Mischelle Moy Uses Rich Visuals and Bright Colors to Honor Her Culture

Posted inDesigner Profiles

Once you step into the magical world of Mischelle Moy’s photography, you simply won’t want to leave. Deftly orchestrated color explosions of highly saturated jewel tones play out within Moy’s meticulously crafted maximalist sets, creating a veritable feast for the eyes. The multi-hyphenate digital artist, commercial and editorial photographer, and production designer is a born and bred New Yorker who’s lived in the same neighborhood in South Brooklyn with her family for her entire life. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a degree in photography in 2016, and has since forged a path for herself in product photography that often centers around her Chinese heritage.

Moy’s artistic practice is dual-pronged, split up into her studio photography work under the name Studio Misch and her digital photography, which she assigned her nom de plume Lil Misch. Within Studio Misch, Moy has executed impressive campaigns with the likes of Umamicart and Cirque Colors, and led on a 2021 Lunar New Year Calendar entitled From Chinatown, With Love that spotlighted small business in New York’s Chinatown.

I recently had the great joy of chatting with Moy about her craft, background, and why Chinese culture continues to be so central to her work.

What first brought you to photography and set design?

The middle school that I went to was one of those “gifted and talented” schools, so I had to take a test to get in, and I got into the art talent, where I started creating a portfolio. Then from middle school, I tested into LaGuardia High School, which is an art school that also required a portfolio, and drawing tests, and things like that. We had a black and white photo class and that was really fun to me. I enjoyed color film photography too, which is the extremely manual way of Photoshopping, so I learned a lot about the mechanics of color and how to manually produce and develop that. That’s also when I first learned about shoots and form through the camera too. So that’s what made me decide to pursue photography in college.

I went into college wanting to be a fashion photographer because my mom works in fashion, so I grew up in that space too. But that ended up being something you need to be pretty connected to do, and a lot of networking is required, and being very social. I was like, that is not for me. I had professors who showed me that you can do so much with a photography degree. You don’t have to just hold the camera— you can curate, be a director, be an editor; you don’t have to actually use a camera to produce things. So that really opened my eyes and showed me all of these different paths that I’d never thought about.

What was the transition like from the warm embrace of SVA to the real world as a working photographer?

I actually worked retail right out of college because nothing was coming to me. People have an expectation that you’re immediately going to get work out of college, but you don’t. So I worked retail and it was extremely draining. That’s when I realized that I need to be creative. Making art, and thinking about art, and seeing things that way was all I knew since I was little. So I quit and went on vacation to take a mental break. I had the plan of taking that break and then going back to work, but during that break was when I actually got my first small gig.

In the fall of 2018 I was hired to do the first look book for Wing on Wo. & Co. I’m so thankful to that whole family and store because they gave me access to everything and let me do whatever I wanted; I had total creative freedom. I was able to put my name on it and show the world something, and Wing on Wo helped me promote it. So from that project I was able to snowball more work and never had to go back to retail.

I’m really grateful that the Wing on Wo family and I are still so close after all of this time. I don’t think either of us expected any of this. Going in I was just like, Oh, this is just a fun creative project. I don’t know what I’m doing! I created ideas like a week before, sketching on the subway— but I had no other plan; I had no shot list. It just really worked out for the both of us!

Your Chinese culture and heritage is such a central part of your art and the clients that you work with. Why is that so important to you?

I think a lot of it stems from me being the oldest firstborn of the American generation in my family. That role defines so much of who I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My college thesis was actually about this, and I had to dissect my identity. It was something I was scared to do, but it was so personal that it was kind of like therapy to me.

The thesis was a collection of four by six film photos that examined my role and my responsibilities at home. That included being the oldest of four, which meant I had to take care of the kids while my parents were at work. I have two younger siblings who are 12 years younger than me, so when I was in high school, I had to help check their homework and things like that. I also grew up with both sets of grandparents here, so whenever they needed to go to the doctor, I would have to be the one to go, just because I could translate. Anytime there was a problem with utilities like T-Mobile, or DSL, or anything like that, I would be the one to call because I was the only one who knew how to do it. The elders can’t speak English and the younger ones weren’t old enough to help. So it was a lot of responsibilities that I didn’t sign up for, but it created who I am.

After college, I realized that there are others who grew up similarly, and we all struggled through all these things together. I wanted my own community, and I found this Facebook group that had just been created called Asian Creative Network. People kept joining, it was a global thing, so then the New York City members wanted to create our own subgroup. It became very successful and was one of the things that I’d never had my whole life and really needed. So I put a lot of time and energy into creating and leading that group. Even growing up in New York City, in Chinatown, I feel like I never had my kind of people. There was also something so niche about my work stemming from my heritage, so that’s why the Asian Creative Network was so important to me. I made so many friends there and met my partner through it.

My work is a reflection of who I am. The younger generation can’t really relate to what I had to go through growing up. I had to grow up faster, and I had to preserve certain traditions, language, and practices. We’re the ones who have to pass it down. We’re the translators and mediators of our culture. I’m also grateful for Wing on Wo. and many other people in the community in Chinatown because we’re that same millennial generation who have to take the reins, and lift all of us up, and preserve the old traditions, while also making things better.

How did you develop your very distinct, highly saturated, maximalist visual aesthetic?

I’m not really sure! The only thing I can think of is in college I used to wear dark, black clothes all of the time, and I feel like that brought my mood down. So at a certain point I had this pivot, this 180, where I was like, I’m gonna wear color; I’m gonna dye my hair pink. I wanted to be loud and colorful and out of my comfort zone. That translated into my work! I decided to do all of this and it just became who I am. It doesn’t feel like it’s forced out of me— it feels very natural to me. I guess color has always been kind of hidden inside somewhere; I just didn’t let it out.

Can you pinpoint what caused this change? 

When I was working in retail, the creative juices were really screaming to come out, and I was like, I need to quit. I can’t do this anymore. I really needed to start taking care of myself. At that time, I was living at home with my parents, so I invested all of my time into creating work. Every single day I was creating something, really letting the creative juices flow organically, and then sharing what I made on social media. It was all flowing out of me because it had been stuck for so long.

One of the joys of following you on Instagram is seeing the behind-the-scenes videos you post of your artistic process. Why do you share this aspect of your work with your audience?

For my Lil Misch artwork, I don’t show any behind the scenes because I don’t want you to know the secrets. But for Studio Misch, I share the behind the scenes point of view because I’m so proud of all of the rigging and the set that I’ve created, that I want you to see all of the angles, and how much work I put into this, because it took hours. It’s more manual, and when you produce something with your hands, you’re more proud of it. It’s like, I built that. I just want to show all of the angles of it and the different dimensions and be like, Hey, did you notice this?!

What has it been like for you having to learn how to work with and photograph food for so many of your clients?

I never intended on working with food. It just came about because I was working with the Wing on Wo porcelain and we had to plate something, and from that everyone was like, Oh, you can shoot food then? And I was like, I guess? I’ll try! Doing it more and more, I learned there’s actually an entire field of food and beverage stylists, and all of these people who specialize in that. I’m still learning about it, and the professional aspect of working with a team, because I’ve always worked by myself for my projects, wearing all of the hats.

It’s also interesting because I don’t like cooking. It’s really, really stressful for me because I feel like I don’t have control over food. It’s perishable, it congeals, you literally have milliseconds with the set-up. I’ve learned some hacks for those things, but only a few of them actually work; you really have to work with a professional for it. It’s been very challenging coming this far without having that much experience with food and the science of food; I think that’s really important to know for food photography. It’s only fun because I get to eat the food sometimes!

Do you have any interest in becoming more of an expert at the food styling side of things? 

I definitely respect it, and I did try to learn it, but I don’t think that’s something I want to do. That has to be somebody else’s job so that I can focus on the actual full visual of the set-up and photo. Knowing what I want to do in general is something I’m also trying to figure out right now. The last whole year, I’ve been trying to figure out if I still want to stay in photography; I’ve strongly considered pivoting into something else, career-wise.

What other sorts of career paths are appealing to you?

I’ve been lucky to have been invited to be a production designer for film sets, and that was very fun and interesting. I’ve also thought about producing, but I’m not really a people person. So there are a lot of things that I want to do, and it’s just a matter of seeing if I can do it by learning more about it.