Inkerviews > Photographers > Photographer Extraordinaire & Tattoo Collector: Michelle X Star


Inkerviews features the work of tattoo artists and collectors, as well as fine artists, in a series of interviews. With an exciting lineup already in place and endless more to come, I hope you will check back often to read about these incredible people and enjoy their visually stunning talents.

Michelle X Star is one beautifully radiant package of superbness. A passionate photographer by trade, her zeal for cutting-edge photo art combines creativity and color, delivering big doses of punch and pizzazz. Not only will her artwork WOW you, but her kind demeanor, intelligent mind, and enthusiasm for life serves as icing on the cupcake.
Michelle X Star herselfI originally met Michelle online, but found myself lucky enough to shoot with her a couple of years ago. As an admitted dork when put in front a camera, I remember driving to her studio nervous and hoping that she wouldn't realize what a novice model I was. But lucky for me, I was instantly greeted by her sweet disposition and true professionalism. Needless to say, she taught me so much that day and I hardly even realized the camera was on, between our story sharing, chatter, and laughter. I have since been lucky enough to work with Miss X Star on other projects and it's always such a true honor and delight.
Always a creative soul, Michelle followed her heart and pursued a photography career, learning at the Art Institute of Photography in Denver, Colorado. From there, she hit the ground running, applying her skills in Los Angeles and working as a Production Coordinator for David LaChapelle.
As she incorporated many aspects of the skills she learned both in school and in the field, her unique style quickly emerged as she burst onto the scene. Her powerful photographs are easy to denote, with vibrant explosions of color, extraordinary scenery, and atypical models. Her work is full of emotion and the ability to story-tell with vivacious appeal.

Models with body art make prevalent appearances in Michelle X Star's photos, which isn't surprising, as she is a tattoo aficionado herself; with a spirited collection decorating her skin. In addition, she has been dedicated to the straight-edge lifestyle for a decade now and always radiates positivity and beauty when you are in her presence.
It was a true pleasure to interview this talented woman and I hope you enjoy a stroll through the world of Michelle X Star in today's Inkerview installment (our first in the Photography genre).

Were you born with a camera in your hands, Michelle? I am guessing that you were always artistic and captivated by photography, were you?

I have definitely always been artistic since I was a kid. Growing up, art classes were always my favorites. In high school I took all eight art courses they offered. I was also a part of the yearbook staff and realized photography was what I felt I was best at, even though I was interested in many different art forms.

As a child did you think you would become a photographer when you grew up?

I had no idea when I was a kid that's what I would be. My aunt is an anesthesiologist and I always said that's what I wanted to be, yet I don't think I even knew what it meant at the time. Once I realized what it was I obviously changed my mind (haha). I was always interested in taking photos, but I realized I wanted to go to college and pursue photography when I was in high school.

When did you get your first camera and how did you start your photography career?

I always had little cameras growing up, but I got my first professional camera when I was 14 years-old. It all began there.

Sabina Kelley

I know you went to school for photography. Can you tell us about how it helped prepare you for the industry?

I went to the Art Institute of Photography in Denver, Colorado. I really enjoyed my time there. I thought I was most interested in photo journalism, but once I started to learn more about other types of photography, lighting, and Photoshop, I realized there was so much more creative work that I wanted to do and that's when I started to develop my style. I learned the technical aspects of photography there and many things about the industry, but you can't really get a grasp of it until you are out in the world trying to make a living at it. 

Meagn Massacre from NY Ink

Who were your mentors when you were starting out?  Who inspires you nowadays in the photography and/or art world?

In high school, Daniel Weiss was the teacher who pushed and challenged me, and really made me fall in love with many different forms of art. In college, Dave Neligh was that teacher who helped me grow into the photographer that I am and helped push me into my own style.

When I moved out to Los Angeles, I worked with a few different photographers, but David LaChapelle was my biggest inspiration and his work still is today. I worked with him for almost two years as Production Coordinator at his studio and it was the best learning experience that I could have ever had. No one compares to him.

As far as inspiration, I am more inspired by unique and interesting people than any artists, I think. They are the ones who inspire me to create the work that I do. 

You are so talented and it seems that your photos always tell a story. How do you gather the ideas that you do for your shoots?

I guess a number of different ways. It all depends on the project that I am working on, whether it’s a client I am shooting for, a model, a band, etc. Ideas just come to me. There is no real way that I come up with them, but many times, it’s while I am laying in bed trying to fall asleep. I do, however, like to research and know things about the person I am photographing, because I love incorporating who that person is into the work.

Your use of color and vibrancy is explosive. Have you always liked working with bold, bright designs and settings?

Yes, I guess so. I'm obsessed with color, obviously. I do also love doing dark creepy scenes, but I don't get to do that as often. A lot of times even my darker imagery is still shot in a bright and bold way. 

Not only are your photography skills incredible, you are an amazing photo editor too. How did you learn this side of the business and how important do you think it is to being a top photographer?

I think editing is a very important part of digital photography. When I was studying photography, I was still shooting with film and slides; but towards the end of my schooling everything started going digital. I love, more than anything, that I have a background with film photography because it’s so good to have those skills and actually know what you are doing. There are so many people these days who just pick up a digital camera, that know nothing about the technical part of photography. Just with the way digital is, I believe editing is a lot more important than it used to be with film.

I had a number of editing classes when I was in college, which really helped. When I first moved out to Los Angeles, I did editing for a photographer for a few years, which also really helped me. It just takes time and practice to get better and better.

There are so many ways to do everything, it’s just figuring out the way that works best for you. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of photographers out there that don't know how to edit and hire professional retouchers. It is what it is, and some of them just don't have the knowledge or time. But I love editing my own work, because in this digital age it’s what really makes the photo a lot of the time.

Can you tell us about some of your recent projects? And also about the collaboration project you have with artist, Callowlily?

I work with a number of different clothing and accessory companies, as well as models and bands. I love working with a variety of people because it keeps things interesting.

I am also working on a collaboration project with Callowlily Art. We are planning on putting out a book together and having an art show as well. Any free time that I have all goes towards that project. When I see models that fit what I am looking for, we set up shoots that will be a part of that. The photos for the collaboration are definitely more surreal than a lot of my other photography work. Over the last 2 years we have been doing interpretations of each others work and the book will feature the artwork side-by-side. That is the most exciting project that I am always working on.

Your models always look like they are having so much fun. How do you go about finding the people you work with and how important is that to a successful project?

I mostly find people off the internet or in magazines these days, but sometimes I see people out in public or at events and my eye is just drawn to them.

You are an avid tattoo collector. Can you tell us about your tattoo collection: artists, locations of tattoos, etc?

  • 'Choke' on back of neck by Taylor Sixx (Timeless Tattoo- Los Angeles, CA)
  • Skeleton heart, hands and eye on upper back/neck by Megan Massacre (Deep Six Tattoo - Philly, PA)

  • Torn film strip with vertebrae and symbols for Sister Soleil lyrics on center of back by Nicholas Phillips (Loyalty Tattoos- Ogden, UT)
  • Large Bat, mini bats, Motionless In White Lyrics, lucky shamrock, Alesana Heart logo, and lips with poison skull/crossbones on stomach by Davey Suicide (Private Studio- Los Angeles, CA)

  • 'Pulse'/Heartbeat Line, From Autumn to Ashes Lyrics, Heartagram and Skeletons, symbol Inspired by David LaChapelle and crew on stomach by Adrian Gallegos (High Voltage Tattoo- Los Angeles, CA)
  • Traditional coffin w/wings, roses, webs, Alesana Lyrics on one knee and traditional heart lock w/wings, roses, webs, Hammerfall Lyrics on other Knee by Joe Truck (Ace Of Hearts Tattoo- San Pedro, CA)

  • Monsters with characteristics of friends on legs by Adrian Gallegos (High Voltage Tattoo- Los Angeles, CA)

  • Bride and Groom Day Of The Dead Skulls, Hammerfall Lyrics, Once Lost Pictures lyrics on feet by Kent Kelley (Stay True Tattoo- Las Vegas, NV)
  • 'Instigator' on toes- By Adrian Gallegos (High Voltage Tattoo- Los Angeles, CA)

  • Stars on inside ankles by Jher (Twisted Sol- Denver, CO)
  • Finding True Love With In A Confused Heart and Sharp Crying Heart on back of leg and Straight Edge Truth To Self and skull on back of other leg by Nicholas Phillips(Loyalty Tattoos- Odgen, UT)
  • '27' and '19' on Hands by Joe Truck (Ace Of Hearts Tattoo- San Pedro, CA)

  • Bee on heel (Skin Factory West- Las Vegas, NV)
  • Stars on top of wrists and 'Passion, Desire, Dreams, Inspire' on bottom of wrists by Nicholas Phillips (Loyalty Tattoos- Ogden, UT)

How do you come up with your tattoo ideas? What inspires your designs?

Most of my tattoos are based on either music, movies, inspirational people, or traditional themes. It’s all about passion and inspiration for me.
What new tattoo projects do hope to ink soon? Who will tattoo them for you?

I have a lot of what I want all planned out. I want to finish my knees, which are being done by Joe Truck; and then I have plans to sleeve the rest of my lower legs. I have a theme planned out and I would love Megan Massacre to do them. I also have plans for sleeves that will be themed, but I am not completely decided on who will do them yet. I've held out this long because I want them to be done right and all at once.

You are also a huge music fan and some of your tattoos reflect your favorite bands/lyrics. Does music also inspire your photography? Have you photographed some of your favorite musicians?

Music is definitely a huge part of my life. I love incorporating lyrics or themes that bands use into photo shoots with them, sometimes because it just puts more meaning into the photos; whether it’s subliminal or obvious.

I love working with bands and musicians because they are also very creative people, typically. I have had the pleasure of working with some of my favorite bands; and some of the bands I have worked with have become my favorites (haha). There are still a few on the list I would love to shoot one day. I haven't given up yet!

You are straight-edge and I know that is very important in your life. When did you first decide to live the sXe lifestyle?  How has it benefited your life?

I became straight-edge when I was 18 years-old and going to college in Denver. There were a large amount of straight-edge kids involved in the music scene and that's when I learned what the lifestyle was all about. I have never done drugs or smoked in my life. I rarely drank before and have only been drunk once, and that was the last time I drank. It was a bad situation and the following day I decided that I wanted to live the straight-edge lifestyle. My parents liked to party when I was growing up and I realized that lifestyle wasn't something that I wanted for myself. Family members dying from smoking made me never want to smoke and I've always just thought of it as a gross habit. I have also seen people I care about become involved with drugs and it just ruins lives, and that's never something I want to be a part of. I believe being straight edge is the best thing for my life because I can concentrate on the things that really matter.

What projects do you have coming up & what are your goals for the coming year?

I want to keep working on the Callowlily project and get that wrapped up. We are starting to look for publishers right now. I am also looking into doing a little bit of traveling and photos around the US so that will be a fun adventure.

I haven’t been in the past, but I am open to working with an agency now and trying out something new. I love the companies I work with, but would like to do some more commercial projects. We will see how that search goes.

What one word best describes you?


What one word best describes your work?


What is your favorite sweet treat?

Gummy Worms ;)

Be sure to visit Michelle's website and her myspace page, to see LOTS more of her amazing work.

Michelle, herself


Last updated on January 2, 2012 by Jinxi Boo