When we came across some of the photos from Melissa Schriek’s new book Ode, we initially thought it was a documentation of some sort of duo yoga or callisthenics. The subjects are found doing backbends and hanging from railings, in what has to be the perfect conditions for a head rush. But, amidst all the playing and often synchronised movement, a lesser documented theme is at the heart of the photographer’s unconventional series – female friendship.
Melissa first came to photography through her father, whose passion has made a lasting impression on her throughout the years. “He often emphasised the importance of capturing memories for posterity,” she tells us. He then gifted her a camera for a school trip at just eight years old, and was so amazed by the results that he decided it was time for a permanent one. The photographer emphasises the following years as being “truly transformative,” as her camera often saved her from boredom, acting as a gateway to exploring beyond her comfort zone. “Ever since then, I’ve lived my life through the lens of a camera. I often find myself yearning for new places and contemplating the idea of living and documenting in different locations. To me, a camera represents a sense of home that transcends physical spaces,” she adds.
Melissa’s creative pursuits started within the worlds of dance and gymnastics. Leaving an obvious mark on her, Ode can be seen as a continuation of her love for exploring gestures, body language and performance. As we peruse through the series, childhood games come back to mind – falling back as your confidant catches you, and hand-clapping games that create a mirror between two friends. “I firmly believe that within relationships we all adopt distinct roles, and these roles can evolve depending on the individuals and the circumstances,” she tells us. Heavily relying on the language of the body to express these themes, she observed the natural movements of the women featured throughout, before amplifying and reinterpreting their actions to convey all that she sees in their friendship. “I believe it all serves as a powerful visual metaphor for the essence of their relationships.”
One of the most tranquil photographs in Ode has to be of the two friends laying on the beach. But, it is the calm that we are seeing amidst a storm. Raining heavily on the day of the shoot, Melissa and the friends decided to embrace the weather, and one of the friends “naturally” became protective, laying on top of the other to shield them from the elements. Melissa attributes much of these natural circumstances to the fact that she worked with strangers, as opposed to her own friends, for the project. “The photoshoots ranged from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, we engaged in lengthy discussions about the significance of female connection, while other times we were more nonverbal,” she tells us. “There is something liberating about photographing people you don’t know very well. Personally I enjoy when a relationship is built through photography, establishing a connection as we go.”
Always questioning her position as a documenter – especially when documenting strangers’ relationships – Melissa can often be found thinking about the balance between her interpretation and authentic representations. “Can we ever truly capture an unadulterated truth? Is that even what I am looking for?” In the end though, her portrayal of female friendship is at a perfect equilibrium between her own truth and the reality of the women photographed, which is perhaps a testament to all her conversations and studying throughout. And, with hopes to pivot into directing in the near future, we have no doubt that Melissa will continue to show us just how important the third wheel can be.
Ode is published by Guest Editions and available for purchase here.
GalleryMelissa Schriek: Ode (Copyright © Melissa Schriek, 2023)
Guest Editions: Ode Book Cover (Copyright © Guest Editions & Melissa Schriek, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is a staff writer at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.