Melody Melamed on capturing authentic queer bodies in portraiture

“If I can’t say it in words I can speak with my pictures, and I really like talking to people through my pictures,” says the photographer and artist.

20 July 2021

Originally from Los Angeles, the Brooklyn-based photographer Melody Melamed rests somewhere between the world of portraiture photography and contemporary art. “All throughout my young adulthood I was invested in my creativity in all the ways that were accessible to me,” Melody tells It’s Nice That. “There was just something about the camera and the whole idea that it was essentially my mind’s eye, that simply just permeated with me.” Throughout the later years of secondary school, Melody spent many hours perfecting her craft, never minding if she was “good” or not, but instead repeatedly experimenting with composition, lighting, and even the maths behind it. Naturally, the time spent with her camera paid off, as Melody’s portfolio showcases a stunning array of cohesive portraits – all with a story of their own.

“I believe as an artist I do have a clear visual voice and style,” she says. “I would describe it as somewhat moody, classical and painterly in spirit and simultaneously very raw, direct and contemporary as well – if that makes any sense.” It’s the perfect way to summarise how Melody approaches her subjects: they’re stripped of excessive glamorisation, refrain from becoming objects, and are simply allowed to breathe as their own authentic selves. “Sometimes I feel like I was a classic Dutch painter in a past life, as I really enjoy that light and the things that can be seen and not seen with light and shadows in general,” Melody explains to us. Playing with light and shadows is evident in all of Melody’s work, especially in her recent project The Book of Skin: Shangri-la. It’s a book about “gender euphoria,” she tells us, and contains portraits of many transgender and queer people in order to “create a visual space where you could feel the power of that phrase through portraiture”.


Melody Melamed (Copyright © Melody Melamed, 2021)

“The work has expanded over time from wanting to work with trans bodies, to wanting to include all queer bodies,” Melody explains on the project. “I photograph the skin as well as the nature surrounding us, using diptychs as well as portraiture to mimic the relationship between the body, skin, human shape and the earth we are surrounded by.” It’s a beautiful intention, and Melody successfully showcases a community that has often been excluded from such considerations within the world of portrait photography. “Our queer bodies mimic and mirror natures perfectionism to remind us that we are connected to and come from its core,” she adds. “At a time when I have been going through my own search for myself, I realise this work has been a mirror.” It was a drive to find her own validation and sense of purpose that lead Melody to weave together the story of queer euphoria. “I wanted to see us as powerful, valid and true.”

On their process, Melody finds working broadly before zooming in is what works best for her. “My process sometimes starts with even just a phrase or a word,” she explains. “It doesn’t start out very fleshed out at all, but that’s because I’ve learned that I need to start making the work in order to flesh out my ideas.” Essentially, it’s when Melody is producing the photographs that she starts learning more about what she’s actually trying to say. “If I can continue to cultivate intentional meaningful work that resonates with people, I’ll feel like I am on the right track,” she adds on what’s next after Book of Skin. “Photography gives me a voice that I am comfortable with, and it allows me to touch and connect with the world in a way that feels true,” she says. “I hope that I can continue to do that with my art.”

GalleryMelody Melamed (Copyright © Melody Melamed, 2021)

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Melody Melamed (Copyright © Melody Melamed, 2021)

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About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

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