I stand by my decision to choose this life...we can think ourselves out of anything, and it’s easy to forget that every passing moment is an opportunity to be happy and do what you love.
Megan Kathleen McIsaac, 25, first picked up a camera at the tender age of 7, starting a creative path in which photography would provide not just a livelihood, but a portal to self-acceptance and community. “Since I was a kid, I’ve just always known that this was my journey,” says Megan, who often walks the streets of Los Angeles, her old-school Mamiya C330 camera hanging around her neck. “I’ve never once thought that I would stop taking pictures, and knowing that helps me keep pushing myself. Whatever comes out of this, it’s always inspiring, knowing photography will create happiness for me for the rest of my life.”
Completely self-taught, she’s best known, perhaps, for her self-portraits: deeply honest, beautifully composed shots that capture Megan in various emotional states, from depressed to ecstatic, vulnerable to invincible. “The main thing with my self-portraits has always been self-discovery, peeling off the layers of persona,” she says. “Even early on, I had a lot of issues with self-esteem and being uncomfortable with the way I looked. I wanted to photograph myself so I could somehow get closer to my reality through the camera, compared with what I saw in the mirror. I still feel like I am able to tell better truths through photography than just through my own mental process.”
Growing up in a working-class family in Detroit, Michigan, life wasn’t always easy. “My family [was] trying to feed their children and [was] very distracted by all kinds of addictions and monotony. They all struggled with depression,” she says. “But I just wanted to turn things around a little bit.” Her grandfather, a photography enthusiast, gave Megan a Polaroid camera at age 7. And, her father, a police officer, had endless access to Polaroid film for crime scene photography. Using the film from her father, Megan started photographing her pets, then her family and, at age 10, herself. When she was 11, she began posting these self-portraits online, first on LiveJournal and Xanga, then on Myspace and Flickr, building her fan base that now numbers more than 200,000 on Tumblr alone.
When she was 18, she took the train from Detroit to Portland, Oregon. College wasn’t an option—she already knew she wanted to devote her life to travel and photography. Connecting with different artists in different cities was a major influence. “I learned so much about how to be an artist through all those people,” she says. “I learned how artists support themselves, how they keep themselves interested and their daily struggles. It helped me open my mind and see there are all these different ways to live.”
She moved to Los Angeles four years ago. Since then, she has photographed indie musicians including Ryan Adams, Devendra Banhart, The Black Crowes and Vetiver. She also founded a 15,000-strong community of creative women, called Inspired Women of LA, which hosts events and art shows and provides support via its Facebook page. And although she is constantly being contacted by magazines and clients who want to interview or commission her, life is not always stress-free. Megan shoots exclusively on film, which is expensive, and the cost of life in LA means she often has to take on multiple projects far below her standard day rate in order to make ends meet. But that’s okay, she says. It’s all part of the journey. “I’ve had so many people tell me that I shouldn’t pursue the arts, that I should suck it up and get a job,” she says. “But I stand by my decision to choose this life. I think we can think ourselves out of anything, and it’s easy to forget that every passing moment is an opportunity to be happy and do what you love. That’s what I’m trying to do, and I’ve never regretted it, not once.”
Written by Caroline Ryder Photography by Curtis Buchanan and Megan McIsaac