October 2017 Member of the Month

Joe Schmelzer

by P. Berberian October 2, 2017

Joe Schmelzer


Photographer Joe Schmelzer might have taken an entirely different career path had it not been for boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

While the bedrooms of his junior high classmates were plastered with posters of big-hair bands and bigger-haired babes, that wasn’t the case with Joe’s walls. Commanding the space above his twin beds hung only a framed black-and-white portrait of the history-making heavyweight—one of a limited edition signed by photographer Yousuf Karsh. The posted was placed there by Joe’s father because it  didn’t match the downstairs decor, the photo would impact Joe’s life more than anyone could have imagined. Under the shadow of The Greatest, Joe says, “something just clicked.”

Nearly two decades later, Joe is an editorial and commercial photographer specializing in hotel, food, environmental and celebrity portraits. Recognized for the natural window-light quality of his images—and a knack for making even the prickliest subjects feel at ease—Joe is a familiar presence in the travel, shelter and entertainment markets. His work has appeared in every major interiors-centric magazine, website and blog, and is regularly featured in the editorial pages of Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Vogue UK, Sunset and Travel + Leisure. Joe also contributed to The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces (Clarkson Potter, 2012), a collaboration with interior-stylist-to-the-stars Kyle Schuneman and style writer Heather Summerville.

Peter Berberian: What made you first decide you were going to be a photographer?

Joe Schmelzer: My father owned an advertising agency in Cleveland, Ohio, and I was always surrounded by the creative. Even though my father really had no interest in me going into a creative field, it is what clicked. I hated summer camp as a kid, so I needed something to do, and decided to take some photography classes offered as a summer program at a local school. I never looked back.


PB: Is there a photograph you loved as a kid or an event that pushed you into being a photographer?

JS: I think it was my 10th birthday when I received my first 110 camera. But my family always had photos and super 8 films, I was always intrigued by that.

PB: What do you primarily photograph?

JS: This is a hard one. I photograph everything. For work, I started as a portrait photographer. I guess everyone thinks they are gonna be the next great fashion star, but I was always interested in taking pictures of people, by spending time with them and actually learning about them. I was never into the over-posed or forced look. I wanted it to be about the person.

I was given an opportunity by an old partner of mine to shoot an interior project. Something really clicked. I was always a little OCD, and the process of perfecting an interior really requires that close attention to detail. But then everything mixed together—interiors, environmental portraits, travel, food—I really approach it all the same way. I also love documenting and photographing life with my boyfriend, Nick Berry. That never gets old.

PB: Do you do anything before a shoot to prepare yourself?

JS: I try not to overthink or over-research. I love everything to be organized and produced well, but I try to let the situation dictate the images I will make. So, really, other than packing gear, commuting, and consuming about 7 cups of coffee, I just like to let the process happen.

PB: What is your favorite set up to shoot with?

JS: I am not a tech guy really. I have a BFA from RIT, so I have my fill of tech knowledge, but, I feel the camera is merely an extension of what I see. I generally shoot on a Canon system (EOS 5Ds), but my favorite tool for just making images is a Fuji x100. It’s small and the equipment doesn’t get in the way of the process.

PB: What is your favorite photography quote?

JS: Also a hard one, but I do like these:

“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” —Elliott Erwitt

“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.” —Alfred Eisenstaedt

PB: Who are your favorite photographers?

JS: William Eggleston

Stephen Shore, especially his book, Uncommon Places.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Nan Goldin

PB: If you were to do anything else for a living, what would it be?

JS: The only other thing that comes to mind is doing something with dogs or animals. Sometimes I think I should have been a vet.

PB: What is your favorite photo that you have taken?

JS: I have no idea how to actually pick a favorite…. but as a commissioned photo, I like this one very much for interior work:

PB: What is your favorite personal pic you have taken?

JS: I don’t know if this is my favorite, but I love this one of my boyfriend, Nick. It’s called “Nick with Bacon, Palm Springs, CA”

You can check more of Joe’s work at www.joeschmelzer.com and his PhotoServe portfolio.