We’re back with the second installment of the interviews of the artists in the Between Here and There exhibit currently at artstream. This interview is with Melissa Hall, who I have had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago through a mutual friend. I have always been drawn to her photographic work. There is dreamy quality to her imagery that gives her pieces a sense of other worldliness that I am attracted to. It was actually the painting below “The Seeker” that pulled me in to ask Melissa to be part of this exhibit as I felt it captured that feeling of liminal space and atmosphere in the narrative sense.
Melissa has a great sense of humor and had me laughing pretty much the whole time we spent together those few years ago. I think you will get a sense of her humor from some of her answers.
Melissa Hall, The Seeker, 10×20 inches
1. Your work has such a strong sense of narrative to me. Do you have a story in mind when you are shooting or does it come to you later? I imagine that it takes a lot of planning and brainstorming beforehand.
Actually both. The genesis of a photoshoot always starts with a few pre-planned concepts. These are my “solid” ideas. I keep a folder for the really elaborate photoshoots with sketches and lists of props that I need to find and pack. One of the things I have learned over the past few years is to extend the possibilities by using the inspiration provided by the props and locations. After I feel like I’ve gotten all the shots needed to fulfill my pre-planned ideas, I try to shoot more impromptu images, playing with what is at hand. It’s been a fundamental change in the way I work and has provided me with some surprising images that I never could have thought up without the inspiration in the moment.
2. The Seeker: I am dying to know the story behind this piece. Can you share either a story about the shoot and/or the inspiration behind this piece?
I hope this doesn’t disappoint, but The Seeker was an improvisational shot instead of being preplanned. The model happened to pick up that giant palm frond and started playing with it. It was a shazaam moment when I saw her peeking through it like a mask. After I got home and started to process the image, I was struck with not being able to decide if she was hiding or concealing herself as a predator. That’s what prompted me to add the bird to the shot. He could be there seeking her as prey or waiting for her to make her strike.
3. In your artist statement you write- My imagery evokes conceptual undercurrents from myths, twisted fairy tales – I definitely get a sense of that. Do you draw upon fairy tales and myths for your ideas, or are they more personal myths and fairy tales?
I have definitely drawn upon fairy tales for some of my ideas. Modern interpretations or re-imagined fairy tales have been a favorite of mine to read for as long as I can remember. One piece I created last year, The Moth Catcher, was actually a myth of my own creation. It centered around this jealous lady who ventured into the forest at the new moon with her own lights to capture the moths who worshipped the moon.
Melissa Hall, Dance, 12×6 inches
4. The Woman in the Water series: fun or scary to shoot? I am imagining you with scuba gear and cameras….
Both fun and scary! At the time the underwater opportunity presented itself, I hadn’t been in a swimming pool for at least a decade but I was excited to try it. I got into the pool with my camera and face mask and promptly had a panic attack when it was time to go underwater! My friend and model talked me down from the ledge and once I clicked the first shot, there was no turning back. I was hooked. We ended up shooting for two days and I had to be dragged from the pool at the end of the photoshoot!
Underwater photography definitely has an entirely different set of problems to conquer than a regular shoot. It takes much more patience. You can’t communicate with your model while you are shooting. Your body and the model’s is in constant motion. I devised a method of hooking my toes on the concrete lip at the top of the pool to give myself a little bit of control. It is unwieldy to see through the camera’s viewfinder while wearing a mask and is physically taxing as well. Despite the added difficulties, I love the otherworldly, gracefulness you can achieve underwater. It’s such a fun thing to explore and the feeling of the images works wonderfully with the encaustic processes.
5. How did you come to combining encaustic with your photography?
I can remember seeing an encaustic painting in a gallery and being stunned at the depth and luminosity of the work. Not having a clue about the medium, I started to do some research and came across Leah MacDonald’s work. She’s a photographer in Philadelphia who combines her edgy imagery with encaustic medium and other painting processes she learned while serving as an assistant to an art professor in college. I traveled to her studio in Philly for a workshop and it was such a revelation! Playing at home by myself with just books as a reference had been frustrating. Being able to see it done helped me immensely. I think this was the perfect starting point for me because the encaustic processes combined with photography take a slightly different skill set than someone approaching encaustic as a painter.
Melissa Hall, Misguided Journey, 12×18 inches, sold
6. It seems that you have two creative processes- the photography and then the painting. Do all your photographs end up as an encaustic painting or do some remain fine art photography? How do you decide?
Right now the majority of my photography work ends up as an encaustic painting. The combination of photography and encaustic has changed the way I shoot. Subconsciously I think I shoot now with a mind to what will work best as a painting. The painting side of the process has allowed me to loosen up a bit and experiment more. I think encaustic painting is going to end up being a gateway drug for me. Adding to my painting skills and continuing to explore more abstract ways to express my ideas are the nebulous goals I have set for myself. I will always draw upon photography though as my conceptual base as it is the language that makes the most sense to me.
7. Do you have a favorite art or photography related book you would recommend?
Brooke Shaden’s “Inspiration in Photography: Training Your Mind to Make Great Art a Habit”. Is it a requirement that all art books need a colon in their titles?
I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did. If you are in the area, be sure to stop in to view the exhibit in person.
Between Here and There
April 1- May 30, 2015
Artist Reception April 24th and May 29th
10 Second Street, Dover NH 03820
603.516.8500, M-F 12-6 Sat 10-2
Works are also available to purchase online. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.