It’s a chilly night in November, and Tessa Paisan sits at a charcoal-colored iron table outside of Mermaid Tavern in Seminole Heights. Between shoulder length black-hair that neatly spirals down on either side, she sips from a tall glass of Kölsch, a beer native to Cologne, Germany.
Germany is a place Paisan dreamed of visiting when she was a kid, but realistically “never saw [herself] actually going” on her own. Growing up and attending high school in Naples, Tessa vaguely idolized the idea of moving to Colorado to be a weed farmer, but figured she’d end up closer in line with her parents vision of her becoming a nurse.
As she sits across the table, however, she’s only a few months removed from visiting Germany on a work visa, where she followed EDM-superstar and best friend, REZZ, as a freelance tour photographer.
Presently, Paisan offers this service to a variety of big name EDM stars, and can be spotted on the road or at festivals all around the country. Her clientele extends to acts like Zeds Dead, Peekaboo, and Whipped Cream, making her one of the most notable EDM photographers in the industry today. While touring and befriending electronic music stars is now status quo for the 24-year-old, life as an exclusive artist photographer was “not at all” something Paisan imagined only a few years ago.
When she was “16 or 17,” Paisan started attending her first electronic “raves,” bouncing between smaller shows in Tampa or Florida festivals like Life in Color. These settings provided a fun, safe space to party with friends, but also served as ground zero for her budding love for festivals and music, electronic music in particular. In 2014, she attended her first Ultra Music Festival, where she was first introduced to stage photography.
“I remember I saw Rukes (another well-known EDM photographer) on stage working,” says Paisan, talking with Creative Loafing only a few days before boarding another international flight to China to shoot for REZZ again. “I was like, ‘What the fuck, that’s such a cool job. I want to do that.’”
After Ultra, Tessa began teaching herself the nuances of photography and started applying editing and Photoshop skills she learned in high school. The creative and unique aspects of this, Tessa says, is what pushed her to keep learning.
“My peers were like, ‘What the fuck, this is some crazy editing shit,’” she says. “I didn't know what I was doing, I just wanted to experiment.”
Through further experimentation and advice from peers, Paisan discovered the crystal prism style that is now predominant in her photo catalog, which ranges from stage photos to profile portraits.
She began using different pieces of glass or paper; “anything to distort the image even more.” Her style has become so distinguishable that most fans can tell a photo is hers after only a quick glance on their timelines.
“My goal as a photographer was to have my photos be where people know that they’re mine. They’d look at it and be like, ‘Oh, that’s a Tessa Paisan photo.’ Now people tell me all the time that they look at a photo and automatically know it’s me—that was literally my end goal.”
The widespread circulation and recognition of her photos can also be credited to the high profile artists she has worked with, which Paisan says really began back in 2018. After mostly shooting artists in the area for free, she reached out to electronic act Liquid Stranger and was later booked to shoot his set at Okeechobee Music Festival.
Paisan automatically clicked with the Swedish-born producer, and, in late 2018, was ultimately booked for all “40-something dates” of his “Infinity” tour. For the first time ever, Paisan was the official photographer on a bus tour; now she works with dozens of artists on his label, Wakaan.
During this time, Paisan’s work began receiving recognition from other big name EDM artists, who would fly her to different locations around the country. One such act was Rezz (stylized “REZZ”,) an internationally popular EDM act that is now BFFs with Paisan.
“That’s my bitch,” says Paisan. “She was on tour in Orlando and Tampa. I had reached out to shoot and they were like, ‘Sure.’ We honestly didn't click immediately, but she really liked my [photos] and we kept in touch. Every time she came back to Florida, I’d hit them up. The more we worked together, the closer we got. Especially with Twitter, I was always saying some stupid shit and she thought it was hilarious.”
Through Twitter, Tessa has amassed a cult of personality and quite a following among EDM fans. What’s more, the app has shown what her photos can’t explicitly: her personality.
“I’ve always been really out there. I don't care what people think about me,” said Paisan, who labels herself as a “bisexual icon” and “the worst account on Twitter” in her bio.
A personality as out there as Paisan’s may seem out of place in the field of professional photography. Typically, photographers are charged with not drawing attention to themselves, often required to wear all black on stage. This, Paisan says, often extends to behind the scenes and perhaps is the reason she’s been able to stand out in such a short amount of time.
“I think that other photographers forget to connect with the person they’re working with. [Artists aren’t] just like this machine on stage, they’re a person. As much as skill is important, I think I can credit my personality in helping me stand out.”
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