Meika Ejiasi is a food, portrait, and lifestyle photographer. She is also a black woman in the food photography industry—and she knows what it’s like to feel marginalized in that space. In this episode of the Savory Shot podcast, she talks with Mica about, how to find the sauce in your work, the importance of allies in the commercial photography industry and how to be an effective one. Meika also shares her journey as a black woman in the food photography industry and how, through Black Women Photographers (BWP), she’s worked to create inclusive spaces for all.
Hi, I’m Meika! I’m a Black photographer in the Oakland area that specializes in food, lifestyle, and portrait photography. I love creating visual art that people can relate to and find a piece of home in. I’m a digital marketer in tech during the daytime, a photographer during my free time, and a mom ALL the time. To learn more about my background, visit my website!
Mica: [00:00:00] Welcome to the fifth episode of The Savory Shot. I'm your host with the most Mica McCook. In the last episode with Dani Colombatto, I had a blast talking about food, photography trends and having the courage to embrace your authenticity. If you missed it, I highly recommend you go back and listen to it. But let's talk about today's episode.
This episode is a hoot. It could be a hot mess. I don't know. I haven't decided yet, but I will say this. Today's guest is someone who I instantly had chemistry with meet Meika Ejiasi. My name twin, and quite possibly the most genuine, hilarious human I've ever had the pleasure of interacting with.
Y'all, it's a rare occasion when I meet someone with the same name as mine. So I was [00:01:00] really, really excited when she agreed to come on the show. Meika is a food photographer based out of Oakland who specializes in food, lifestyle and portrait photography. She's also a digital marketer in tech and has done advocacy work with Black Women Photographers.
Y'all, I'm just gonna let you know now that I don't think I've ever laughed so hard during an interview. From the jump. Meika and I laughed our asses off all the way through this interview. I swear, there's nuggets of knowledge in there, but be prepared. There's a lot of laughter. Meika is hilarious and has such a unique perspective on life and work.
I know you're gonna love hearing what she has to say, but before we get into that. Let's start the show.
Mica: All right, so we are recording and I just got my little podcast voice in. I don't know if you noticed. I was sounding really professional there for a second. It's the theater in me. I just. I just turn into a perform. Hi, you know, that type of thing.Thank you, again, for a guest on the show. For the [00:03:00] listeners out, we're probably gonna be a hot mess.
Meika: Ohh, man. Guaranteed.
Mica: This in this episode. The reason why this is such a great moment is because Meika and I share a similar first name. Anyone out there who has a unique name like us, this is. It's a pivotal moment.
It's like finding an Oasis in the desert. It's actually one of the first things that I noticed. So Meika I found you via Flicker.
Meika: Oh really?
Yes. I saw your interview and I just, I loved your work.
Mica: I went to your website and I was like, this is great. Then I got super excited cause I'm like, oh my gosh. She's Black.
Meika: Yeah. yeah, girl.
Mica: There aren't a lot of women food photographers, and there aren't a lot of black photographers that specialize in food. And then as if this couldn't align perfectly anymore, I noticed that your name was Meika.
And I was like, oh my God. Oh, my [00:04:00] God.
Meika: The heavens opened up, what is life?
Mica: When I reached out to you, Meika, I said how do you pronounce your name? If you pronounce it like this, then we are named twinsies.
Meika: And we were, because I do.
Let's ease into this interview. I wanna ask what was it like growing up with a unique first name?
Meika: Oh man. Lots of interrupting teachers or just speaking for teachers when they're doing roll call and you can just tell when they like do a double take with the paper or when they just look around for help. Like "Whoever this is, please connect with my eyes because I'm struggling."
And I would just be like it's "Yeah, that right here, like it's me. Is it Shameika? It's pronounced Shameika. Yep. That's me." My last name is also different and I would always have to deal with teachers being like E Ejjj. No, it's E Jossi. Like E Jossi.
Let me break it down phonetically. It's E Jossi. So it [00:05:00] was just like a double whammy, like my first name, my last name. It just didn't know. When I would get a lot of the eye contact. "Please, God. Just look at me. So I know you're here."
Mica: I love what you said about when you lock eyes with the teacher cause that happened to me all the time. So my first name is Thamica and it's spelled T H A M I C A and anytime they'd get to my name, they would just stop. I have a simple last name .It's McCook. They would try so hard to not fuck up my first name but then they would.
Mica: I know this is something you can connect with. Anytime I go to Starbucks and they ask me, what's your name?
They go, how do you spell it? And I said, I don't care. Just spell you want. They're like, "No, I really wanna get it right. andI'm like, "Good for you. But if I give you the correct spelling, you're just gonna mispronounce it. I'm not going hear, and I'm gonna get cold coffee. So just spell it, how you hear it and let's move on with our lives.
Meika: Correct. When I go to Starbucks, I give fake names. [00:06:00] Just put Mimi. Like you can't mess it up. is cool. Just M I M I.
Mica: They'll spell it. They'll go. M I K A? And I'll go. "Yeah, sure.
Perfect." You got it. Tell me about the first time you realized your name was unique.
Meika: Oh, man, so I never really had a problem until. When it registered, I would say like elementary school.
People just didn't know how to pronounce it. I was specifically aware because I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods. So it was a bunch of Amber's and Jessica's and Joe's, and Alex's. They would get to my name like Shamika. Because I was the only black kid in the class, most of the times, there was a few of us, but most of the time it was just me.
Because I was the only one, they would start to say it and then look at me or just look at me. And then I would, you know, I was young, so I didn't really problem was. Like, my name is my name.
Mica: I didn't know my name was Thamica until elementary school. I always gone by Mica. The the teacher called me Thamicka and I remember [00:07:00] looking around the classroom and going, I don't know who this Thamicka person is, but-
Mica: This is the first day Yeah. This was like, Ooh, she in trouble, Looking around "Ohh Thamicka you're in trouble." And then she said my last name and I was like, what? In a way it's good because you stand out, you never have to worry about someone not finding you on Google or something.
Meika: Yeah, Yeah, for sure. I feel like there's another side to that too. So after I graduated from college, with undergrad, I went to CSU, Colorado State University and it was again a predominantly white university. But when I graduated and I was cleaning up my resume and I put my full name on there and I'm applying for jobs and I was not I was not getting callbacks I thought I deserved cause you know, I was working,midway through my senior year. So I had a little bit of experience. And so I said, you know, this has to be something's wrong here. So I changed my name on my [00:08:00] resume to Mica. Oh like how I spell. Just how you spell your name. M I C A. And I used my middle name, LaShon. Mica LaShon.
A lot of the times , they thought I was like a Jewish white male. Immediately, I saw the difference. Like people were calling me back and saying, Hey, can I speak to Micah?
And I'm like, "Oh, this is her." They're like, "No, is it Mike? Or is it, did I mispronounce it? Is it Mike?" I'm like, "No, it's Mica." And then mysteriously, I wouldn't get a call back or I wouldn't get to the second level of interview. So lots of like main issues happening after undergrad.
So I said, you know, I can't, I cannot live my life like this. Why can I not find a job or get an interview. It has to be because of my name, because of who I am. That's why I decided to move to the east coast to look for a job and to kick off the second half of my career, my scholastic career.
And I went to grad school and I was finding jobs easily. Like nobody cared. Nobody cared-
Meika: -about my name.
Mica: Yeah. It's a shame that your name is what holds [00:09:00] you back. You know, never mind your qualifications, never mind, you know, like you, I, I did. I worked in in medical offices and I just wasn't getting any callbacks like you and I, once I took off the, the T H A part of my name, not only was I getting calls, but I was actually getting, you know, interviews. But I also had to like clean up my name or not my name, but how I talk and, I have my, I call it the receptionist voice.
Mica: You know and, my receptionist laugh and I do my little head Bob thing and all that jazz.
Meika: Oh, gosh. Yes.
Mica: It's strange because when I went into freelance, I didn't really so much have that issue that I did with working in corporate. I had issues with my dad because he's the one who named me.
My mom is Mexican. My dad is Black. And my aunt and my dad [00:10:00] named me. I just gave my dad so much grief growing up. I'm like, why couldn't you give you me a simpler name? That type of thing. And he would say, "Mica, he's like one day, you're gonna be thankful because this is what makes you stand out.
This is what makes you unique. And he was right. He was right. Would you say that your name helps you stand out as well?
Meika: Abso-lutely. It took me quite a long time to feel comfortable in my skin and to feel comfortable in my name. I feel like when I turned that. I don't wanna say shame, that's a little harsh, but when I turn that embarrassment around into like pride. Like, yeah, I'm different. Like I'm not cookie cutter.
I don't have these every day names. I'm different. And I love that about me and people are gonna love that about me. When I turn that around, I felt comfort. Like I felt like I have arrived, if that makes sense. I felt likeI am where I'm supposed to be.
The people who love me are the ones who are supposed to love [00:11:00] me. I built this pride and, and love up for myself.
Mica: I get what you're saying, loving and embracing our names and just finding the, I don't wanna say finding the beauty in it because it is beautiful, but not feeling like we need to alter our name just to get an opportunity. This is my name, this is me.
And if you wanna pass me up because of how my name is spelled, then you know, clearly you, we're not the type of company that should be working together. I don't wanna work with you
Mica: At all.
Take me back to your first food photo shoot. What about that shoot felt different from your other shoots?
When I started the photography game, it was a lot of taking pictures of where I was, my surroundings, what I thought was beautiful in my eyes. So lots of landscape stuff and architecture stuff.
Then I stumbled across The Bite Shot, I think is what [00:12:00] it's called on YouTube.
Mica: Yes, The Bite Shot so awesome. Shout out to Joanie Simon.
Meika: Uh,love her. She is one of the big reasons why I went into food photography. She just makes it seem so easy. Like it's not this stuffy little world. It's just your love for food and aesthetics and plating.
And it was also another reason for me to buy a bunch of random things. two napkins and three, four,I have such a collection now and my boyfriend is always side eyeing me whenever I bring a bag into the house. what is in there?
Mica: He's like where are we gonna put this?
Where There's no room? We'll figure it out.
You mentioned that your journey started with architecture and landscapes. What was it about architecture and landscape that fascinated you? I know you mentioned that it was beautiful and interesting. What did it make you feel?[00:13:00]
Meika: Oh, that's a really good question. I loved symmetry and I loved things that were out of the ordinary. I had a fascination with power lines in the sky. I don't know. It was just things that people wouldn't normally see as beautiful or interesting. I thought they were interesting. I thought they were really dope.
So I would snap pictures and post them on Instagram. That was my thing. Then I found a community that loved the same things I loved. I was building these relationships online with other people around the world who made me feel like that's not so weird.
I also think this is dope. So that is just where I was like, okay. Wow. I feel at home in this art, in this space, and I wanna keep exploring. I started taking pictures of people, just people in the Street photography. I was just chilling in a park or doing random things throughout the day.
Then I met a mentor who turned , he was a friend first. And then he turned into like a mentor, a really great buddy of mine. And he was like, you need to use a DSLR. This whole time, I was using my iPhone. He was like, I have a DSLR. You should take [00:14:00] it for a spin.
I've never put that thing down for six months. I was shooting everything. I was just capturing people in their spaces. I was having conversations with them and just taking these raw images and it was great. I found Joanie Simon and her YouTube channel and I was like, I could do that.
I love food. I'm one of those typical people, taking pictures of my food at a restaurant before, like you dig in. I'd like, stop the table. Stop right there.
Mica: It's like no one touch anything.
You'd smack a hand. Don't touch it!
Meika: Yes, I was her. Oh, she was Yes. I would always do that. And I found her channel and I watched videos for like eight hours straight.
Meika: Yeah, I sat and I watched for so long and I did that for likefour or five days. Just always watching her shit and. And I just was like, okay, I can do this.
I went to the store the next day and I bought some strawberries and I bought things that I could quickly move around on a table. I had studio space [00:15:00] in Philly at the time, went to the studio. I turned on a couple of lights. At the time, I didn't know how really to use lights either, but I was just playing.
That's how you get the great stuff is you play. You get out and you play.
Meika: I took some photos and I was like, Yo, these are dope. I can do this. This is wow.
I, Like I'm really good at this.
And that was like with me playing. And so I told myself like you played and you did this. That right there, I was like, I gotta do this. This is in me. It fills me.
Mica: Would you say that your love of landscape and architecture influenced your food photography as well?
Meika: Yeah, absolutely. It had to. I think it's like my love for lines. I'm not really gonna dive too deep into like the rule of thirds. I really am not 1,000% sure about those things, right? When I started photography, it was because I [00:16:00] loved these odd things and these different things.
I didn't tap in too much with the technical side, like the technical verbiage and reading books and taking courses. I didn't, I just started shooting. To this day, I'm sure I need to build and learn and continue there.
Mica: But you've built something really valuable. You're learning from a place of intuition and a place from feeling. I don't think that's something you can teach in a classroom. That's something you have to learn on your own. can learn the tech part of it, but the whole point of learning the technical part of it is just to know how to break the rules.
Know the rules first and then know how to break them. I used to work at a, an assisted living facility when I was, I graduated from high school, and they were training me to be a,a medicine aide. I don't know why, like I had no business giving anyone
any medicine. But they're like, she has a diploma.
So she's qualified. but the person who trained me, thankfully took her job [00:17:00] very seriously. And she said, I'm going to teach you how to do it. I'm gonna teach you how I do it, and then I'm gonna teach you how to not do it.
And then your job is to figure out what works for you. Yeah. That's how I approach photography. What was the moment that you knew you wanted to be a photographer?
Meika: Oh, I would say the moment I knew first for a FY fact is when I delivered my first album to an unpaid client, this was for free, I delivered my album and they didn't say anything. In the first, like minute and a half, they were just flabbergasted at the results. And I was like, damn, when I get silence or like a mouth drop and people are just like in, like when I could see the reaction of the love of people seeing in themselves.
I just loved that. I helped do that. It just feels, so it feels so [00:18:00] good to help other people feel good. Yeah, I would say that's the moment.
Mica: Is there anything that you wish you could change about how food is photographed?
Meika: I wish I could change like these rigorous rules and structured how to guides. I know we've talked a lot about doing it your way, doing it their way, doing it the right way, doing it the wrong way. I wish I could change that. Take out quote unquote the right way. Go and play and experiment, and I bet you, you can get the same image as, a different food photographer would using quote unquote the right way.
Be playful and be thoughtful and just to get your hands dirty and play.
Mica: I love that. I love that. And I agree. How has the way you approach food photography changed over time?
I feel like I started out being super whimsical and fun and just shooting what I wanted to shoot. I got a part-time job in corporate being a marketing photographer for one of the like readymade [00:19:00] meal companies out here in the bay. I got stuck in the grind of shooting, how they wanted me to shoot.
Meika: They have their brand guidelines and I fell into that. And then I got sad. I got bored and I'm like, this is not why I wanted to shoot food. So leaving that and going back into shooting food that, I love and how I wanted to shoot it and, using the props I wanted to use. It just they brought the fun back.
So I feel like I'm constantly on that line of how much do I shoot so that I'm still making money, but I'm not losing the joy and the love and the passion that I have for photography. Like I, I feel like I'm always straddling that line with all forms of photography, with portraiture, with landscape.
Like when do I stop loving this? And I, what do I do to stop myself from even getting close to that line? Because I don't wanna, I don't wanna lose the passion for it, just for the money.
Mica: Have you ever gotten close to that line where it became work versus love?
Meika: Yes. And it was with that same brand where I was like, okay, I really, I don't wanna take a picture of another piece of fruit. Is not, [00:20:00] what I signed up for, what is happening. and I can't really be mad at the brand. Because that they have to do that. They have to speak to their consumer.
They have to take photos of what they offer. That's where I found out, okay, I'm not a product photographer. Like I cannot take pictures of. Of just products by themselves. Strict product photography, like for eCommerce is not my schtick.
Mica: I prefer to work with brands that have never hired a food photographer because it just gives me the room to play and create and do something wonderful as opposed to brands that already are established. And they're like, we just want you to like, do what this photographer did.
And I'm like then go hire that one again.
Why are you talking to me? You just wanna want someone with a camera who can just snap a shot. Point and shoot gigs is what I call it. It's a point and shoot gig.
I wanna dive into another topic. Something that I found interesting. You said in an interview that [00:21:00] great photography is finding the sauce of your image. I love that statement. I love, love, love that statement. You define the sauce as the vibe, the funk, the freshness, the dopeness, the sway, the love and heart of an image.
Tell me about the first moment you found the sauce in your work. What did it feel like?
Meika: Oh man. honestly, the very first time that I found it was when I got out and I played with food that very first time. Remember when I sat and I watched all those videos by Joanie Simon, and I was like, okay. I finally feel ready that I can go and make something that I can be proud of. I'm gonna go play.
So I bought all the groceries, went and I spent some time in the studio. I was tethered, so I was able to see what I was shooting. That's when I was like, yo and I think it circles back into when you said, you have a, I don't, you didn't use these specific words, but I've heard these about my work is like you have an eye and an eye is something that you cannot teach.
Like you could teach the technical part, but you have a, you have a natural knack for this. That's when I knew, [00:22:00] like I saw the knack as the funk, like the sauce, the not knowing all the technical jargon.
Mica: It just felt right.
Meika: Yes, it felt good in my heart. It's like writing a paper and knowing you killed that.
Like you did that. Without even getting your grade back. Like you knew you got A in your eyes, you know what I'm saying?
Meika: You like in my eyes, this is an A paper. And I don't even care what you grade it, cause I know the funk is on that paper.
Mica: You feel good about what you walked away with. There's so many times I felt that in like auditions and every time I had that feeling, I was cast for the role that I auditioned for.
Mica: That intuition, you just know it's like maybe I don't have all the technical stuff, but I know this looks good and I will figure out why it looks good.
Meika: Yes. Yes. I'll figure out how to recreate it. Yes.
Mica: Ah, that must have been a fun moment as a photographer. Those are rare moments.
Meika: What should other [00:23:00] photographers do to find that moment? The saucey moment in their work? Photographers shouldn't get so caught up in what other people are shooting or are posting. I feel like people get so caught up in like a trend or seeing something on Pinterest and being like, Ooh, I wanted to go try this. It's great to get some insight and some, what's the word I'm looking for?
Some inspo. It's great to get inspo from lots of different mediums. Like it doesn't have to be Pinterest. It doesn't have to be Instagram. It can be like a video you saw, or like when you were walking down the street and you saw oranges growing from a tree. And they like, the sun was just right through the leaves and the orange was doing its thing and you just like, wow.
That's so dope. Like I think you can get inspiration from anything from every everything. So I feel like just finding inspo from just your general life and going and putting that into your work, into your food photography. Forget the rules, bro. Like just play. Honestly, like that word is not because I don't have the [00:24:00] proper word to replace it with.
Like that is literally like what you need to do. Just play.
Mica: Just go in. No intention, no, no expectations. See where it takes you and have fun. Get out of your whatever box you've placed yourself in.
And I did this so much when I was like a year into food photography.
I did a lot of copy paste. I saw someone's work and I'm like, oh, I wanna do exactly that. There was nothing original, nothing authentic or unique about it. But as I learned more about myself as a photographer, I became more and more willing to fuck up. I don't think finding the sauce is something that can be planned. It's just something that happens organically.
Meika: Yeah. Yeah. And I felt that in my bones, because just to circle back to why I started photography and when I was getting all of the positive feedback and I was finding my niche, like I was fighting my crew, my, the people that loved what I [00:25:00] loved, no matter how weird, no matter how wrong, no matter how different it was, like somebody out there loved it.
And also making sure that I'm not soaking all of that up like,"Oh great. They love me. I'm gonna keep posting stuff like this." No, you have to love what you're doing. You have to feel happy with what you're doing and feel happy with the art you're creating. As long as you make yourself happy.
And you're happy in that. And you can sit in that and feel joy and reiterate and grow and duplicate that feeling. Then do what you need to do. Boo. You don't have to sell everything. You don't have to get a thousand likes. You know what I'm saying?
Mica: Yeah, absolutely. You could have a thousand followers who don't engage with a damn thing you do. More followers doesn't mean more support. It just means It's a number and it doesn't equate your value as a photographer.
Meika: That's right. People get so caught up. Plus one to that.
Mica: They really do. They really do. You've already touched base on this, but I wanna ask this in a more formal setting. How would you define sauce in the context of [00:26:00] food photography?
Meika: I would define it, if I could choose one word, it would be individuality. Don't do what everybody else is doing. Do whatever you wanna do. There's a rule of thirds when it comes to plating and adding like cutlery. And, you also wanna make sure that, I don't know the perfect terminology for this, but making sure that you don't have maybe, you know what it's called?
You can have to cut all this girl, but it's. Yeah.
Mica: Cause Somewhere in the world is another listener going it's.
Meika: Oh,like the complimentary colors that's I guess that's gonna get rough way to, to say it. Making sure that the color of your dishes compliment the background and compliment the napkins and compliment-
Mica: Color Theory.
Meika: Yeah. The color theory. That's the, actually, that's the word. Forget [00:27:00] that. You're not supposed to pair like a pink napkin with a red background. Forget that. I think it's cute. It could be Valentine's day.
Mica: Yeah, absolutely. I look at color theory from a place of feeling. How does colors make you feel? Why does it make you feel this way? The what and the why are really important.
You hit it on the nail, the individuality, why are you doing this? And if you're only doing it because some inaccurate Pinterest, How To Color Guide ebook tells you to then you are stunting yourself as an artist.
Meika: Ooh, that's good. You're stunting yourself as an artist. That's really good. I like that a lot.
Mica: Yeah. Stunting like my daddy. Sorry I just thought of um, um-
Meika: I thought of too, but I didn't know like how hood we could get on this show, so.
Mica: This is my show and we can get as funky as we want. I'm I do not take myself contrary to the intro music. Like I totally laughed when I [00:28:00] recorded the intro. I was like, "I sound way too fucking grown for this show."
Meika: Yo You got the wheeze laugh out of me. It’s over. It's a wrap
I’m logging off I cannot. Not the wheeze laugh.
Mica: My God. It's the truth though. Yeah. So yeah. It's okay. There are no rules in this show. That's the beauty of being the solo host of a show. I was like, oh, I could do anything.
I would go crazy. I would do it all. So lemme ask you this why do you think it's important for photographers to be able to tell their stories through their images?
Meika: We were talking about this earlier. I'm black. I'm black, black, black, black blackity, black. You black.
It's already hard enough to be black. A black person. We are women. We're black. We're photographers and we're food photographers. Like it just keeps [00:29:00] nicheing down. And our voices need to be heard. Our pictures need to be seen and felt. Adding in that sauce, that individuality to our pictures is important.
It goes back into breaking the rules. People write books about food photography. There are so many books, great books, but they're not written by black women. Black women food photographers.
Mica: It's interesting that you said about what it's like to be a black woman in this industry cause I wanna segue into that. What does it mean to be a black woman photographer?
Meika: It's challenging, specifically given the times that we are in. I don't only wanna be hit up around Juneteenth. I don't only wanna be hit up around Black History Month, and when you feel bad because somebody just got shot. When I tell you the amount of inquiries I got after our brother, George Floyd happened? Like after all of that stuff happened, the riots and the speaking up and the awareness. Rightfully so all of that stuff. Rightfully so.The [00:30:00] brands, baby, the brands that slid into my DMS, like, yo, we see you. We wanna pay you a little bit to go capture this because we care. And that's another constant battle.
Do I ignore them? Do I tell them off and tell 'em about themselves? Or do I get this bag?
Mica: It's a conflicting feeling because getting this business because someone died.
I'm so conflicted because I, I want the business. I want the business, but I don't want it because a person lost their life and you feel bad about it. I've been here all year doing the work, showing up.
So why don't you hit me up when someone hasn't died?
Why don't you give me business while people are alive? Like it should not have to take someone dying for me to get a food photography job.
Meika: Or a holiday.
Mica: Or a holiday. That February be real busy at.
Meika: Listen, they start hitting you up in December, son.
Mica: [00:31:00] Yes, during that entire time, the Black Lives Matter movement. It felt great to be recognized for the work that I do and
for the work that many other African Americans, black women, black people do, it felt good that we were getting that support.
But at the back of my mind, I felt guilty because this person lost their life. And I don't want to have success because this person was murdered. It just doesn't feel right.
Meika: Yeah. I feel like people were buying their allyship. You know what I'm saying? Let me throw this person a quick bone so I can appear to be an ally or somebody who cares. And I'm not saying the brands that I've worked with did that. Let's just be, let's be clear. But it felt real convenient, like y'all, it was real quiet in 2019 and then 20, 20, 20, 21, 20 22 came along and everybody got a D I B plan.
How do you voice your concern and support simultaneously?
Mica: And [00:32:00] how do you show gratitudewhile still keeping the conversation focused around the entire reason for all of this overwhelming support? There's all these directories. I found my name listed on websites. I found people hitting me up and and then I was even double whaming it because I'm half Mexican. So I'm like, are there Mexican directories out there? I can be on that one too. So I read an article that, you're involved with Black Women Photographers. What inspires you to help other photographers of color find their voice through your work with Black Women Photographers?
Meika: Oh, man. I love this question. I have so much to say, let me collect my thoughts. Say it all. I'll,I'll,I'll over here and listen intently.
I love lifting as I climb this ladder. This corporate ladder specifically, because I feel like every opportunity [00:33:00] I get, I can show other photographers and they don't have to be young photographers. You know what I'm saying? People become photographers at any age. I show other Black photographers, black women photographers that it can be done.
There is a space for you. There's a way for you. And every gig I get, like I try to open the door, keep that door open, I may not have opened it, but I'm here, I'm in the room. So how can I continue to pull up as I climb, as I learn new things, as I get these opportunities. I just started a job in big tech and I am at the table in terms of who do we choose as photographers?
And I'm like, oop, I have a database. I can't do it because I work here, but I will pull up as I climb, like I will. And I've opened that door. Like,Hey, I have an opportunity for event photographers for interior design photographers, architecture photographers. Give me your resumes, give me your links.
Like I wanna plug you. People get so scared. I don't wanna plug other photographers because it's taking money away from me. That's taking opportunities away from me, but that's so untrue. There's so many organizations, there's so many opportunities. There's [00:34:00] so much room at this table. There's enough for everybody.
Mica: Yes. The community over competition. I, gosh, I can't express that enough. You hit it on the nail. There's enough room at this table for all of us to succeed.
How has this directory with Black Women Photographers helped other photographers?
Meika: Many women in that group think the way I think. So when there are opportunities that arise when if they can't cover something or if they don't have the knowhow or if they don't if that, so their special specialty, like they tap into that, to that network. Like, Hey girl, are you available so, and so dates? Or do you have this specialty? Polly makes it really easy to figure out, okay, this person has this specialty. This person has the specialty. This person is here. This person is there. Tap into them. I've gotten so many inquiries from that directory. If you're not a part of that directory girl, you need to be a part of that directory.
You deserve to be a part of that directory.
Mica: I'm a part of it. I am so a part of it. That's how I also was featured on Flickrs [00:35:00] 16 Questions.I see Black Women Photographers, just doing, out of all of the organizations I've seen so far that one is just really pushing other photographers forward and putting them out there. And doing the everyday work to make sure that we're seen, we're heard and we're supported. How has Black Women Photographers helped you grow as an artist and a person?
Meika: That's a great question. So they have put me in front of the people who make the decisions to hire photographers. And honestly, I lowkey think it just takes one. It just takes one big box name on your resume for other big box names to take you seriously to know that you are responsible enough to take on a project of such stature.
Like it just takes one. And for me it was American Airlines. Like it just took that one to find me for other. Like Target, like Peloton, like there were so many other, oh man, Starbucks. Other brands to take me seriously and to hire me and to say, [00:36:00] Hey, she can put out some really dope work.
Like we need to hire her as well. Like, Oh, they're working with her. Let me see where she got to. And I love that. I love that. And I would not be here. I'm telling you right now, or it would just have taken me so much more time to get to where I am without Polly and Black Women Photographers. And I tell her this, every chance I get, like every time she responds to my message, I'm like, yo, don't you paved away from me in my family.
Like you did that. Thank you. And I will continue to climb this ladder and pull up my women. Like I will be here for as long as I can. As long as I got a camera in my hand, I'm gonna have another hand reaching back, grabbing whoever I can to come up here with me.
Mica: I love your message about, as you climb, you provide opportunities for others to climb. It takes confidence in yourself in knowing that, if I give this opportunity to this photographer, even though they're probably my competition, I still want them to succeed.
Community over competition.
We all need to support each other as women. And especially because society [00:37:00] unfairly pits women against each other. How do you think being a black woman in photography has impacted the type of work that you produce?
Meika: This is gonna sound terrible, but I'm gonna say it. I feel like it's just not so vanilla. Just like I season my steaks and my chicken and put a little I put a little cinnamon sugar in my, on my bagels with my butter in the morning.
Like I flavor the way I produce my content. If I use hands in pictures, I try not to only use white hands. Like I'll use black hands. I'll use different Latinx hands. Like I different shades to the people that I tap into. I just have a specific eye and a specific upbringing. And even just being an individual, like in my individual experiences as a woman, as a black woman. I look at certain things a certain way. I, I take information in differently.
Like I feel like I have to be [00:38:00] ultra aware of who's around me. Who's in the room. Who am, who I'm hiring as a dig tech, who I'm hiring as, a stylist. I try to always tap into who I am and who I respect and who gets it when I'm trying to craft certain imagery. And it just is a little hard because there's just not a lot of people who look like me in the industry, specifically where I live, I'm in the Bay Area, the Yay Area.
And there's just not a lot of diversity in the photography world, specifically with commercial photography. I try so hard to find people who look like me, to help out or to give a break to, or to hire.
Mica: Do you think that the reason why there aren't many Black photographers or just black people in the commercial world is because they just don't know how to get into it? Or because they've been told no so many times that it's discouraging? Why do you think there are [00:39:00] not many black food photographers in this industry?
Meika: Listen, if it is the fact that it's not so much about what, you know, it's who you know,and it's like the constant clawing to try to get to where you are, you claw, but you try not to step on people. You work, you hustle, but you try not to be disrespectful.
If it's that, then that's really sad. And I can understand how people could start there like, oh, get so passionate about it and be like, man, this isn't for me, cuz I'm not getting where I wanna get. I'm not at the tables I want to be at, and may, maybe it's because I'm Black. I don't look like them. If that's it.
That's so freaking sad. And I could see that being the reason. When I'm meeting with these different brands and they like put together like a little cute little deck for me to check out and they got the brand standards and there's, four or five people on zoom and nobody's Black. I could see why people would quit. I'm not tap dancing in front of these people just to get them a couple pictures. I can see, I can totally see that. And it is a constant battle.
Like, am I tap dancing or is it the talent? I could see how people can [00:40:00] get discouraged and just be like this ain't this, ain't it. I'm not doing this. And it's just this constant like game of Teris and trying to figure out am I gonna be successful here? And if not onto the next thing, because this just dives so far into generational wealth and generational success. And how much harder we have to fight to get seen and to get the dollars and have success with our families.
And, oh God, we could talk about this for hours, sis. I think that's where that ties into like, we constantly have to fight for the notoriety.
Mica: We have to work twice as hard. We have to do twice as much amazingness. It just seems like it's a never ending-
Meika: Rat race.
Mica: Yeah. Just a never ending race. Me and, two friends, we did a campaign called Pass The Butter Y'all, and we were finding white food content creators with large followings to connect them with Black food content creators with smaller [00:41:00] followings, where they could do an Instagram takeover on their accounts. And we were coordinating and connecting and placing them just giving them that spotlight for them to talk about their business, talk about what they do. And the first campaign went really well, but it took hours and hours of trying to find Black food content creators in the city of Austin. Like, could not, I could not find anything. And I was just like, why, why? And me and my partners really wanted to keep it going, but we just were not finding any luck with any content creators. What are some challenges you've faced as a black woman working in this industry?
Meika: You know when you're in a hallway at the office and you see another black person, and they see you and y'all get closer and then you do the nod. You know like the black nod, you do that.
I do it in the grocery store. I do it everywhere, girl. Do it at the gym when I went twice. Like [00:42:00] I do it everywhere. Having that nod in food photography is so great. It's so great when I meet other Black photographers who shoot food. There's not many of us.
Mica: And if there are where y'all at?
Meika: Find me immediately.
Mica: I know what you're talking about that nod. I do it if I see someone in a restaurant. It's a, I see you, I'm here. And if anything happens, I'll make sure that your story is told.
Meika: I haven't come face to face with a black food photographer who wasn't willing to lend a hand or lend an ear or lend a resource, which is really great. Being Black and being in the food photography realm is beautiful in this time because we are trailblazers.
There's not many of us, so whatever we can do to make it easier for the next generation or the next group of people who wanna do what we do. I will find a way, like I just, I try to walk into doors and walk into spaces where I have an opportunity. And leave that door open or, keep that relationship [00:43:00] brewing, send 'em a message every here and there. "Hey, I'm still here, you got new work. oh, you're doing this type of work. I got somebody for you."
Every time I get an email where somebody's asking me like, "Yo, you do events? I'm like, no, I don't, but here is five other local black photographers who do event.
Like I always do that.
Mica: The ones who make the hiring decisions, art directors, art buyers, it would be really cool to see those opportunities present itself for more Black photographers. I'd like to believe that there are a lot more Black food photographers out there. There's just not a space for them to connect and grow and meet one another. Maybe that's something we can start. Have a little group for Black women food photographers who wanna get into food photography.
Meika: Yes. I'm down.
Mica: Okay. So we're doing this, we're doing it. We're gonna scheme and dream.
Meika: I'm telling you, like I have this in my mind. I thought about this. We can have workshops. We can have industry leaders come and talk. It can be like a whole comicon for Black food photography.
Mica: Okay, we're gonna talk about this more. I'm gonna email you and we're gonna start scheming and dreaming.[00:44:00] I'm like Michael Jackson, I wanna be starting something.
Meika: Listen, starting something good.
Mica: What do you hope for in terms of representation and visibility for black women photographers?
Meika: I hope that the spaces that people are starting to create are genuine and that you really do want our opinions and our insight and the way that we approach things. I hope it's genuine and I hope you keep doing it. I hope it doesn't take a tragedy or a holiday to get us at the table. That's something that I was taught in business school. Like you, if you want a different product, if you want a product that's gonna sell, that's gonna peak the interest of different communities. Then you have to put those people from those communities at the table when you're crafting these products. Like we have to be at the table.
Let's talk about it all together.
At the table. From the beginning, the kickoff meetings, those are real. Put us at the table. Let's create some really dope art together. I think that's the change that we need to see. Don't add us in as photographers you know, the first photographer that you typically use isn't [00:45:00] available and you thought you would throw some diversity after the fact. Like put us at the table from jump y'all. Come on.
Mica: Yeah, it just it's so disingenuous when it happens that way. Don't just hire a Black photographer just so that, it has a little flavor. Do it because you really do believe in the message of inclusivity and diversity and wanting to be like a real ally.
Do the work every single day, not just on a holiday or a tragedy,
Mica: So we talked about a lot and I loved everything that we discussed. Like man, the journey to get to this moment. What do you hope listeners take away from this conversation?
Meika: If there's one thing you take from this conversation, take that, Meika squared is goofy as hell. It's take that. Take that. Take that. You should lift as you climb. And [00:46:00] constantly climbing the ladder and breaking the rings of the ladder as you climb is not gonna help you because once you get to the top, you are gonna see that there's nobody up there that looks like you, boo.
Like they're not, they it's it's not gonna work. Lift as you climb. Pull up as climb.
Mica: What's the Drake started from the bottom. Now we here.
Meika: He wasn't there by himself.
Mica: We are here.
Meika: Yes. You and I.
Mica: Where can listeners find you and follow you and support you?
Meika: Ooh, you can find me at for my food photography on IG, instagram.com/peppery.jpeg. and you can just head to my website www.meikaejiasi.com. I'm sure she'll link it for you in
Mica: all Yes, all shownotes.
Mica: you know, I can't, I can spell it for y'all, but we can be here 15 minutes.Try spelling [00:47:00] it phonetically.
Meika thank you so much for being a guest on The Savory Shot Podcast. This is by far the funnest interview
had. And we're besties now. I mean, we're twin names. So-
Meika: You gonna do it like my best, my actual bestie may find you and fight you. Like she doesn't play. So it's a problem.
Mica: I will win her over too because I'm kind of awesome.
Meika: You are, your work is also fire. I'm not sure how many guests you have on the show that talk about your work. But your work is also fire and I'm a fan. And I really appreciate you having me on your show. Like I'm hella flattered. I would do it a thousand times over. Yes, you're great.
Yay. Yay. Okay, now I'm gonna go cry in the bathroom. Cause that was so nice.
Oh, you deserve it. You deserve your flowers. You do.
Thank you again for being on the show and thank you guys for listening to this episode.[00:48:00]