I'm going to be starting a segment called Now Showing where I interview emerging photographers and visual artists who have had an impact on my work and/or my life. Hope y'all enjoy!
I created my Instagram account about four years ago and one of the first people I ever followed was Keylah Mellon, Haitian photographer based in New York City. I could remember looking at Keylah's photos and feeling nostalgic and safe. Her photos give off that film, "fuck a digital camera" vibe (It's my blog, I can say what I want). Her photos effectively immortalize people's emotions and experiences. Her portraits are powerful and capture the human gaze. It's magic. I remember looking at her photos as a starting photographer who shot on auto and getting lost in what she captured. How the fuck does she do that? I used to say. Keylah focuses on her documentary work both in New York and in Haiti.
So without further ado, here's an interview with my first lens crush, Keylah Mellon.
Steven: Describe your photography/visual style.
Keylah Mellon: I like to describe myself as a documentary photographer. Mary Ellen Mark, a photographer whom I admire, said "Photograph the world as it is. Nothing's more interesting than reality." That's what I aim to do.
S: How did you get started in photography?
KM: Funny story. Actually the most common one of all: I've always felt the need to express myself but always deemed myself untalented. One day I stumbled upon a photograph by Ansel Adams that really moved me: Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941. It was the first time I'd ever seen the artistic prowess of photography, it seemed more accessible than the 'talent' I thought you needed for drawing or painting. That photo led me to looking into all the great past photographers, and from then on photography kind of pulled me in. I started taking pictures of flowers and just about anything, trying to find an interesting angle like the photographers I'd researched and came to find out that photography, just like drawing or painting required practice and constant development (excuse the pun) lol.
S: Show us 2 photos you are proud of and why?
KM: Wow, thats super hard, they're like my babies.
This is a portrait of my friend Alex. I love that boy. We went to college together. I love this portrait because there's just a lot of feeling in it. When I look at it i feel the epitome of what it's like to become. This photo reminds me of a stanza in a poem by Andrea Gibson:
I said to the the sun
“Tell me about the big bang”
The sun said
“it hurts to become."
This second photo, I love just because haha, I'm just drawn to it for some reason.
S: How do you think Haiti (its culture, history etc) influences your work?
KM: Haiti... hmmmm. It's given me a unique perspective, I believe. I've always loved beauty and I think growing up there made me see the beauty in the simplest things, or even the the most unusual things (whatever that means). I've just started really delving into my culture, my identity, and I think that being Haitian has tied my work to something that is multi dimensional: it's of the self and of the collective. Like, it starts with what I have to say and the work transforms into whatever people see in it therefore revealing themselves you know. I don't know if that makes any sense. But in the Haitian culture I always see that dichotomy everywhere I look and within it, a multitude of other dimensions.
S: You recently started a moving portrait series. Talk a little about it and what's next for the series.
KM: Um I actually started last year and then stopped. It really just started because I want to venture in film. I'm just letting the person in front of the camera be themselves and say something to the world through their body language, facial expressions, etc. I have no idea where it's gonna go or where i'm going next with it, but I do wanna continue making more of them this summer.
(You can watch it here)
S: Fave photographer?
KM: I have to many to count lol. I continue finding people that inspire me. Here a some:
Steven Baboun *wink wink*, Gordon Parks, Dawoud Bey, Susannah Ray (my former teacher), Carrie May Weems, Frederique Dupoux, Nan Goldin, Alex Webb.. OMG ALEX WEBB, Bruce Gilden, Sebastiao Salgado, Malick Sidibé, Kwesi Abbensetts, Cristina de Middel, viviane sassen, Zanele Muholi... honestly I could go on and on.
S: Fave type of film?
KM: Kodak portra 160 - Fuji Sensia - HP Delta 100
S: What motivates you to shoot?
KM: Usually it's a moment, a feeling or it's me questioning, looking for something. I haven't felt motivated to shoot lately. I don't know what's going on. I'm blocked. I feel a little depressed when it comes to shooting but I'm determined to get back in the flow of things. I take my camera everywhere.
S: What's next for you as a photographer?
KM: To keep shooting. To keep learning, understanding myself and the world. To keep growing as a photographer, artist and human being while maintaining my authenticity.
Keylah keeps slaying the game and I am proud and honored to call her a friend. Can't wait to see what the photographer does next!