wants her photography to be artistically expressive. She masters digital manipulations to perfection. She quotes: 'Unlike linear art like prose, poetry or music, a photograph displays everything „at once“ but can still send the viewer on a little journey to gradually discover what the picture is really about. I find that this revelatory process can be quite powerful emotionally.' The complex creative process from idea to finished picture is a most joyful and intensive experience to Melanie. Her favourite works are composite pictures and advanced manipulations that may mean hours of painstaking detail work but that can lead to a zen-like state of mind.
Discover with me this fabulous fine art artist through this interview.
Dear Melanie, please briefly tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs.
I haven’t always been a photographer. My interest in the medium began only in 2012, when I participated in a photography course for beginners at the Photography School in Cologne, Germany. Before, I had worked as a criminal defence lawyer and photos had only had the function of preserving memories for me. But for a long time I had wanted to express myself artistically (I had detailed plans for writing an autobiographical book), and I suddenly realised the possibilities that photography offered and that it might be the perfect medium for my creative urge.
In 2013, I began to study Photography at the Photo Academy Cologne and (after a hiatus of two years) earned my diploma in 2018 ().
Since 2015, I have been working as a freelance photographer. At first I did commission work mainly for portraits. Today, I enjoy the luxury of being able to concentrate entirely on my artistic work.
I've been married for 21 year and am a mother of two daughters (20 and 17 years). My other passions besides photography are literature and dancing.
What first attracted you to photography?
It was the realisation that photography can be so much more than the superficial picture of what you see. Unlike linear art like prose, poetry or music, a photograph displays everything „at once“ but can still send the viewer on a little journey to gradually discover what the picture is really about. I find that this revelatory process can be quite powerful emotionally.
How has your history and life experiences affected your photography?
I grew up in a physically and psychologically abusive family which has made living a regular life at times challenging. As stereotypical as it sounds, creating art has helped me cope with its consequences. I am not obsessed with my past though. The complex creative process from idea to finished picture is also a joyful and intensive experience which has added greatly to my satisfaction in life once I had discovered it.
Which are your most important experiences that have influenced your art?
It is mostly certain past or present moods and emotions that I want to convey in my work. Typically, they are complex, contradicting or even absurd, so they are well suited for staged settings or digital manipulations. Sometimes they are pretty straightforward, illustrating a simple mood or exploring an idea born from coincidence.
Describe your overall photographic vision.
I want my photography to be artistically expressive rather than documentary. To convey its emotional content, I like to work with models and staged situations.
I highly value good craftsmanship like lighting and composition as well as attention to detail. Digital manipulations should be well executed and convincing. Technical aspects should not dominate the overall impression, though.
Ideally, an image will allow the viewer to explore themselves as I did during the process of creation. This requires a good balance between personal/concrete and abstract elements.
Why are you so drawn to conceptual art photography?
Possibly because it allows me to tell what I cannot put into words. The conceptual aspect is a result of the themes and subjects that I feel the need to express.
What is more important to you, the mood,/story behind your images or the technical perfection?
My primary aim is to convey a mood, a message or a story. In my opinion, the targeted use of technology, especially optimal lighting, is an indispensable prerequisite to achieve this.
To produce convincing compositions, it is necessary to technically coordinate the different picture elements during capturing. Since I want to create "perfect illusions" with my image manipulations, I am particularly meticulous in my work in Photoshop.
But of course, technology must not be an end in itself, but is secondary to the desired effect.
What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
Often, my observations come from within and are abstract or a conglomerate of things. So I need to shape and condense what I have found. Sometimes the results help me to understand myself better and grow as a person.
Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?
Yes, I do. If the set is not in my studio, I visit the location before the photo shoot and familiarise myself with the conditions on site.
Many of my pictures were taken in hotel rooms, which I usually scout in advance to find the right furniture, room height, window position, etc.. Small hotel websites are a good resource during research. Sometimes the hotel staff is mildly puzzled when I request a certain room - maybe they suspect that I have strange fetishes. But usually they are quite supportive once I explain my plans and sometimes even help to rearrange some furniture or allow me to use props from other areas of the location.
What gear do you use (camera, lenses, bag)?
I work with the Hasselblad x1d and three fixed focal lengths (45mm, 90mm,120mm). For my lighting I use flash heads from ProFoto.
What software do you use to process your images?
I convert my raw data in Phocus (from Hasselblad) and edit the images in Photoshop.
Can you tell us something more about your work flow?
For me, the process of creating an image really means "being in the flow". With every photo project, an exciting parallel world opens up, from developing the idea and planning with the models, to the actual photo shoot and the subsequent post-processing. On set, the proper use of light is extremely important - an essential element since the beginning of photography. Model, make-up, props and post-processing can only develop their full effect if they are placed in the right light (or shadow). This can be a challenge to my models, who sometimes have to endure lengthy setups and multiple corrections during shooting.
I finish every picture on the computer. This can simply mean removing unwanted elements, some cropping or adjusting colours and other picture properties. My favourite works are composite pictures and advanced manipulations that may mean hours of painstaking detail work but can lead to a zen-like state of mind.
My work is finished when I see no more room for improvement. The form of presentation is almost always the Fine Art print, which I print myself on selected papers with high-quality pigment ink.
What is your most important advice to a beginner in conceptual art photography and how do you get started?
One should find honest critics. Most people want to please you (or themselves) when engaging in a conversation, so it is a delicate situation for both to talk about the flaws of a picture that one has invested a lot of time and energy in. There needs to be a mutual understanding that the person criticising must not be afraid of (or be punished for) speaking the truth. Especially the first impression is important. If I find myself explaining too much, there is usually something wrong in the picture that needs to be addressed.
On the other hand, criticism from others is strictly subjective. It is the artist’s task to evaluate it and decide what to accept and what reject. I do not have to create the picture that my critic would like best.
Who are your favourite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
In the beginning, there were - of course - a number of „classic“ photographers, that introduced me to various aspects of artful people photography, like Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Leibowitz or Elliott Erwitt.
I admire Erik Johansson's () creative inventiveness and technically perfect manipulation of images. There is a lot to be learned from him; fortunately, he often offers insights into his working methods in his books and videos.
To me, Christian Tagliavini () is the gold standard concerning craftsmanship, lighting, costumes and props. I was lucky to see his exposition „Circesque“ in Berlin and his larger-than-life portraits simply blew me away.
Is there any specific photo taken by another photographer that has inspired you a lot and why?
There is no single image that has had such an effect; it is rather the overall style or certain series of photographers mentioned above that have influenced the direction of my own development.
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
I would like to go further into the surreal. I want to improve my image manipulation skills and apply them to larger staged scenes. In addition, I want to create a book of surreal images.
Describe your favourite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you?
Actually, most often my favourite picture is the one I am currently completing - because I'm excited about the final result myself.
There is one picture that I am especially grateful for, because it has opened some doors for me. An image from my series „Room Service“ made it to the cover of the German photography magazine „Profifoto“ () and helped me build my reputation. Later I even expanded the series into a book named „Alternative Film Stills“, which won the German Photo Book Award in Bronze in 2019.
But a lot of pictures have come since then that I like at least as much.
Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?When I discovered 1x.com I was impressed with the quality of the displayed works and the friendliness and competence of the community, so I happily became a member. Especially concerning the subgenres my works occupy, I feel that I am in good company.
Beyond that I am not very active online. It is probably unwise commercially, but I have never been on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. This might change in the future, but currently I believe that the short attention span of those crowded platforms and the pressure of their feedback loops would not have a positive influence on my work. In contrast, on 1x.com I get valuable feedback from a qualified community and new inspiration from the well-selected images of other photographers.
Fantastic work Melanie! Inspiring to read your story in this interview. Congratulations!
I have just seen your lovely comment. Thank you so much dear Gabrielle!
Very nice works and your interview. congratulations Melania..
Thank you so much, dear Partha!
Herrlich frisch, kreativ und inspirierend sind deine Arbeiten und zaubern ein Lächeln auf das Gesicht des Betrachters. Respekt und Glückwunsch, Melanie!
Dank Dir, lieber Erhard, für Deine Worte! Ich freue mich sehr darüber! Herzliche Grüße aus Köln, Melanie
Congratulations Melanie, you are one of the excellent new members who bring a fresh wind in 1X. I love the poetic and surreal approach of reality in your work. Once more, thank you Yvette for this fine interview :-)
Thank you very much, dear Luc. I am very honoured by your appreciation!
Thank you so much, Luc !
Thank you very much Yvette for another big opportunity to know such an amazing photographer! Ok Melanie, now I'm your passionate follower. Your works will inspired me definitely. Cheers
I am very pleased, dear Federico, thank you very much for your compliments☺️
It always is a honour and treat to me to present our most talented members to our readers, Frederico. Thanks for commenting and for the well deserved compliments to Melanie !
This is totally inspiring, Melanie... You turn your excellent photographs into genuine works of art. Thank you for sharing!
I am very pleased, dear Franky, thank you very much for your compliments☺️.
I enjoyed reading this interesting interview. Recently I saw "The Pursuit Of Confirmism" when it was awarded. The other images are new to me. I especially like the film stills and from that "Operation Petticoat". The choice of the color of the two dresses (red and green) is perfect. And the light on the forelock of the woman on the left is fine. Just wanted to encourage you to create an exhibition with these images, and, surprise, you already had created this exhibition. Congratulations ! Thank you and thank you, Yvette ! Good job, as always.
Thank you very much, dear Hans Martin, for this detailed feedback! I am very happy about your appreciation! Warm greetings, Melanie
Thank you for your neverlasting appreciation, Hans Martin !
Herzlichen Glückwunsch zu dieser verdienten Präsentation deiner wundervollen Arbeiten!
Ganz herzlichen Dank lieber Udo, freue mich sehr über Deine Glückwünsche☺️!
Ein ganz spannendes und interessantes Interview, Melanie! Wie schön, Näheres von dir zu erfahren! Und deine Bilder liebe ich ja sowieso😉
Danke Dir, liebe Susanne, freue mich sehr ☺️! Ganz herzliche Grüße ins Saarland🤗
Great to interview you, Melanie !!! Your work is stunning and full of emotions. My very best compliments and congrats with the well deserved interview feature. Cheers, Yvette
Thank you for this great recognition, dear Yvette, I am very happy and grateful for it ☺️!