracted to anything artistic or intellectual that is appealing and has truth for everyone. Some of my favorite photos are Mario Testino’s photographs of Lady Diana. They are simple, intimate, comfortable, and beautiful to all. Films have a great impact on me. Usually, by the time they are made, so much thought has been put into making them seem seamless and real with visual scenes having a lot of expression. I am also very inspired by nature and its perfect proportions and the vibrancy of energy that can be seen and felt. I aspire to make radiant beautiful images using light and composition that feel intimate.
Do you have a mantra or mindset that has been powerful in your journey of being a business owner?
I go into every shoot like it’s new and I am creating art. I do my best work every time.
You’ve been featured in many well-known publications. What tips do you have for other creatives reading today who want to pitch their work and grow their brand visibility?
It’s difficult to know what the publications want and they are being pitched from all angles these days. A lot of designers are hiring PR agencies to get through. I think it’s important to be unique or have an angle. It seems like the projects that are carefully thought through and uniquely combined are getting picked up more.
What does the collaborative process of an interior shoot look like for you?
I ask the designer what parts of the design are important to them as they usually had a unique version of an idea or designed something to create a solution. I walk around the room taking quick shots with my camera of different angles. Then I look at the angles with the designer, and stylist if there is one. We decide which shot we like best of that space.
Often times I have an idea of the size or shape of something that is needed if the shot feels incomplete. We do multiple takes until we have everything just right, including the lighting. Everyone usually has suggestions and we are often on the same page as we are working visually at that point, it becomes a collaboration.
What sparks joy in your life beyond the lens?
I love being a mom to my amazing and thoughtful teenage son. We went to Disney World for our third time just last weekend. I am always looking at furniture and lighting these days because I moved into a mostly customized new home a year ago, and am still slowly finishing it up. I also have some very fun and funny friends who are a community of people that practice energy clearing techniques and who hang out at an energy cafe down the street from my house. We have a great time because we clear out all the negative stuff so we can just be free to enjoy and relax.
The Haven Workshop is an intimate, community-driven learning experience for interior designers who are looking to up-level their business and build a successful brand.