Spanning both a personal practice of luxuriously-saturated landscapes and an equally color-intensive commercial studio practice producing branding and advertising materials for small businesses, Mischelle Moy’s photographs are a warm invitation to another world. This world is a vibrant one, to say the least—it brims with everything from fruity-pebble-paletted gradients to light-speckled leaves to scrumptious table spreads of instant noodles, seaweed snacks, and persimmons. Attached to this abundance is an unmistakable sense of belonging—that you, too, are welcome to wander through Moy’s vistas, to take a seat at her table, and to move through the world in a more vivid way, if just for a while. An interview follows.
Mischelle Moy (she/her) is a photographer based in Brooklyn, New York, the ancestral home of the Lenape people. She holds a BFA in Photography & Video from the School of Visual Arts. Mischelle’s work has been featured by BOOOOOOOM!, Featureshoot, Fubiz, Adobe, Instagram, and Apple and commercial clients include Wing on Wo & Co, Omsom, Junzi, Cirque Colors, and Umamicart.
My work frequently plays with color, texture, and shapes. I enjoy creating brand imagery for small and local businesses in my commercial work and combining digital photography with photo-manipulation techniques to depict a vibrant and dreamy yet otherworldly version of the world in my landscape art. —Mischelle Moy
How and why did you come to photography?
I got into photography in middle school, you know with taking photos of friends and myself for Myspace. In high school, I started to learn more about the technicalities by playing with film cameras, digital studio lighting, and how to develop black and white film. This interest was cemented when I decided to pursue photography for college.
Growing up with a fine arts education, I had tried my hand in various mediums across the spectrum. But photography and cameras spoke to me because it is a medium that is still constantly changing with the times, and it is the most accessible to use in day-to-day life. I felt like the technical innovations in software, computers, bodies, and lenses would help interpret my vision well and take it to the next level.
A substantial part of your portfolio consists of lush, dreamy landscapes hyper-saturated with color. What draws you to the scenes that you photograph? What feelings are you hoping to evoke in your viewers with your aesthetic choices?
It’s so interesting and fun to talk about this process because I actually have no idea what I am going to make in post when I take the picture. These landscapes are just really quick shots taken on the road or in a very brief moment in a scenic space—thank goodness for fast shutter speeds. It’s not until I get home after the trip that I will review the photos (sometimes a few days or several months later) to pick something to edit. These choices are solely dependent on how I’m feeling in the moment of when I sit down and am ready to edit something.
Usually I just want to make a piece of work that evokes peace and serenity (although lately I have been trying to make rainbows) through shapes, forms, and unique color palettes. Other times I am playing with something a little more trippy, by creating neon elements that intervene with the space (without harming the natural site) or by stretching the color schemes. I produce these when I feel like I need somewhere to escape to, something to distract me from our realities, for a moment. This makes it a very soothing and therapeutic process for me—art therapy through layers and layers of painting digital masks.
You also produce designs for a number of small businesses and organizations; my introduction to your work was through your fabulous commercial photography for Wing on Wo & Co in NYC’s Chinatown. When working with a client, how do you walk the line between honoring a particular brand’s vision and preserving your own unique, artistic style?
I start by trying to learn as much about the brand and business as possible, like their company history and products or about their founders. Then I ask for any mood boards and brand colors to help envision the direction they want their campaign to look and feel like.
Some clients aren’t able to provide the latter because they may also not be sure but trust what I can come up with. This was actually the case with Wing on Wo and I am immensely grateful for them to share their space and inventory and letting me create what I feel represented their products.
I really appreciate the flexibility and creative freedom that my clients give me, it allows me to think outside of the box and produce something unique to my style but also lets me explore new techniques and experiment with them through the process.
How do you relate to, and what do you make of, the identifier ‘Asian American’? What influences do you think your Asian American-ness—and other facets of your identity—have on your art practice, if any?
I’m the eldest of the first American-born generation in my Chinese-American family. That is a loaded sentence already hahaha. I am so proud to be Asian American, and I feel powerful saying that every time. There is so much history and culture to be learned but also to be made.
It is so strange to have an artistic identity on the web and social media because people don’t really stop to see who or what is behind the username or posts. With my landscape artwork, it’s not immediately apparent that I’m a small Asian girl making this work because this kind of scene is predominantly carried on by white males. If anything, I feel like my Asian-American-ness fuels me to keep pushing through the industry to make my name and work known regardless of my identity. However I don’t feel like my audience there wants to know who I am but from time to time, I will remind them that if they purchase a print of my work, they are not only supporting a woman-owned small business, but Asian-owned too!
On the other hand with my commercial work, it feels much more cathartic to share because my audience there is more Asian and personal to me. It’s a different kind of safe space where I produce and share work that is actually inspired by my own upbringing and identity, and people relate to it just by looking. The influences here are definitely nostalgia-driven, specifically from growing up as a first generation Asian American who had to take ESL but also call the phone company for my mom when the DSL was down. IYKYK.
As of late, there has been a marked increase in attention dedicated toward the AAPI community and our myriad experiences. How are you thinking and feeling about this shift in awareness? Does this trend have an impact on how you view yourself and your work?
I feel like this attention, acknowledgement, and celebration of success for Asians in the media and within our respective industries has been long overdue. We’ve always been here, most still doing the same thing we’ve always been doing, but our voices are only beginning to be listened to now. We haven’t changed at all, we just got louder, to the point where we can’t be ignored.
I really hope this is not a trend, and that people have been taking the time to learn more about our culture and others. The “American” part of our identity as citizens of an immigrant country is nothing and does not exist without our ancestors and all that they have brought here to shape our lives today. I want the awareness spotlight to be shared and shone bright across the country, since the spotlight had been stolen and hogged for too long. If this is a trend, it doesn’t really impact how I view myself or my work, but more so my outward view on the world around me.
What is something that has brought you joy over the past year?
Honestly, being able to work remotely through a pandemic brought me joy. Not the working from home part but the part where the reputation I have built for myself brought me new and regular clients to fill me with distractions by way of creating fun things.
What are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to new challenges in growing my businesses. It’s gonna be really scary but mostly exciting. And I’m always looking forward to traveling, especially the spontaneous trips! We haven’t left the state in over a year and my camera has wanderlust too.
Instagram: @lilmisch, @studiomisch
Apple – Shot and Edited on iPhone campaign (August 2020-present) *There isn’t an official link/article on this because they don’t allow it but I’ve accumulated documentation on my website!
“From Chinatown, With Love” (LNY 2021 Calendar Project) made with support by Welcome to Chinatown, Abrons Arts Center, The W.O.W. Project, and the Met
Lightbox – In Conversation with Mischelle Moy (April 2020)
Adobe – Creative Layover: New York (August 2019)
Fubiz – Mischelle Moy’s Colorful Pictures of Hawaii (January 2019)
BOOOOOOOM! – Photographer Spotlight: Mischelle Moy (October 2018)
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