MELANIE McWHORTER: Nuclear Family Reaction

fuzzy jacket, 2007
Photograph (c) Melanie McWhorter
/All Rights Reserved

stressful morning, 2007
Photograph (c) Melanie McWhorter
/All Rights Reserved

new nails
Photograph (c) Melanie McWhorter
/All Rights Reserved

ty, 2008
Photograph (c) Melanie McWhorter
/All Rights Reserved

MELANIE McWHORTER was "born and raised in a small mill town in upstate South Carolina. She received her BA in History from Lander University, a modest liberal arts collage in Greenwood, SC. After graduation, she found a job as a school photographer and later a brief stint as a dude ranch photographer in Jackson, WY. She is a regular contributor to the online magazines Fraction and photo-eye and maintains her own photo-related blog. She manages photo-eye’s Book Division, curates exhibitions of local photographers in photo-eye Bookstore and organizes the monthly First Wednesday Salon." Her photography was recently exhibited in Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe. Melanie is co-founder of Flash Flood, a new media collective that investigates and promotes the intersection of photography and culture in the state of New Mexico. I love Melanie's series "Nuclear Family Reaction" and spoke with her about this work recently:

You know I'm a big fan of your Nuclear Family Reaction work. Can you tell me about these images?

MM: Most of the photos that I include in the portfolio are of my children, although I have a few of my husband Tom and some self-portraits. This project stemmed from an earlier project with my daughter in 35 mm and in black and white. These were more closely cropped and more of body studies than environmental portraiture. I started shooting color and medium format at some point and decided this was the way to go. It was an evolution in my aesthetic and my relationship with my family and internal struggles. It, like many of my projects, was a catharsis for me--a selfish projection of an internal struggle that I force others to absorb. It was also convenient. Like someone once told me, photograph what you know (or what is around you).

Who has been an influence on your work or you consider a mentor?

MM: My first photography book was of Imogen Cunningham’s work with Unmade Bed on the cover. I had the Masters of Photography calendar on the wall while shooting dude ranch photography in Jackson, WY. When I moved to Santa Fe, I was hired by Rixon Reed at photo-eye. This was both awe-inspiring and depressing at the same time. I thought, “if there are so many good photographers (and bad ones) out there producing work and photography books, how do I have a chance?” I got over that and I now think that there is room for almost all of us.

That said, I really love Dutch and Swedish photography. There is some great work coming out of these regions, especially in books. I really like Erik van der Weijde, Lars Tunbjork, Anna Clarén, Gerry Johansson, and many more and books from publishers like GUN Gallery, Journal and Episode. My portfolio Dealing with 35 is really influenced by Swedish portraiture. I would say that Stephen Gill is always stuck in my head when shooting projects like Highway 14 or the Railyard. I love to capture upturned ground and the transformation of the land. My husband can tell you how much I love to shoot mounds of dirt.

Two women that I would like to note who have inspired me are Debbie Fleming Caffery and Mary Virginia Swanson. Debbie’s images, I think, influenced some of the earlier black and whites from Nuclear Family Reaction. Both of these women are strong, full of personality and seem to give of themselves beyond what is required or necessary.

Would you tell me about FLASH FLOOD and how it originated? How long has it been in the works?

MM: I had an idea. I am an idea person, it is the actualization that is usually difficult for me. This idea was to start a cooperative that promoted the intersection of photography and New Mexico. I mentioned this idea to Jonathan Blaustein. Elizabeth, as you know about Jonathan, he gets excited easily and can be a real motivator. He followed up on this idea and it was born. Originally we had conceived of 7 members, but we invited David Ondrik, Jennifer Schlesinger, and Jesse Chehak on board and it just felt right. New Mexico is important photographically, both historically and contemporarily. We want to embrace both while incorporating other fields, like anthropology, history, economics and culture. I think it will be important to all in New Mexico as well as internationally.

We welcome submissions for Flash Flood from individuals who live in the state and those who do not, but who have photographed here. It is so exciting and we have some fantastic stories and features scheduled for the upcoming monthly issues and aspire to have a printed version in the next year. Anyone can email us at contact@flash-flood.org to join our email list or to submit work or find us on Facebook or Twitter, like everyone else.

You were a Reviewer at the recent Photolucida CRITICAL MASS Top 50 photography review. What was the overall tone of the work you reviewed?

MM: There are a lot of very good photographers out there working, but it is so difficult to be outstanding. The work that I found to be the most original or inspiring for me was Erica Allen, Tony Chirinos, Susan Worsham, Jenn Ackerman, Simone Lueck, Phillip Toledano, and Alejandro Cartagena.

Was there any work you were already familiar with through your reviews for the Photographers Showcase?

MM: I do not have a list, but I would guess about one-third of the work I had seen at some point whether it was photo-eye or other sources. Many of these photographers run the circuit of reviews. They are willing to invest the time and money in their work. Like Sally Mann and Charlie Rose agreed on his show, it is tenacity and not talent that make you successful.

You were also a Reviewer in Italy's Fotofestival di Roma. What did you do there?

MM: I was officially the lead juror for the photography book competition and I delivered a lecture on Photo Book publishing. I also got to see Nan Goldin, Rinko Kawauchi and Juliana Beasley speak while there.

What are you working on now?

MM: My most recent project is Dealing with 35, mind you, I am now almost 37 so it has been a while. It is simply another project trying to work out some changes in my life. Coming to middle age and how wonderful and scary that is.

My photographs from Nuclear Family Reaction will be in a group exhibition
with Kay Denton, Juanita Hong, Debbie Miracolo, and Andrea Land titled The Sweet Escape Jan 15 – Mar 13, 2010 at the Morean Arts Center, St. Petersburg, FL.

Melanie McWhorter WEBSITE

Melanie Photo BLOG


Bea said...

Very interesting photos. :)Bea

Anonymous said...

I love the light in these images.

Debbie Miracolo said...

Melanie's work is stunning. I'm honored and thrilled to be sharing gallery walls in "The Sweet Escape" with such a talented artist.

Rose C'est La Vie said...

To express childhood without sentimentalising it is
a great gift. I am going to follow this up. And by the way, I just need to press my face into that cat's neck!