Amelia Coffaro

Amelia is a photographer born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her work is rooted in her connection with nature and the relationship between she and her two sisters who inspire pretty little things.  Amelia's most recent work, self portraits with luminaries, begins to explore her deep fascination with light emmitting creatures of both land and sea.

Before returning to her hometown of Milwaukee in February 2013 to undergo treatment for breast cancer, Amelia lived and worked in Brooklyn, New York. There, she held an internship with photographer Stephen Mallon and eventually went on to work as a Producer, collaborating with brands such as Conde Nast, Martha Stewart, Travel & Leisure, AFAR, The Food Network, Wrigley, Glamour Magazine, NYLON Magazine and ASOS among others. Amelia served on the Board of Directors for ASMP NY over the course of three years helping to produce the annual Fine Art and Commercial Portfolio Reviews.  

Click to view Amelia featured in Elle, Teen Vogue, NPR, Time Magazine's “Lightbox" and in an American Family Insurance commercial. She is also a guest lecturer at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Follow her on Instagram @ameliacoffaro.

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What inspired you to become a photographer?
I have never felt called to just one job in one place, but I have always known in my bones that I need to create. The camera has become one tool by which I can do this —  a concrete way of making discoveries and letting the "bits and pieces" of my imagination come together and live. 

I first picked up a camera about four years ago after seeing an Annie Leibovitz documentary. Shortly after seeing the film, I was in a thrift store when I recognized one of the cameras I saw Annie using: a manual Minolta from the 1980's. I had the exact amount of money for it, so I bought the camera, a new battery and a roll of film. I had absolutely NO idea how to work the camera but when I got the film back I was really surprised. It was as if I knew what I was doing. I remember feeling so excited by the possibilities of what can be revealed by moving somewhat blind through an experience. 

At the same time, it was a lifelong dream of mine to move to New York. I was twenty six and thought it was the perfect time in my life to make the move. So I ended the lease on my apartment, found a one-month sublet in Brooklyn, and signed up for a two-week class at the International Center of Photography. I thought if I gave myself a month to be in the city, I would “get it out of my system.” 

So I went to New York with $1,000 to my name and took the class. We were required to show work at the end of the two weeks, and at the end of the critique, my teacher approached me and said, “I really encourage you to stay in the city and continue making work. I will help you find an internship.” He sent me a list of personal contacts, and the next week I had an internship with a photographer named Stephen Mallon. 

I stayed in New York for almost four years. I worked as a photo assistant, producer, production assistant... all the while continuing to make personal work. I felt very supported by the people in the photo community, which always kept me interested in new and different opportunities. Photography is a world of endless possibilities and I have always felt enlivened by that.

If you could go back ten years, what advice would you give yourself?
Be unapologetically yourself. Be proud of who you are. Keep walking in the direction of that which you are seeking — the Universe will meet you.

What's your dream project?
Photographing every single bioluminescent creature on Earth! And photographing outer space.

What's been the best resource for you as you grow as an artist?
I have found that identifying the communities I want to be a part of and ways to join in (volunteering, for example) are a great place to start. Everything after that seems to unfold naturally.

Showing your work to anyone and everyone, and networking as much as possible, are so valuable. I volunteered for organizations like the American Society of Media Photographers and attended a lot of industry events when I first moved to New York, which was a wonderful opportunity to meet a lot of different people involved in the photo world: photographers, assistants, editors, art directors, art buyers. I even looked for volunteer opportunities outside of the photo world to strengthen my network. You just never know who you’re going to meet. 

For instance, during my time working with Stephen Mallon, I met a woman who knew a gallery director and showed him my work. He put me in my first group show. I didn’t have very much work at the time, but I still made a website, promo cards, business cards — anything that could direct people to my work. 

I also have a friend who works as a fashion director for a magazine. She was looking for a photographer to shoot street fashion in the Midwest, knew I had recently moved back, and hired me for the job. Again, you just never know who you’ll meet and how they might take to your work and consider you for a job. 

Follow ups are huge! Send an e-mail, a promo card… anything to show gratitude and interest for meeting a new face and reminding of them of who you are and what you do. 

I’m also pretty active on social media - I think tools like Instagram can be a really wonderful way to bring people together near and far while showing your work. There are really endless opportunities and the more you become apart of the community, the more opportunities you discover.

What's your favorite photography accessory (other than your camera)?
Wind, saltwater, sand, and sun.