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Episode #135

The Making of a Self-Published Conservation Magazine with Melissa Schäfer

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UPDATED: June 5, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON March 14, 2023

 

A stunning new publication has entered the world. Mother is a passion project by photographer Melissa Schäfer, and it is a journey full of firsts. This is a must-listen If you have a passion project you want to pursue but feel scared about its unknowns.

 

When volume 1 of Mother arrived in my post office box, I couldn't open the envelope quickly enough. In my hands was a work of art, love, camaraderie and conservation.

Bringing together visually captivating stories of connection with Mother Nature, this dreamy new magazine features the work of 15 photographers from around the world and underscores how conservation photography is not a style. It is a statement.

But you know what I love most about this new magazine? The fact that its creator, Melissa Schäfer, had NEVER made a magazine before.

This is a project full of firsts. It is a project made of figure-it-outs, and hope-it-works.

Melissa hadn't worked in In-Design before, or curated stories, or coordinated creatives. She hadn't ever made something like this… but she knew she wanted it to exist. And that's really all that mattered.

In this interview, Melissa talks about how she pulled it all off.

Her experience is sure to deeply inspire you if you have a passion project you want to pursue but feel scared about it.

 

Resources Mentioned

Episode 135: The Making of a Self-Published Conservation Magazine with Melissa Schäfer

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/135

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
[00:00:00] Jaymi: Welcome to this episode of Impact, the Conservation Photography Podcast. And this is gonna be such a good episode because sitting in front of me right now is this gorgeous publication. It's called Mother. This is Volume one of Mother and. Also sitting in front of me right now is the creator of this gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous brand new photography magazine, Melissa Schaffer.

[00:00:27] Jaymi: Melissa, thank you so much for what you've created and for sitting down with us today to talk all about it.

[00:00:35] Melissa: Oh, thank you so much. I'm so excited and I'm so happy to be here today with you.

[00:00:39] Jaymi: Yay. Awesome. So before we dive into this amazing thing that you've created for conservation, photography, and just, I mean, photography as an art form in general, for anyone who doesn't know you, Melissa, who are you in the world?

[00:00:56] Melissa: Who am I in the world? So I, I'm a [00:01:00] photographer and my main focus is on the Arctic. So normally I just work, uh, on small board and I try to document the life of the. A polar bear and make that I, I try to bring people to the Arctic with the storytelling and photography with, together with my partner Fred Grana, and that's what I'm doing.

[00:01:23] Melissa: And now I created this new project. What kind of is, this has the same purpose, but it goes a little bit more into a different other, direct into other directions, but yeah.

[00:01:35] Jaymi: Wonderful. Well, so for, uh, because we're on a audio format, folks can't necessarily see what I'm staring at, but the cover of this magazine is a diver like, Rising up toward sunbeams that are bursting through this dark, ethereal, underwater space, and she's [00:02:00] surrounded by a swirl of silvery fish. And it is just this like, Glorious image that reminds me of something both kind of celestial, but also what anyone who loves spending time in nature like that is a moment that they would love to experience in life.

[00:02:20] Jaymi: I'm curious because I feel like that image, the cover image that you chose, sort. Embodies the entire vibe of Mother and that it is this like larger than life thing that you wanna bring to people, but also something that feels comforting to those of us who love nature and photography and art and celebrating the planet.

[00:02:46] Jaymi: So I'm curious. To find out, am I anywhere on the mark? What, what is mother and what is that vibe that you wanna set with this brand new publication you've created?

[00:02:58] Melissa: well, you described it pretty well, I [00:03:00] would say. Um. Agree. The photo is from Rita k Luga. She's one of the contributors from Mother Magazine and has also an article in there. And Mother is about Mother Nature. So I want to tell the story of Mother Nature in different ways. It came out of many different like moments because I feel like that mother.

[00:03:23] Melissa: Nature needs us to tell our stories in, in a very diverse way. So it's not just, you know, not just scientists who talk about the polar bears or the Arctic. I think we all should talk about what we see, and I feel like many of us don't really dare to share their experience in nature and, uh, think maybe that they don't know enough.

[00:03:44] Melissa: Because I was one of those I always thought, I haven't studied, I haven't learned photography, I haven't studied anything in, in. About the arctic, the polar bear. It was just the love for the polar bear I had, and I always thought that wasn't enough to, [00:04:00] to speak, to be heard, you know, I always thought that's, and I learned that many of my friends have the same thoughts.

[00:04:07] Melissa: And also then I thought probably different people too. Um, so it was a mix out of so many different things when I created Mother and what was so important to me and. , like the, on the cover there stands, there will be nothing left, but stories. And first, that was actually, uh, a post I did connected to the arctic, to the sea ice.

[00:04:33] Melissa: Um, but then I, I got so many different reactions to it in a very negative way, in the way of, you know, to climate change, uh, that base. What, what was my purpose also with that post, with that photo, but also, , you know, positive things like we are stories like, when I die, what's left is my story. It's what I share and you know, what's remembered of me or, so it's also a beautiful part.

[00:04:59] Melissa: And then I [00:05:00] thought that is the perfect cover sentence because it makes people think, I got people to go in so many different directions with that sentence and that photo on the cover is just, you know, it's, it's describing it's Mother Earth, it's a woman. In nature with nature connected to it, and that is what I want, that people connect to nature through storytelling, beautiful images and emotions.

[00:05:31] Jaymi: Wonderful. Oh man. I think that probably every listener will resonate with the idea of. I, I feel like there is something that I see or that I care about that is really, really important. But because I don't have a level of expertise or a certain level of training or a certain level of whatever it may be, I am not. An authority to be able to speak on that, or no one's gonna listen to me, [00:06:00] or I am, you know, that imposter syndrome comes up. So knowing that that's sort of where you were when you created this, is incredibly inspiring because you took that sense and you said, oh, well we all experienced that. So instead of hiding behind that, I'm gonna go ahead and boldly create something.

[00:06:21] Jaymi: That is outstanding and inspiring and basically turn that thought on or use that thought, I guess, as fuel to move forward with stories and now we get to experience this beautiful, beautiful publication. Tell me a little bit about, The work that went into creating this, because this is no small thing. So it's one thing to create stories of your own with your own photography and it's another thing to source and coordinate visual stories from so many other photographers.

[00:06:51] Jaymi: So how did you decide who to reach out to to include in volume one? How did you decide the stories that would go into it? I have so many [00:07:00] questions. I'm just gonna leave it at that for now.

[00:07:03] Melissa: Um, it was actually kind of, most of the, or many of the women I follow on Instagram, and I found with many of them that they don't get the attention they should. Um, you know, I see that I don't have the followers. They don't get people to like their post, and I'm just blown away by their work and I don't understand why they don.

[00:07:29] Melissa: you know, why they're not seen. Um, and then I, it was like, it was for a long time also when I talked to my friends and I felt like that always we, I don't know if it's a women thing or a photographer thing in general, but we always admire other people's photos and, you know, think like, that's so amazing.

[00:07:47] Melissa: But we don't think that about ourselves. Like, I always think everyone is better than me. Why do I, you know, and when I talk to my friends, they're like, your photos are so amazing, but mine not. And I'm like, what? Your photos are so amazing. I thought to [00:08:00] build a platform where we can just feel all safe, you know, where we can support each other, where we feel safe, where we can share our stories in different ways.

[00:08:09] Melissa: And when I had the idea of create, because I, me and Fred, we do books about the Arctic, and. Books takes a long time, you know, to create a book about VRBO takes our book. What we did took like three years. So it's nothing like you don't do that in a few months. Um, and I wanted to have an outlet because I actually got tired of Instagram.

[00:08:30] Melissa: I got tired of posting. an image. What I, you know, it took me months or weeks of work and I love it. And Instagram just eats it.

[00:08:41] Jaymi: Mm-hmm.

[00:08:41] Melissa: especially if it's like a landscape or like a little bear and a big landscape, um, or something. It's just not, it doesn't go well. And then I feel sad about it and I don't feel that, you know, I wanted to have a d.

[00:08:53] Melissa: outlet for photography. And I love printed, uh, pictures and stories because I think you take [00:09:00] more time for it. You take it in, you read it, you don't just scroll it away in a second. Um, so I thought, why not? You know, ask them amazing women if they wanna be part of it. And actually I didn't thought they would.

[00:09:15] Melissa: Um, I wrote the email. I sent the email and I thought they would never answer me because who would give me photos for. Who would work on a text for free for a project. I couldn't really describe at that point. It was more like, you know, we're all photographers, , that's great. Something great. Um, with storytelling.

[00:09:34] Melissa: And I just thought they wouldn't answer. And I think that's why I sent it because I was kind of sure they wouldn't answer. But then I tried, uh, I think it took a minute and all of them answered. So all of them were. , that sounds amazing. Tell me what you need. And then I was kind of like on the spot, because I never used InDesign before.

[00:09:53] Melissa: I never recruit, I never worked with people before in that way. So it was just me and Frederick before. So it's [00:10:00] like we're in the same house. We can like, we don't have to make meeting things or anything, you know? We just talk to each other and it's, we live together. We work together. So it was completely new for me.

[00:10:11] Melissa: Give deadlines, talk about topics, like find out what, how to, how to create a page, how to, to how to do a design. So yeah, it was, um, . It was a little chaotic and it was a lot of ups and downs, but it was so much fun and because everyone was so excited also, I think that made it so much.

[00:10:33] Jaymi: And so this isn't a one-off thing. You've created a publication that you plan to have volume after volume after volume. Is that correct?

[00:10:42] Melissa: Yes.

[00:10:44] Jaymi: there's that hesitation of like, well, this also has to fit into life. So

[00:10:50] Melissa: No, cause it wasn't really a plan. It was like, I mean, honestly until, until it was printed, I thought it would not happen. I thought it would be, [00:11:00] you know, often that I have some project in my mind. I start doing it, something bad happens and I drop it. That's pretty often with me. So I thought, you know, that's pretty big what I'm planning here, so what are the chances?

[00:11:13] Melissa: But. I got so like through the time I felt like how important it was. Also, in the beginning it was more like this little idea and then through the time, through the months creating it and also talking to the people and seeing their response that it just grew bigger and bigger. And then I talked to Christina Mik and she wrote The Forward and you know, it just like groove on my head.

[00:11:35] Melissa: It felt like . So I kind of felt like I have a responsibility now to actually do my best and not just see it as a. You know, what, how it started in idea. Um, but it was, it really nothing made me so happy that creating this magazine, and I'm so proud of everyone. I'm so happy of all the women in it and that they did it with me.

[00:11:58] Melissa: And I, I [00:12:00] honestly can't wait to continue because it was really fun and it's really fun for me to learn because. , now I can kind of pick what I wanna learn about. So I wanna learn about the elephants. And then I find someone who tells me about the elephants . So it's like a learning for me also to to see the world in a different way.

[00:12:20] Jaymi: I love that. So that was one of the experiences I had when I was a writer for a website, is I could pick anything that I wanted really. And so it was, what do I feel like learning about today? And go and create an article about that. So tell us about what's Inside Mother in Inside Volume One. Um, what stories can a reader expect to.

[00:12:42] Melissa: Well, basically everything from pole to pole. I mean, I try to make it. Quite diverse in the, in the topics, but it actually started as a very Nordic focused project. Um, and then through time it changed too, a little [00:13:00] more around the world, like global. Um, but you have everything there from storytelling, from creative writing, from poems.

[00:13:12] Melissa: So I wanted that people really. Talk how they like, how they see places. You know, if people like to write poems about it, I want that poem in there. If they get creative about it or if they, we had also some photographers, they didn't really feel like writing. And that was something I learned too because I, I believed in the beginning that all photographers write.

[00:13:34] Melissa: I don't know why I thought that. , I believe that all photographers are the right, so when, when I heard that you. , I need writers. And does that make sense? My, my, my boyfriend said then that there's a reason why magazines have, um, writers and photographers Uh, but then, you know, I learned also, I wrote a few of those texts and it was really fun.

[00:13:57] Melissa: So it's like, and then I got more like creative writing [00:14:00] of course, because I wasn't in the moment, so I tried to, Sometimes switch the perspective to write from the animal, to write from the view of the leopard seal or of the lion. So I could get a little creative there. And then also take my photographer in again with her experience, um, in like a second part of the article to make it a little more creative.

[00:14:21] Melissa: So it was, it's a lot of stories about nature, about the connection to nature. It's animals, it's portraits, it's um, Yeah. It's Mother Nature.

[00:14:33] Jaymi: Nice. Yeah. When I picked this up from the post office, I opened up the envelope and uh, I was blown away by it, but then I showed it to my partner and he's like, You know, he's not a photographer and he appreciates a nice image, but he's not gonna gush over something unless it really strikes him. And I showed it to him and he was like, whoa.

[00:14:56] Jaymi: And then he opened up the pages and was like, whoa. [00:15:00] And literally the, the like verbatim, just a whole bunch of woes. And that really feels like the experience of opening this up because you've created something that the stories in them. Beautiful. But the photography and the layout is beautiful. And there's also, I think what's really interesting is even though. What's featured in here is quite diverse. Like there's everything that feels like, um, a fashion photography shoot to a wildlife photojournalism shoot. Even though there's an incredible amount of photographic diversity in there, there's a cohesion to everything. It f everything in the magazine feels like it naturally belongs there.

[00:15:45] Jaymi: And I'm wondering what that was like in the photo editing part of this process, that image curation and choosing what went in. ordering it in a way that made sense, that there's a flow that takes people, there's nothing disjointed [00:16:00] about it. Like you just threw something in there because it felt like, oh yeah, well this person said yes, so I gotta throw that in there.

[00:16:05] Jaymi: Even though they don't fit, everything feels like it fits and flows. What was that side of it like as a photographer who's doing this for the first time? What was the photo editing process like?

[00:16:16] Melissa: it actually kind of fell into place. I, I cannot really, because I picked, I think I had 14, 14 photographers, and then two in the end I had to change. Uh, so I, I flipped that, but it was really like, it just fell into place. I was surprised myself. I, I went, sometimes I switched the articles, like what comes to the front, what comes to the back, and some were still empty.

[00:16:42] Melissa: It was just like place all the text. Um, and then, you know, sometimes I asked the photographer if they, for example, they want to show elephants, but then I said, I have elephants already, so what else can we have? And often I went through the Instagram and I just was like, that's cool. I wanna know that. And [00:17:00] sometimes she's like, there's not that big story behind it.

[00:17:02] Melissa: I'm like, okay, that story, I want that story . So I was really like looking all this through their work and picking like what story I would like to read. You know, what, what do I want to hear? And then I was surprised myself in the end how great this mix worse and how really you turn the page and you don't feel like, oh, that again, or , um, it's like repeating or something.

[00:17:26] Melissa: I don't know. I guess I just had the amazing people there. It just like, it fell into perfect place.

[00:17:32] Jaymi: That's great to hear though. I feel like an answer like that stems from the experience of like, it's just such a passion project that you're not even agonizing over what it is that you have to do or new skills, cuz it's, you mentioned like, oh, I'd never used InDesign before, so I have to learn how to do that.

[00:17:49] Jaymi: Or, I've never done this or that before and so I need to learn how to do that. But when it's such a passion project. Even though it's hard, it doesn't feel, I guess, as [00:18:00] emotionally difficult as it might when you're tasked with something where you're like, oh my God, I gotta do this and I have no idea how and I really don't want to, and oh, it's gonna be agonizing. So I love that your experience of photo editing was like, whoa.

[00:18:11] Jaymi: It was just, it was natural. It was, didn't even feel hard cuz it was so much fun.

[00:18:15] Melissa: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. No, it was great. It was, there was one moment I remember I had a photo I really wanted to have in. And I had it in the layout for, for like months. She was like one of the first photographers I worked with on it. And then when I got towards the end and I needed the high resolution images to really make the, you know, the design and everything ready for print, then we realized that the photo doesn't work.

[00:18:42] Melissa: And then I panicked a little. Then I was like, no, that was the photo. But we found, we found, As amazing photo for it. So even better actually in the end. But, um, it was really fun. I had, I had moments where I thought I wouldn't, I think the biggest problem for me was to set deadlines. [00:19:00] For other people to tell people I need it now, or whatever.

[00:19:04] Melissa: I don't know, , because I'm always like, yeah, you, you have time. Like just, you know, whenever you can because I'm really, like, normally I'm the person who sits in the corner and doesn't say much. I'm, I'm not a person who stands up and. Presents herself. Um, so I'm always like, yeah, yeah. Um, just, you know, when you have time, just send me a little something.

[00:19:24] Melissa: And that really put me on the spot sometimes because then I really got stressed out that I, I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to, um, you know, communicate in the right way. But it worked out. So

[00:19:37] Jaymi: Well, speaking of deadlines, and you know, like really needing to step outside of a comfort zone in some ways is okay, you have the creation of this, but then you have. Print deadlines and distribution deadlines because you're hyping this whole thing up on social media. The second that I saw that this was available and every, all the photographers started promoting it, I was like, I have to have that.

[00:19:58] Jaymi: And I immediately went and [00:20:00] ordered it. Um, and, and then so you're getting all these orders in, you're promoting, you're trying to make sure that you're hitting those deadlines, and then there's a distribution deadline. And so what was it like actually getting. Into the physically, into the world, and into people's hands.

[00:20:15] Jaymi: And I will also mention, not only is this a gorgeous physical copy, but you created a really cool virtual version of the magazine as well. Like complete with the sound of flipping pages as you

[00:20:27] Melissa: That's what I love too.

[00:20:29] Jaymi: yeah. So what was that whole distribution process like?

[00:20:35] Melissa: actually, that was horrible.

[00:20:37] Jaymi: Aha. So there is a horrible part of a project

[00:20:41] Melissa: It was horrible for my mind because I'm very controlling and that I was very afraid. To tell people there is something you can have. And then I was afraid, you know, I'm often afraid that the world goes under, like something will happen, the printer will break down. One photographer will say, I changed my mind.

[00:20:58] Melissa: I don't wanna be part of it anymore. I have to take [00:21:00] it out. You know, there was so many things that could happen in my mind. So it was actually my partner who said, it's time for you. Now to push it on social media, you have to, you have to post about it. You have to tell people. before it's actually printed at your home so people can, you know, be excited and you can like tell them about it before they actually can order it.

[00:21:21] Melissa: And I was so scared because I thought, what if they don't? I mean, to the end I was like, what if the print gets bad? What, what if they don't like it? What if people don't like it? Because I realized at that point that I was the only one staring at those, those photos and those texts the whole time because I felt like I work with every photographer.

[00:21:41] Melissa: um, together, I kind of felt like they all saw it. They all saw the, the whole magazine. And then at one point I realized they don't, they, they didn't saw it. It's just like me and one photographer and me and the other photographer. Um, so I really got scared for what did I, did I misspell a name? That was like my biggest [00:22:00] fear, like, what if I misspelled the name

[00:22:02] Jaymi: Uh huh.

[00:22:02] Melissa: Because I didn't have like a big, I, I, you know, I did that alone, so I didn't have someone to. Like a company to, to check everything or something to read it over. So that was really scary and it was really exciting, but I was really scared. Also, when the magazine came, I was surprised how beautiful it is

[00:22:22] Jaymi: It's so beautiful,

[00:22:24] Melissa: the pagers and the ink, like the whole house smelled like ink.

[00:22:28] Melissa: It was like, oh my God. It's amazing. Um, and it was so exciting to send it out, but I, I think the first week I was just sitting here biting my nails because I was afraid people will be like, oh, that's great that it was for free, but it's really not that nice. Or that they didn't like it because I, you know, I'm very insecure about myself and I was so into this project with the photographers that I didn't even thought of something bad.

[00:22:55] Melissa: I was like, this is great. You're great. You're amazing. But then I, in the end, I just got scared that I did [00:23:00] something wrong. Did I? You know, had the right text edit in the print. Now is the photo the right size? You know, then a lot of things came up, but it was amazing

[00:23:12] Jaymi: I, I absolutely empathize with the nerves of actually like, okay, this is something that I've created and I can be excited about, but now it's real. Now other people are gonna see it. Now it's an actual thing out in the world. People are gonna judge it. People are gonna actually tell me what they think about it, and , what is that gonna look like?

[00:23:33] Jaymi: What has been the reception?

[00:23:36] Melissa: Oh, it's been amazing. Beyond amazing. I, I, I, I don't think I really understand yet, . Um, but I think everyone, I got so many amazing messages and so also uplifting because many people know me that I'm very insecure often, and, um, Very proud parents now, and [00:24:00] I'm also very proud because I also had a lot of moments in the beginning when I started the magazine.

[00:24:05] Melissa: A lot of people kind of said, you know, saw it as like a little hobby thing or like, no, you're not gonna do it anyway. Or Are you sure this is good enough? And. If I would be alone, if I would not have these 14 amazing women behind me, I probably would've dropped it. I probably would've believed that my idea isn't good enough.

[00:24:25] Melissa: But I had these 14 women and they all were excited and they're all, I think, are such amazing photographers and women. So I was just like, I don't care what you think we are gonna do this . Um, yeah, it was. Really a learning curve for me. Also, the whole magazine, it put me into different situations, but it was, I felt so supported by all of them, and I hope they did too, because it was really fun.

[00:24:50] Melissa: Yeah.

[00:24:51] Jaymi: Well, you mentioned in the beginning of the interview that you noticed that there's so many photographers, particularly female photographers on social media that [00:25:00] just aren't getting the attention that you feel their caliber of work deserves. And here you've created a platform for that. Do you, have you noticed.

[00:25:09] Jaymi: Any sort of response for their work, their Instagram account growing, or even a sense of feeling like new eyes are on their work as is deserved.

[00:25:21] Melissa: I am not sure if the, I mean, I think so. I think that they, because now we have also 14 different accounts. Going together. So, you know, we became one in one project. So if I post about Rita, the who did the cover shoot, um, the fol, the people who follow me. Go on her profile. So I'm not sure if they actually experienced much more, but in the end, actually, it also grew away from the Instagram attention for me because I wanted, I wanted them to feel seen.

[00:25:51] Melissa: And I think they are hap, I, I think they, for them that changed. I think the mag, the magazine for them also, um, [00:26:00] lifted them up at least I hope so. I know from some of them that's. They also cannot believe they're in there. And then I cannot believe that they're in there. So, you know, we are just like lifting each other up.

[00:26:09] Melissa: So , it's really fun. Um, and it, it actually went away a little from the online presence because I feel like we in ourselves have to, you know, be proud and be happy about our work. It's not about what, what, you know, your followers or your comments say on I.

[00:26:30] Jaymi: right. One of the things I love about this publication is it is a conservation. Publication, it is about connecting people to nature and building a, a fresh appreciation and a, and a deep appreciation through different stories. And inside of this is all kinds of different photography. And I think that it really underscores the fact that conservation photography doesn't look a certain way.

[00:26:55] Jaymi: And I think that that is a huge misconception out there that conservation photography is always [00:27:00] about animals and wildlife. It's always about nature. It's. Photojournalistic. Um, but conservation photography is about what you do with the photos you create to build awareness and understanding and interaction to have a positive impact for nature and for the environment.

[00:27:17] Jaymi: And there are images in here of. Women in beautiful dresses out in the snow and like, like I said, there's like fashion and portraiture and things that are really unexpected. Can you tell me a little bit more about your thought process in creating a conservation magazine that maybe isn't gonna look like?

[00:27:39] Jaymi: People expect a nature conservation magazine to look.

[00:27:45] Melissa: Well, honestly, at that point when I was sitting and creating it, I haven't, like I said, I didn't really think of people looking at it because I believed more, you know, I, I wasn't sure it's actually coming out. So I did more what I feel like was [00:28:00] right, and I had a few photographers and they felt like, They don't fit in because, because exactly that.

[00:28:08] Melissa: Because they said, I don't do well, love photography. I, that's not, why do you ask me? But for me, when I look at their photos, then I see that connection they have. And when I read their text, when I talk to them, you know, what energy they get from nature and how they put it into photography, what's not the obvious wildlife photography.

[00:28:26] Melissa: And that's what I think is missing often. So I thought you're perfect for it. And also when you don't talk about. Animals. But you talk about, you know, humans, you talk about us and our connections because we are nature and that's the main point of the whole thing. That's what we all forget. So it's per you, you're perfect in it.

[00:28:45] Melissa: You're almost better than an elephant because that's the, you know, the elephant is the obvious connection to nature. But I want the, the wild mix of it. Um, . I hope that they also know now that [00:29:00] they really, you know, belong in the magazine for me and for me, just these little twists made it like this special magazine, this thing where you turn the page and you're surprised.

[00:29:13] Melissa: You're like, oh, what is that doing here, . And then you learn about it. Um, you know, why does that fit in that magazine? And I think that's, it's beautiful and important.

[00:29:25] Jaymi: Absolutely. I wanna pivot a little bit and talk more about specifically your photography and your conservation work. You mentioned earlier when you introduced yourself about the focus that you have on polar bears and you work primarily Inbar. Tell us a little bit more about you and your photography career.

[00:29:45] Melissa: Well, career , I always feel, I think it took like two years, I think. for a long time, I didn't even call myself a photographer because I thought, you know, I just, it's a hobby, but I'm a photographer, . [00:30:00] Um, what all started. Maybe that's also the magazine. It comes in there too actually, because it started not with nature photography.

[00:30:07] Melissa: It started for me with self-portraits. Um, I come from Germany and back there, I mean, in Hamburg and there was not exactly much nature around. Um, so I was really disconnected. I was really, really disconnected from nature and I think that's why I feel it's so important. And since I was a little girl, I loved polar.

[00:30:29] Melissa: more the cute idea of a polar bear, not the actual, you know, dangerous animal, but I always loved polar bears. And I had like, you know, 20 stuffed animals and for a long time and I was the cute girl, the polar bear girl. And then when I was like 17, I was, the little weirdo was still loving polar bears. Um, , but it always felt like a different universe.

[00:30:53] Melissa: It always felt like, you know, I will, I, I remember I was sitting on the balcony at home and I thought, I will never see the [00:31:00] world because I'm not good enough. I will never get out there. I will just see this city and I don't know what to do here, because I felt like I was not fitting there. I felt. , you know, I don't know what to do there.

[00:31:13] Melissa: I don't know how. And I always did photography and at one point I started to do self-portraits and it was more like, uh, like, uh, self therapy. I could say or like, uh, like a scream or like a scream for help. So I just wanted to break out, um, and. . I had a very bad time also at that time, so photography was kind of my safe place.

[00:31:39] Melissa: Um, when I was really feeling bad, I closed my door and I did photos, and at that time I just had my own face and me, so it was self-portraits, it was a lot of makeup and a lot of, I always liked makeup and, you know, changing myself into something else. It was someone else and lots of colors and stuff. Um, and then when I met Frederick, [00:32:00] He was just like, I mean, long story short, but he was like, do you wanna come with me?

[00:32:05] Melissa: I need a photographer to scoreboard. And, you know, I couldn't believe my, I was like, what? , like, you mean like actually, because he, you know, he worked with Paula Bears for over 20 years already. So he had this amazing photos of bears. What was not this bird angle, it was just like eye contact. And I was, how do you do that?

[00:32:24] Melissa: Because I only saw. , these boat shoots before, and he just had these personal photos and we talked, I think we talked for 10 minutes about polar bears, and then we just, you know, talked about life. We talked about us and for like six months, and then I moved to Sweden. , I left everything in Germany. Um, that was really not me because at that point I didn't speak English.

[00:32:49] Melissa: I, I was, you know, afraid of everything. Afraid of taking the train alone. But I just, it just felt right. And then I started to work in the Arctic [00:33:00] and I started to, you know, explore nature and, and, but I also had had to connect to it because the first time I came to Sweden, and we, we went to the forest in the evening and it was pitch black.

[00:33:15] Melissa: I really got so scared because I was not used to, you know, being alone in, in, in a forest . Um, and now that's seven years ago. And now we work together on small board and we document the life of the polar bear. And I cannot, it feels a little like a dream still. So it's, it's, uh, crazy. We tell the story of the Arctic and we try to get people who were asked, disconnected as I was close to small boat because I, you know, I thought it was a different planet and then it was three hours away with the flight.

[00:33:52] Melissa: I learned a lot in the last years, and I want to share that with everyone.

[00:33:57] Jaymi: That's. Journey. I feel [00:34:00] like that's a really unique journey into conservation photography. So often we hear origin stories kind of like mine. Oh, I've always been connected to nature, always loved it, grew up in it. And so now I'm a photographer. And you're like, no, , uh, had no idea about a connection with nature until, you know, I've kind of felt that pole.

[00:34:19] Jaymi: But then here you are someone who, along with your partner, helps to connect other people. to nature in a really deep and profound way.

[00:34:29] Melissa: Yeah.

[00:34:30] Jaymi: So, okay. I have a weird question for you. , you are really connected to polar bears and you now are really connected to a place like Svalbard and to the Arctic. And so now you've found your home inside of photography and, and what really draws you in.

[00:34:48] Jaymi: And you also kind of picked something that is at the edge of disappearing. So does that feel like a tough balance?

[00:34:56] Melissa: Well, it has, yeah, that's the dark side of it. [00:35:00] Um, I didn't really pick it, and honestly, I haven't. I learn about it every day still, and it's, it is heartbreaking when you're up there and you see it and when you think about it and it's really scary what's happening in the Arctic. Um, so that's like the not so fun part of my job, but even more important to document it and to try to get people to.

[00:35:25] Melissa: and open their eyes. Um, I mean, everything I think has the good and their bad sides, but, um, for me, this is a big dream. But that also came with responsibility. So I try to do that the way I can, uh, with my photography and storytelling and also with my. Emotions to the polar bear because I feel like I'm very childish in that way.

[00:35:51] Melissa: Often I give them names. Um, you know, I, I really like emotionally connect for me. It's not just a bear for me, it's Helen, it's Optus, you know, [00:36:00] it's like I even named the reindeers. Like I, the first time I saw a reindeer, I freaked out. I thought Sand, k Claus around the corner, I'm like, I was, I'm getting so excited about so small things very often.

[00:36:13] Melissa: and I feel like first I felt like that was really out of place because everyone is so serious also, especially with that topic about climate change and what's happening, and you shouldn't make, you know, cute little fun stories. But like over the time I learned that, you know, these stories connect because everyone knows Helen.

[00:36:31] Melissa: When I say Helen, when I talk about Paula Baha to people who know, they know who Helen is and you know, they, if I just say it was the bear, , um, then they're like, ah-ha, okay, there's a polar bear and the ice is melting. So I think even when some people say you shouldn't, like humanize or personalize animals, it really helps me to connect to people to do that.

[00:36:52] Melissa: And it's, you know, it's just, I feel like I connect to them and if I connect to someone and then I, I [00:37:00] give them a name. , it's kind of my, my thing. . Um, I think also that Frederick and me are very good like, like ying and yang because he's very professional. He's very, when we have lectures, he does, he does that part.

[00:37:14] Melissa: He talks about the cl, the climate. He talks about what's happening. He also has many more years of experience. So he sees how the ice is changing the last 20 years, you know, and I more go in with a personal angle and I feel that's a very good, we're a very good team there.

[00:37:32] Jaymi: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's so much to really personalizing. Uh, a connection with a particular animal, a particular tree, a particular, you know, location and, and bringing some personality to that. I mean, research has shown how we connect so much more deeply to very specific stories about individuals versus more general stories about a group of something or, or a species as a whole.

[00:37:57] Jaymi: So the idea of really [00:38:00] personalizing. That, and I, I kind of wanna apologize for cracking up with my question because I think with conservation photography it is such a challenge because we are constantly balancing joy and love and passion with what we find, with like utter heartbreak with what is happening to that and. I think that there's like an irony to the, the work that we do sometimes when we like find something, uh, a species that we're really connected to, and then it happens to be a species that is in peril and like dire peril too. And so you're really going to battle for something that you care really deeply about.

[00:38:43] Melissa: They're just different ways of telling a story and we just pick the positive way. I mean, there you could also see you, I could also focus on the. Uh, ice melting and the polar bears dying. But I don't think that that is the way of reaching reach people because when I see something [00:39:00] that scares me or when I see, you know, some, when I see the rainforest burn, The, the reaction we as humans have as we look away, because we feel helpless.

[00:39:09] Melissa: We don't know what to do that's on the other side of the planet. What should I do when I see this polar bear, you know, swimming for days and then drowning. So I think it's much, it's more important to see the other side of it, but of course, talk about both sides, because I think when you feel. the love for something, then you wanna do something.

[00:39:28] Melissa: If you just see it burning, you feel like you know it's burning already, what should I do? And you turn away. And not because you don't care, but because we feel helpless. So I think that's more, more the focus behind it. But of course there are both sides also in us, and it's not always fun to to work. It's not always fun to document if you.

[00:39:49] Melissa: A mother and you know, the cup dying or something. It's not fun. You don't want to see that. But I mean, that's nature also. So, and it's important to share as well, but we [00:40:00] really focus on the, on the love and on the beautiful moments.

[00:40:04] Jaymi: What is it like for your tour clients to experience the Arctic environment, to experience proximity to polar bears, maybe for the first time, and to build that connection? What do you see in your clients who go with you on the tours?

[00:40:23] Melissa: It is actually, it was a long time for me, a very difficult question because I felt like the boat is so. has such a negative impact on the climate and, you know, do we actually do good here or is it more harm for nature? But if you actually see people coming from the trips and they start telling their stories, they start doing galleries, they start doing books, they, they start doing, sharing images with our family and stories and.

[00:40:53] Melissa: It is really inspiring what people do after seeing a polar bear. And you also see that this connection, [00:41:00] how, how they connect. Like I remember last year we were on a ship and we saw the A mother bear with two two little bears and. . I just looked at one of the guests and she, she took photos the whole time.

[00:41:16] Melissa: She turned to me and just tears were going down her face and she was just smiling. And, you know, that made me cry because she was filled with that love and she, I'm not gonna talk so much about it, but she that inspired her also to change her lifestyle completely. She quit her job. She does know what she feels like, you know, is good for her and for the environment.

[00:41:42] Melissa: I think it does a lot to people if, if they come for the right reasons. So if people come to the Arctic to really connect, uh, you come home as an ambassador in wh which way that is. It's the same with a magazine. You don't have to become a wildlife photographer, but you know, if it's just talking [00:42:00] about it, if it's writing about it, if it's just in you and you change the little things in your life, um, I think that's really big.

[00:42:07] Melissa: So

[00:42:09] Jaymi: That's so inspiring to hear. So for anyone who's listening who wants to experience polar bears with you and Frederick, or who's like, okay, you've talked about this gorgeous magazine, how do I get my hands on it? Where can people find out more about you and everything that you're doing as a photographer?

[00:42:30] Melissa: Well, basically all of that you can find on our website, the mother bear.com, um, that you can find the magazine. You can also find the online magazine and also if you want the printed magazine. What is not so many left, I have to say So 75% are gone, um, of the magazines, um, but there's still some magazines there.

[00:42:55] Melissa: And you also find out boat trips there. Um, the ones for the next year. [00:43:00] and the year after. And also previous boat trips where you can read about what we do and what we have seen and see some images from it. And you can learn about us as well and our little boss dogs

[00:43:14] Jaymi: Wonderful. Thank you so, so much for sharing your experience with us in Creating Mother, and thank you for creating Mother and this incredible publication. I'm already so excited for the next volume, whenever it may appear, whenever that comes out into the world, but I, I definitely trust that it will at some point.

[00:43:37] Jaymi: It's a really exceptional thing that you've created. Thank you for all the time and energy and love that you've put into it.

[00:43:45] Melissa: Thank you so much. That means really the world to me.

[00:43:49] Jaymi: Uh, so for everyone listening, if you want to go and find out more, the links will be in the show notes. So wherever you're listening to this episode, just scroll down, find the show notes, you'll get the links, [00:44:00] and thank you so much. We'll talk to you again next week.

[00:00:00] Jaymi: Welcome to this episode of Impact, the Conservation Photography Podcast. And this is gonna be such a good episode because sitting in front of me right now is this gorgeous publication. It's called Mother. This is Volume one of Mother and. Also sitting in front of me right now is the creator of this gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous brand new photography magazine, Melissa Schaffer.

[00:00:27] Jaymi: Melissa, thank you so much for what you've created and for sitting down with us today to talk all about it.

[00:00:35] Melissa: Oh, thank you so much. I'm so excited and I'm so happy to be here today with you.

[00:00:39] Jaymi: Yay. Awesome. So before we dive into this amazing thing that you've created for conservation, photography, and just, I mean, photography as an art form in general, for anyone who doesn't know you, Melissa, who are you in the world?

[00:00:56] Melissa: Who am I in the world? So I, I'm a [00:01:00] photographer and my main focus is on the Arctic. So normally I just work, uh, on small board and I try to document the life of the. A polar bear and make that I, I try to bring people to the Arctic with the storytelling and photography with, together with my partner Fred Grana, and that's what I'm doing.

[00:01:23] Melissa: And now I created this new project. What kind of is, this has the same purpose, but it goes a little bit more into a different other, direct into other directions, but yeah.

[00:01:35] Jaymi: Wonderful. Well, so for, uh, because we're on a audio format, folks can't necessarily see what I'm staring at, but the cover of this magazine is a diver like, Rising up toward sunbeams that are bursting through this dark, ethereal, underwater space, and she's [00:02:00] surrounded by a swirl of silvery fish. And it is just this like, Glorious image that reminds me of something both kind of celestial, but also what anyone who loves spending time in nature like that is a moment that they would love to experience in life.

[00:02:20] Jaymi: I'm curious because I feel like that image, the cover image that you chose, sort. Embodies the entire vibe of Mother and that it is this like larger than life thing that you wanna bring to people, but also something that feels comforting to those of us who love nature and photography and art and celebrating the planet.

[00:02:46] Jaymi: So I'm curious. To find out, am I anywhere on the mark? What, what is mother and what is that vibe that you wanna set with this brand new publication you've created?

[00:02:58] Melissa: well, you described it pretty well, I [00:03:00] would say. Um. Agree. The photo is from Rita k Luga. She's one of the contributors from Mother Magazine and has also an article in there. And Mother is about Mother Nature. So I want to tell the story of Mother Nature in different ways. It came out of many different like moments because I feel like that mother.

[00:03:23] Melissa: Nature needs us to tell our stories in, in a very diverse way. So it's not just, you know, not just scientists who talk about the polar bears or the Arctic. I think we all should talk about what we see, and I feel like many of us don't really dare to share their experience in nature and, uh, think maybe that they don't know enough.

[00:03:44] Melissa: Because I was one of those I always thought, I haven't studied, I haven't learned photography, I haven't studied anything in, in. About the arctic, the polar bear. It was just the love for the polar bear I had, and I always thought that wasn't enough to, [00:04:00] to speak, to be heard, you know, I always thought that's, and I learned that many of my friends have the same thoughts.

[00:04:07] Melissa: And also then I thought probably different people too. Um, so it was a mix out of so many different things when I created Mother and what was so important to me and. , like the, on the cover there stands, there will be nothing left, but stories. And first, that was actually, uh, a post I did connected to the arctic, to the sea ice.

[00:04:33] Melissa: Um, but then I, I got so many different reactions to it in a very negative way, in the way of, you know, to climate change, uh, that base. What, what was my purpose also with that post, with that photo, but also, , you know, positive things like we are stories like, when I die, what's left is my story. It's what I share and you know, what's remembered of me or, so it's also a beautiful part.

[00:04:59] Melissa: And then I [00:05:00] thought that is the perfect cover sentence because it makes people think, I got people to go in so many different directions with that sentence and that photo on the cover is just, you know, it's, it's describing it's Mother Earth, it's a woman. In nature with nature connected to it, and that is what I want, that people connect to nature through storytelling, beautiful images and emotions.

[00:05:31] Jaymi: Wonderful. Oh man. I think that probably every listener will resonate with the idea of. I, I feel like there is something that I see or that I care about that is really, really important. But because I don't have a level of expertise or a certain level of training or a certain level of whatever it may be, I am not. An authority to be able to speak on that, or no one's gonna listen to me, [00:06:00] or I am, you know, that imposter syndrome comes up. So knowing that that's sort of where you were when you created this, is incredibly inspiring because you took that sense and you said, oh, well we all experienced that. So instead of hiding behind that, I'm gonna go ahead and boldly create something.

[00:06:21] Jaymi: That is outstanding and inspiring and basically turn that thought on or use that thought, I guess, as fuel to move forward with stories and now we get to experience this beautiful, beautiful publication. Tell me a little bit about, The work that went into creating this, because this is no small thing. So it's one thing to create stories of your own with your own photography and it's another thing to source and coordinate visual stories from so many other photographers.

[00:06:51] Jaymi: So how did you decide who to reach out to to include in volume one? How did you decide the stories that would go into it? I have so many [00:07:00] questions. I'm just gonna leave it at that for now.

[00:07:03] Melissa: Um, it was actually kind of, most of the, or many of the women I follow on Instagram, and I found with many of them that they don't get the attention they should. Um, you know, I see that I don't have the followers. They don't get people to like their post, and I'm just blown away by their work and I don't understand why they don.

[00:07:29] Melissa: you know, why they're not seen. Um, and then I, it was like, it was for a long time also when I talked to my friends and I felt like that always we, I don't know if it's a women thing or a photographer thing in general, but we always admire other people's photos and, you know, think like, that's so amazing.

[00:07:47] Melissa: But we don't think that about ourselves. Like, I always think everyone is better than me. Why do I, you know, and when I talk to my friends, they're like, your photos are so amazing, but mine not. And I'm like, what? Your photos are so amazing. I thought to [00:08:00] build a platform where we can just feel all safe, you know, where we can support each other, where we feel safe, where we can share our stories in different ways.

[00:08:09] Melissa: And when I had the idea of create, because I, me and Fred, we do books about the Arctic, and. Books takes a long time, you know, to create a book about VRBO takes our book. What we did took like three years. So it's nothing like you don't do that in a few months. Um, and I wanted to have an outlet because I actually got tired of Instagram.

[00:08:30] Melissa: I got tired of posting. an image. What I, you know, it took me months or weeks of work and I love it. And Instagram just eats it.

[00:08:41] Jaymi: Mm-hmm.

[00:08:41] Melissa: especially if it's like a landscape or like a little bear and a big landscape, um, or something. It's just not, it doesn't go well. And then I feel sad about it and I don't feel that, you know, I wanted to have a d.

[00:08:53] Melissa: outlet for photography. And I love printed, uh, pictures and stories because I think you take [00:09:00] more time for it. You take it in, you read it, you don't just scroll it away in a second. Um, so I thought, why not? You know, ask them amazing women if they wanna be part of it. And actually I didn't thought they would.

[00:09:15] Melissa: Um, I wrote the email. I sent the email and I thought they would never answer me because who would give me photos for. Who would work on a text for free for a project. I couldn't really describe at that point. It was more like, you know, we're all photographers, , that's great. Something great. Um, with storytelling.

[00:09:34] Melissa: And I just thought they wouldn't answer. And I think that's why I sent it because I was kind of sure they wouldn't answer. But then I tried, uh, I think it took a minute and all of them answered. So all of them were. , that sounds amazing. Tell me what you need. And then I was kind of like on the spot, because I never used InDesign before.

[00:09:53] Melissa: I never recruit, I never worked with people before in that way. So it was just me and Frederick before. So it's [00:10:00] like we're in the same house. We can like, we don't have to make meeting things or anything, you know? We just talk to each other and it's, we live together. We work together. So it was completely new for me.

[00:10:11] Melissa: Give deadlines, talk about topics, like find out what, how to, how to create a page, how to, to how to do a design. So yeah, it was, um, . It was a little chaotic and it was a lot of ups and downs, but it was so much fun and because everyone was so excited also, I think that made it so much.

[00:10:33] Jaymi: And so this isn't a one-off thing. You've created a publication that you plan to have volume after volume after volume. Is that correct?

[00:10:42] Melissa: Yes.

[00:10:44] Jaymi: there's that hesitation of like, well, this also has to fit into life. So

[00:10:50] Melissa: No, cause it wasn't really a plan. It was like, I mean, honestly until, until it was printed, I thought it would not happen. I thought it would be, [00:11:00] you know, often that I have some project in my mind. I start doing it, something bad happens and I drop it. That's pretty often with me. So I thought, you know, that's pretty big what I'm planning here, so what are the chances?

[00:11:13] Melissa: But. I got so like through the time I felt like how important it was. Also, in the beginning it was more like this little idea and then through the time, through the months creating it and also talking to the people and seeing their response that it just grew bigger and bigger. And then I talked to Christina Mik and she wrote The Forward and you know, it just like groove on my head.

[00:11:35] Melissa: It felt like . So I kind of felt like I have a responsibility now to actually do my best and not just see it as a. You know, what, how it started in idea. Um, but it was, it really nothing made me so happy that creating this magazine, and I'm so proud of everyone. I'm so happy of all the women in it and that they did it with me.

[00:11:58] Melissa: And I, I [00:12:00] honestly can't wait to continue because it was really fun and it's really fun for me to learn because. , now I can kind of pick what I wanna learn about. So I wanna learn about the elephants. And then I find someone who tells me about the elephants . So it's like a learning for me also to to see the world in a different way.

[00:12:20] Jaymi: I love that. So that was one of the experiences I had when I was a writer for a website, is I could pick anything that I wanted really. And so it was, what do I feel like learning about today? And go and create an article about that. So tell us about what's Inside Mother in Inside Volume One. Um, what stories can a reader expect to.

[00:12:42] Melissa: Well, basically everything from pole to pole. I mean, I try to make it. Quite diverse in the, in the topics, but it actually started as a very Nordic focused project. Um, and then through time it changed too, a little [00:13:00] more around the world, like global. Um, but you have everything there from storytelling, from creative writing, from poems.

[00:13:12] Melissa: So I wanted that people really. Talk how they like, how they see places. You know, if people like to write poems about it, I want that poem in there. If they get creative about it or if they, we had also some photographers, they didn't really feel like writing. And that was something I learned too because I, I believed in the beginning that all photographers write.

[00:13:34] Melissa: I don't know why I thought that. , I believe that all photographers are the right, so when, when I heard that you. , I need writers. And does that make sense? My, my, my boyfriend said then that there's a reason why magazines have, um, writers and photographers Uh, but then, you know, I learned also, I wrote a few of those texts and it was really fun.

[00:13:57] Melissa: So it's like, and then I got more like creative writing [00:14:00] of course, because I wasn't in the moment, so I tried to, Sometimes switch the perspective to write from the animal, to write from the view of the leopard seal or of the lion. So I could get a little creative there. And then also take my photographer in again with her experience, um, in like a second part of the article to make it a little more creative.

[00:14:21] Melissa: So it was, it's a lot of stories about nature, about the connection to nature. It's animals, it's portraits, it's um, Yeah. It's Mother Nature.

[00:14:33] Jaymi: Nice. Yeah. When I picked this up from the post office, I opened up the envelope and uh, I was blown away by it, but then I showed it to my partner and he's like, You know, he's not a photographer and he appreciates a nice image, but he's not gonna gush over something unless it really strikes him. And I showed it to him and he was like, whoa.

[00:14:56] Jaymi: And then he opened up the pages and was like, whoa. [00:15:00] And literally the, the like verbatim, just a whole bunch of woes. And that really feels like the experience of opening this up because you've created something that the stories in them. Beautiful. But the photography and the layout is beautiful. And there's also, I think what's really interesting is even though. What's featured in here is quite diverse. Like there's everything that feels like, um, a fashion photography shoot to a wildlife photojournalism shoot. Even though there's an incredible amount of photographic diversity in there, there's a cohesion to everything. It f everything in the magazine feels like it naturally belongs there.

[00:15:45] Jaymi: And I'm wondering what that was like in the photo editing part of this process, that image curation and choosing what went in. ordering it in a way that made sense, that there's a flow that takes people, there's nothing disjointed [00:16:00] about it. Like you just threw something in there because it felt like, oh yeah, well this person said yes, so I gotta throw that in there.

[00:16:05] Jaymi: Even though they don't fit, everything feels like it fits and flows. What was that side of it like as a photographer who's doing this for the first time? What was the photo editing process like?

[00:16:16] Melissa: it actually kind of fell into place. I, I cannot really, because I picked, I think I had 14, 14 photographers, and then two in the end I had to change. Uh, so I, I flipped that, but it was really like, it just fell into place. I was surprised myself. I, I went, sometimes I switched the articles, like what comes to the front, what comes to the back, and some were still empty.

[00:16:42] Melissa: It was just like place all the text. Um, and then, you know, sometimes I asked the photographer if they, for example, they want to show elephants, but then I said, I have elephants already, so what else can we have? And often I went through the Instagram and I just was like, that's cool. I wanna know that. And [00:17:00] sometimes she's like, there's not that big story behind it.

[00:17:02] Melissa: I'm like, okay, that story, I want that story . So I was really like looking all this through their work and picking like what story I would like to read. You know, what, what do I want to hear? And then I was surprised myself in the end how great this mix worse and how really you turn the page and you don't feel like, oh, that again, or , um, it's like repeating or something.

[00:17:26] Melissa: I don't know. I guess I just had the amazing people there. It just like, it fell into perfect place.

[00:17:32] Jaymi: That's great to hear though. I feel like an answer like that stems from the experience of like, it's just such a passion project that you're not even agonizing over what it is that you have to do or new skills, cuz it's, you mentioned like, oh, I'd never used InDesign before, so I have to learn how to do that.

[00:17:49] Jaymi: Or, I've never done this or that before and so I need to learn how to do that. But when it's such a passion project. Even though it's hard, it doesn't feel, I guess, as [00:18:00] emotionally difficult as it might when you're tasked with something where you're like, oh my God, I gotta do this and I have no idea how and I really don't want to, and oh, it's gonna be agonizing. So I love that your experience of photo editing was like, whoa.

[00:18:11] Jaymi: It was just, it was natural. It was, didn't even feel hard cuz it was so much fun.

[00:18:15] Melissa: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. No, it was great. It was, there was one moment I remember I had a photo I really wanted to have in. And I had it in the layout for, for like months. She was like one of the first photographers I worked with on it. And then when I got towards the end and I needed the high resolution images to really make the, you know, the design and everything ready for print, then we realized that the photo doesn't work.

[00:18:42] Melissa: And then I panicked a little. Then I was like, no, that was the photo. But we found, we found, As amazing photo for it. So even better actually in the end. But, um, it was really fun. I had, I had moments where I thought I wouldn't, I think the biggest problem for me was to set deadlines. [00:19:00] For other people to tell people I need it now, or whatever.

[00:19:04] Melissa: I don't know, , because I'm always like, yeah, you, you have time. Like just, you know, whenever you can because I'm really, like, normally I'm the person who sits in the corner and doesn't say much. I'm, I'm not a person who stands up and. Presents herself. Um, so I'm always like, yeah, yeah. Um, just, you know, when you have time, just send me a little something.

[00:19:24] Melissa: And that really put me on the spot sometimes because then I really got stressed out that I, I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to, um, you know, communicate in the right way. But it worked out. So

[00:19:37] Jaymi: Well, speaking of deadlines, and you know, like really needing to step outside of a comfort zone in some ways is okay, you have the creation of this, but then you have. Print deadlines and distribution deadlines because you're hyping this whole thing up on social media. The second that I saw that this was available and every, all the photographers started promoting it, I was like, I have to have that.

[00:19:58] Jaymi: And I immediately went and [00:20:00] ordered it. Um, and, and then so you're getting all these orders in, you're promoting, you're trying to make sure that you're hitting those deadlines, and then there's a distribution deadline. And so what was it like actually getting. Into the physically, into the world, and into people's hands.

[00:20:15] Jaymi: And I will also mention, not only is this a gorgeous physical copy, but you created a really cool virtual version of the magazine as well. Like complete with the sound of flipping pages as you

[00:20:27] Melissa: That's what I love too.

[00:20:29] Jaymi: yeah. So what was that whole distribution process like?

[00:20:35] Melissa: actually, that was horrible.

[00:20:37] Jaymi: Aha. So there is a horrible part of a project

[00:20:41] Melissa: It was horrible for my mind because I'm very controlling and that I was very afraid. To tell people there is something you can have. And then I was afraid, you know, I'm often afraid that the world goes under, like something will happen, the printer will break down. One photographer will say, I changed my mind.

[00:20:58] Melissa: I don't wanna be part of it anymore. I have to take [00:21:00] it out. You know, there was so many things that could happen in my mind. So it was actually my partner who said, it's time for you. Now to push it on social media, you have to, you have to post about it. You have to tell people. before it's actually printed at your home so people can, you know, be excited and you can like tell them about it before they actually can order it.

[00:21:21] Melissa: And I was so scared because I thought, what if they don't? I mean, to the end I was like, what if the print gets bad? What, what if they don't like it? What if people don't like it? Because I realized at that point that I was the only one staring at those, those photos and those texts the whole time because I felt like I work with every photographer.

[00:21:41] Melissa: um, together, I kind of felt like they all saw it. They all saw the, the whole magazine. And then at one point I realized they don't, they, they didn't saw it. It's just like me and one photographer and me and the other photographer. Um, so I really got scared for what did I, did I misspell a name? That was like my biggest [00:22:00] fear, like, what if I misspelled the name

[00:22:02] Jaymi: Uh huh.

[00:22:02] Melissa: Because I didn't have like a big, I, I, you know, I did that alone, so I didn't have someone to. Like a company to, to check everything or something to read it over. So that was really scary and it was really exciting, but I was really scared. Also, when the magazine came, I was surprised how beautiful it is

[00:22:22] Jaymi: It's so beautiful,

[00:22:24] Melissa: the pagers and the ink, like the whole house smelled like ink.

[00:22:28] Melissa: It was like, oh my God. It's amazing. Um, and it was so exciting to send it out, but I, I think the first week I was just sitting here biting my nails because I was afraid people will be like, oh, that's great that it was for free, but it's really not that nice. Or that they didn't like it because I, you know, I'm very insecure about myself and I was so into this project with the photographers that I didn't even thought of something bad.

[00:22:55] Melissa: I was like, this is great. You're great. You're amazing. But then I, in the end, I just got scared that I did [00:23:00] something wrong. Did I? You know, had the right text edit in the print. Now is the photo the right size? You know, then a lot of things came up, but it was amazing

[00:23:12] Jaymi: I, I absolutely empathize with the nerves of actually like, okay, this is something that I've created and I can be excited about, but now it's real. Now other people are gonna see it. Now it's an actual thing out in the world. People are gonna judge it. People are gonna actually tell me what they think about it, and , what is that gonna look like?

[00:23:33] Jaymi: What has been the reception?

[00:23:36] Melissa: Oh, it's been amazing. Beyond amazing. I, I, I, I don't think I really understand yet, . Um, but I think everyone, I got so many amazing messages and so also uplifting because many people know me that I'm very insecure often, and, um, Very proud parents now, and [00:24:00] I'm also very proud because I also had a lot of moments in the beginning when I started the magazine.

[00:24:05] Melissa: A lot of people kind of said, you know, saw it as like a little hobby thing or like, no, you're not gonna do it anyway. Or Are you sure this is good enough? And. If I would be alone, if I would not have these 14 amazing women behind me, I probably would've dropped it. I probably would've believed that my idea isn't good enough.

[00:24:25] Melissa: But I had these 14 women and they all were excited and they're all, I think, are such amazing photographers and women. So I was just like, I don't care what you think we are gonna do this . Um, yeah, it was. Really a learning curve for me. Also, the whole magazine, it put me into different situations, but it was, I felt so supported by all of them, and I hope they did too, because it was really fun.

[00:24:50] Melissa: Yeah.

[00:24:51] Jaymi: Well, you mentioned in the beginning of the interview that you noticed that there's so many photographers, particularly female photographers on social media that [00:25:00] just aren't getting the attention that you feel their caliber of work deserves. And here you've created a platform for that. Do you, have you noticed.

[00:25:09] Jaymi: Any sort of response for their work, their Instagram account growing, or even a sense of feeling like new eyes are on their work as is deserved.

[00:25:21] Melissa: I am not sure if the, I mean, I think so. I think that they, because now we have also 14 different accounts. Going together. So, you know, we became one in one project. So if I post about Rita, the who did the cover shoot, um, the fol, the people who follow me. Go on her profile. So I'm not sure if they actually experienced much more, but in the end, actually, it also grew away from the Instagram attention for me because I wanted, I wanted them to feel seen.

[00:25:51] Melissa: And I think they are hap, I, I think they, for them that changed. I think the mag, the magazine for them also, um, [00:26:00] lifted them up at least I hope so. I know from some of them that's. They also cannot believe they're in there. And then I cannot believe that they're in there. So, you know, we are just like lifting each other up.

[00:26:09] Melissa: So , it's really fun. Um, and it, it actually went away a little from the online presence because I feel like we in ourselves have to, you know, be proud and be happy about our work. It's not about what, what, you know, your followers or your comments say on I.

[00:26:30] Jaymi: right. One of the things I love about this publication is it is a conservation. Publication, it is about connecting people to nature and building a, a fresh appreciation and a, and a deep appreciation through different stories. And inside of this is all kinds of different photography. And I think that it really underscores the fact that conservation photography doesn't look a certain way.

[00:26:55] Jaymi: And I think that that is a huge misconception out there that conservation photography is always [00:27:00] about animals and wildlife. It's always about nature. It's. Photojournalistic. Um, but conservation photography is about what you do with the photos you create to build awareness and understanding and interaction to have a positive impact for nature and for the environment.

[00:27:17] Jaymi: And there are images in here of. Women in beautiful dresses out in the snow and like, like I said, there's like fashion and portraiture and things that are really unexpected. Can you tell me a little bit more about your thought process in creating a conservation magazine that maybe isn't gonna look like?

[00:27:39] Jaymi: People expect a nature conservation magazine to look.

[00:27:45] Melissa: Well, honestly, at that point when I was sitting and creating it, I haven't, like I said, I didn't really think of people looking at it because I believed more, you know, I, I wasn't sure it's actually coming out. So I did more what I feel like was [00:28:00] right, and I had a few photographers and they felt like, They don't fit in because, because exactly that.

[00:28:08] Melissa: Because they said, I don't do well, love photography. I, that's not, why do you ask me? But for me, when I look at their photos, then I see that connection they have. And when I read their text, when I talk to them, you know, what energy they get from nature and how they put it into photography, what's not the obvious wildlife photography.

[00:28:26] Melissa: And that's what I think is missing often. So I thought you're perfect for it. And also when you don't talk about. Animals. But you talk about, you know, humans, you talk about us and our connections because we are nature and that's the main point of the whole thing. That's what we all forget. So it's per you, you're perfect in it.

[00:28:45] Melissa: You're almost better than an elephant because that's the, you know, the elephant is the obvious connection to nature. But I want the, the wild mix of it. Um, . I hope that they also know now that [00:29:00] they really, you know, belong in the magazine for me and for me, just these little twists made it like this special magazine, this thing where you turn the page and you're surprised.

[00:29:13] Melissa: You're like, oh, what is that doing here, . And then you learn about it. Um, you know, why does that fit in that magazine? And I think that's, it's beautiful and important.

[00:29:25] Jaymi: Absolutely. I wanna pivot a little bit and talk more about specifically your photography and your conservation work. You mentioned earlier when you introduced yourself about the focus that you have on polar bears and you work primarily Inbar. Tell us a little bit more about you and your photography career.

[00:29:45] Melissa: Well, career , I always feel, I think it took like two years, I think. for a long time, I didn't even call myself a photographer because I thought, you know, I just, it's a hobby, but I'm a photographer, . [00:30:00] Um, what all started. Maybe that's also the magazine. It comes in there too actually, because it started not with nature photography.

[00:30:07] Melissa: It started for me with self-portraits. Um, I come from Germany and back there, I mean, in Hamburg and there was not exactly much nature around. Um, so I was really disconnected. I was really, really disconnected from nature and I think that's why I feel it's so important. And since I was a little girl, I loved polar.

[00:30:29] Melissa: more the cute idea of a polar bear, not the actual, you know, dangerous animal, but I always loved polar bears. And I had like, you know, 20 stuffed animals and for a long time and I was the cute girl, the polar bear girl. And then when I was like 17, I was, the little weirdo was still loving polar bears. Um, , but it always felt like a different universe.

[00:30:53] Melissa: It always felt like, you know, I will, I, I remember I was sitting on the balcony at home and I thought, I will never see the [00:31:00] world because I'm not good enough. I will never get out there. I will just see this city and I don't know what to do here, because I felt like I was not fitting there. I felt. , you know, I don't know what to do there.

[00:31:13] Melissa: I don't know how. And I always did photography and at one point I started to do self-portraits and it was more like, uh, like, uh, self therapy. I could say or like, uh, like a scream or like a scream for help. So I just wanted to break out, um, and. . I had a very bad time also at that time, so photography was kind of my safe place.

[00:31:39] Melissa: Um, when I was really feeling bad, I closed my door and I did photos, and at that time I just had my own face and me, so it was self-portraits, it was a lot of makeup and a lot of, I always liked makeup and, you know, changing myself into something else. It was someone else and lots of colors and stuff. Um, and then when I met Frederick, [00:32:00] He was just like, I mean, long story short, but he was like, do you wanna come with me?

[00:32:05] Melissa: I need a photographer to scoreboard. And, you know, I couldn't believe my, I was like, what? , like, you mean like actually, because he, you know, he worked with Paula Bears for over 20 years already. So he had this amazing photos of bears. What was not this bird angle, it was just like eye contact. And I was, how do you do that?

[00:32:24] Melissa: Because I only saw. , these boat shoots before, and he just had these personal photos and we talked, I think we talked for 10 minutes about polar bears, and then we just, you know, talked about life. We talked about us and for like six months, and then I moved to Sweden. , I left everything in Germany. Um, that was really not me because at that point I didn't speak English.

[00:32:49] Melissa: I, I was, you know, afraid of everything. Afraid of taking the train alone. But I just, it just felt right. And then I started to work in the Arctic [00:33:00] and I started to, you know, explore nature and, and, but I also had had to connect to it because the first time I came to Sweden, and we, we went to the forest in the evening and it was pitch black.

[00:33:15] Melissa: I really got so scared because I was not used to, you know, being alone in, in, in a forest . Um, and now that's seven years ago. And now we work together on small board and we document the life of the polar bear. And I cannot, it feels a little like a dream still. So it's, it's, uh, crazy. We tell the story of the Arctic and we try to get people who were asked, disconnected as I was close to small boat because I, you know, I thought it was a different planet and then it was three hours away with the flight.

[00:33:52] Melissa: I learned a lot in the last years, and I want to share that with everyone.

[00:33:57] Jaymi: That's. Journey. I feel [00:34:00] like that's a really unique journey into conservation photography. So often we hear origin stories kind of like mine. Oh, I've always been connected to nature, always loved it, grew up in it. And so now I'm a photographer. And you're like, no, , uh, had no idea about a connection with nature until, you know, I've kind of felt that pole.

[00:34:19] Jaymi: But then here you are someone who, along with your partner, helps to connect other people. to nature in a really deep and profound way.

[00:34:29] Melissa: Yeah.

[00:34:30] Jaymi: So, okay. I have a weird question for you. , you are really connected to polar bears and you now are really connected to a place like Svalbard and to the Arctic. And so now you've found your home inside of photography and, and what really draws you in.

[00:34:48] Jaymi: And you also kind of picked something that is at the edge of disappearing. So does that feel like a tough balance?

[00:34:56] Melissa: Well, it has, yeah, that's the dark side of it. [00:35:00] Um, I didn't really pick it, and honestly, I haven't. I learn about it every day still, and it's, it is heartbreaking when you're up there and you see it and when you think about it and it's really scary what's happening in the Arctic. Um, so that's like the not so fun part of my job, but even more important to document it and to try to get people to.

[00:35:25] Melissa: and open their eyes. Um, I mean, everything I think has the good and their bad sides, but, um, for me, this is a big dream. But that also came with responsibility. So I try to do that the way I can, uh, with my photography and storytelling and also with my. Emotions to the polar bear because I feel like I'm very childish in that way.

[00:35:51] Melissa: Often I give them names. Um, you know, I, I really like emotionally connect for me. It's not just a bear for me, it's Helen, it's Optus, you know, [00:36:00] it's like I even named the reindeers. Like I, the first time I saw a reindeer, I freaked out. I thought Sand, k Claus around the corner, I'm like, I was, I'm getting so excited about so small things very often.

[00:36:13] Melissa: and I feel like first I felt like that was really out of place because everyone is so serious also, especially with that topic about climate change and what's happening, and you shouldn't make, you know, cute little fun stories. But like over the time I learned that, you know, these stories connect because everyone knows Helen.

[00:36:31] Melissa: When I say Helen, when I talk about Paula Baha to people who know, they know who Helen is and you know, they, if I just say it was the bear, , um, then they're like, ah-ha, okay, there's a polar bear and the ice is melting. So I think even when some people say you shouldn't, like humanize or personalize animals, it really helps me to connect to people to do that.

[00:36:52] Melissa: And it's, you know, it's just, I feel like I connect to them and if I connect to someone and then I, I [00:37:00] give them a name. , it's kind of my, my thing. . Um, I think also that Frederick and me are very good like, like ying and yang because he's very professional. He's very, when we have lectures, he does, he does that part.

[00:37:14] Melissa: He talks about the cl, the climate. He talks about what's happening. He also has many more years of experience. So he sees how the ice is changing the last 20 years, you know, and I more go in with a personal angle and I feel that's a very good, we're a very good team there.

[00:37:32] Jaymi: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's so much to really personalizing. Uh, a connection with a particular animal, a particular tree, a particular, you know, location and, and bringing some personality to that. I mean, research has shown how we connect so much more deeply to very specific stories about individuals versus more general stories about a group of something or, or a species as a whole.

[00:37:57] Jaymi: So the idea of really [00:38:00] personalizing. That, and I, I kind of wanna apologize for cracking up with my question because I think with conservation photography it is such a challenge because we are constantly balancing joy and love and passion with what we find, with like utter heartbreak with what is happening to that and. I think that there's like an irony to the, the work that we do sometimes when we like find something, uh, a species that we're really connected to, and then it happens to be a species that is in peril and like dire peril too. And so you're really going to battle for something that you care really deeply about.

[00:38:43] Melissa: They're just different ways of telling a story and we just pick the positive way. I mean, there you could also see you, I could also focus on the. Uh, ice melting and the polar bears dying. But I don't think that that is the way of reaching reach people because when I see something [00:39:00] that scares me or when I see, you know, some, when I see the rainforest burn, The, the reaction we as humans have as we look away, because we feel helpless.

[00:39:09] Melissa: We don't know what to do that's on the other side of the planet. What should I do when I see this polar bear, you know, swimming for days and then drowning. So I think it's much, it's more important to see the other side of it, but of course, talk about both sides, because I think when you feel. the love for something, then you wanna do something.

[00:39:28] Melissa: If you just see it burning, you feel like you know it's burning already, what should I do? And you turn away. And not because you don't care, but because we feel helpless. So I think that's more, more the focus behind it. But of course there are both sides also in us, and it's not always fun to to work. It's not always fun to document if you.

[00:39:49] Melissa: A mother and you know, the cup dying or something. It's not fun. You don't want to see that. But I mean, that's nature also. So, and it's important to share as well, but we [00:40:00] really focus on the, on the love and on the beautiful moments.

[00:40:04] Jaymi: What is it like for your tour clients to experience the Arctic environment, to experience proximity to polar bears, maybe for the first time, and to build that connection? What do you see in your clients who go with you on the tours?

[00:40:23] Melissa: It is actually, it was a long time for me, a very difficult question because I felt like the boat is so. has such a negative impact on the climate and, you know, do we actually do good here or is it more harm for nature? But if you actually see people coming from the trips and they start telling their stories, they start doing galleries, they start doing books, they, they start doing, sharing images with our family and stories and.

[00:40:53] Melissa: It is really inspiring what people do after seeing a polar bear. And you also see that this connection, [00:41:00] how, how they connect. Like I remember last year we were on a ship and we saw the A mother bear with two two little bears and. . I just looked at one of the guests and she, she took photos the whole time.

[00:41:16] Melissa: She turned to me and just tears were going down her face and she was just smiling. And, you know, that made me cry because she was filled with that love and she, I'm not gonna talk so much about it, but she that inspired her also to change her lifestyle completely. She quit her job. She does know what she feels like, you know, is good for her and for the environment.

[00:41:42] Melissa: I think it does a lot to people if, if they come for the right reasons. So if people come to the Arctic to really connect, uh, you come home as an ambassador in wh which way that is. It's the same with a magazine. You don't have to become a wildlife photographer, but you know, if it's just talking [00:42:00] about it, if it's writing about it, if it's just in you and you change the little things in your life, um, I think that's really big.

[00:42:07] Melissa: So

[00:42:09] Jaymi: That's so inspiring to hear. So for anyone who's listening who wants to experience polar bears with you and Frederick, or who's like, okay, you've talked about this gorgeous magazine, how do I get my hands on it? Where can people find out more about you and everything that you're doing as a photographer?

[00:42:30] Melissa: Well, basically all of that you can find on our website, the mother bear.com, um, that you can find the magazine. You can also find the online magazine and also if you want the printed magazine. What is not so many left, I have to say So 75% are gone, um, of the magazines, um, but there's still some magazines there.

[00:42:55] Melissa: And you also find out boat trips there. Um, the ones for the next year. [00:43:00] and the year after. And also previous boat trips where you can read about what we do and what we have seen and see some images from it. And you can learn about us as well and our little boss dogs

[00:43:14] Jaymi: Wonderful. Thank you so, so much for sharing your experience with us in Creating Mother, and thank you for creating Mother and this incredible publication. I'm already so excited for the next volume, whenever it may appear, whenever that comes out into the world, but I, I definitely trust that it will at some point.

[00:43:37] Jaymi: It's a really exceptional thing that you've created. Thank you for all the time and energy and love that you've put into it.

[00:43:45] Melissa: Thank you so much. That means really the world to me.

[00:43:49] Jaymi: Uh, so for everyone listening, if you want to go and find out more, the links will be in the show notes. So wherever you're listening to this episode, just scroll down, find the show notes, you'll get the links, [00:44:00] and thank you so much. We'll talk to you again next week.

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