As part of our efforts to support Women in Production and Photography, we are spotlighting different women and how they have made their impact within the industry.
Who is Melissa Majchrzak?
With a professional photography career spanning over two decades, Melissa Majchrzak has been in the photography business long enough to understand how much hard work and dedication it takes to make it. Because of all her hard work, Melissa has become the first and only female team photographer in the National Basketball Association. She’s spent 20 years working for the NBA and has spent the past 16 seasons working with the Utah Jazz. Outside of sports photography, Melissa’s work also includes corporate, portraiture, family, and concert photography.
WHY PHOTOGRAPHY IS SO IMPORTANT TO MELISSA
Melissa grew up on a small hobby farm in Stearns County, Minnesota. There she experienced the trauma of her home catching fire and burning down when she was just two years old. Her family lost everything, including all of their photographs. This tragic event ultimately led to Melissa’s passion to document everything she could through her lens. She never wanted to lose memories like that ever again. On her website, she quotes the phrase that “photos are a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.”
Melissa pursued her passion for photography by enrolling in college and earning her degree in Portraiture & Corporate Photography. Some of the sacrifices she made to pursue her education were working full time during the day and then attending night school that was over 85 miles away. When her class schedule didn’t allow her to take evening classes anymore, she made the move to Minneapolis. In need of a job and randomly just across the street from her apartment was a camera repair shop. Melissa made a cold call, she stopped in and asked if they had any positions. To her surprise they had just placed an ad in the paper that morning for an office assistant. 4 hours later she had a job with Marquette Camera Repair. She had no idea how this position would change her life.
The men who owned the camera repair shop advised Melissa she needed to be introduced to David Sherman, the NBA team photographer for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The shop owners made sure she was introduced to him. Melissa in general was not a sports fan, nor did she think she would choose a career in sports photography. But after meeting David and helping him at a Timberwolves playoff game in 2002 her sports career began.
That next season she started working with David as his assistant on all his corporate shoots and working every Timberwolves game as well. In 2004 she attended the All-Star Game in Los Angeles where she was able to meet the entire NBA crew. She worked as a “Local Assistant.” As a “local” it meant she paid for her flights, hotel, and meals. She may have not made any money on this trip but the long hours and dedication paid off. The question from others at the All-Star game was "why are you not shooting?" The next home game back in Minnesota is when Melissa started photographing NBA games as a second shooter. Her work continued in the NBA as she attended the finals and other All-Star games. In the spring of 2006, the question came if she would be interested in moving and covering her own team.
Melissa has been working as the team photographer for the Utah Jazz for 16 seasons and 20 seasons total with the NBA, during that time she has never missed a single game!
When the UWIPP team sat down to interview her, she gave great insight into the dedication and commitment required to be an NBA Photographer. Melissa puts in long hours arriving between 5 to 6 hours before a game to set up all her equipment. She has multiple cameras remotely set up in the arena to catch many different angles of the game action. Her handheld images are tied into a system that when she fires her camera they instantly send to the NBA - her process is a greased wheel.
Melissa often quotes “don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get from the work you did not do.” Melissa lives this as she constantly strives to improve, network, and market herself.
She currently has 57,747images on Getty Images for the NBA and other pro sports she covers while retaining the position of the first and only female NBA Team Photographer. Melissa also has taken on the role of mentoring up-and-coming photographers in the pro sports industry.
Melissa recollects that she never envisioned this life for herself. She always thought she would grow up to be a mom and own a private portrait studio in a small town in Minnesota. Melissa has moments where she is simply taking it all in with gratitude. She has had extremely unique experiences with police escorts to arenas, private jets, and helicopter rides. A favorite memory was the energy in the arena after the Spurs won the NBA championships against the Pistons, the energy of the fans in the building was overwhelming. She loves the passion that NBA fans bring to the game, the courtside view she gets, and the friends she has created that have turned into family.
Melissa was recognized in March 2021 for Women in Sports. The Utah Jazz wrote an article on her and acknowledged her on the court during a game, which gave her a great sense of pride in her career.
She considers the arena “her family” in Utah and has bonded with everyone at the arena from the janitors all the way to the owners of the Utah Jazz. She credits building and maintaining those professional relationships as a key to her success.
Working with the Jazz, she has formed an incredible network in Salt Lake City and was also able to grow her freelance work. She has a variety of clients, including USA Speedskating, Real Salt Lake, USA Climbing, and Utah Warriors Rugby. She also has a large corporate client base for medical, legal, and marketing projects.
Some of the career advice she would give to others is to be over-prepared and learn the art of conversation. She learned that skill from her dad - he could talk to anyone about almost anything and make them feel accepted and welcome. Melissa actively practices this skill any chance she gets and keeps up with the news, articles, and strives to learn as much about her clients as possible.
She also has a lot of great insights and advice for women who want to work in such a male-dominated industry. Melissa realizes the hardship women have to deal with as she has seen it first hand. She has seen the industry grow and more women hired into numerous positions. Building bonds with other women and creating a narrative of what is accepted and what we need to see changed is a small way she is laying the bricks for future women who are up and coming. She hopes that one day we won't need to celebrate the small victories of women being put into key roles and that it will be normal advancement.
Melissa’s approachable nature and can-do attitude have opened many doors for her. Melissa would say learning how to communicate and listen to everyone she comes in contact with and create a bond has helped her advance her career. Networking and finding simple connections with others have continued to generate new clients and freelance work opportunities.
Melissa started out at a very young age with a love for photography and it has turned into a very successful career that has given her so many opportunities she is forever grateful for. During her downtime, she has a deep passion for the sport of curling and you can find her at a club back in Minnesota competing in a bonspiel with her friends. Sailing when her schedule allows and spending time with family. Melissa is an extremely talented photographer, an inspiring advocate for women, and just an all-around awesome person. No matter where life takes Melissa she is sure to make an impact.
Join us on April 20th to listen to our guest speaker Jen Hansen!