“My photography is the result of me wanting to create my own world, what has shaped my world, and how I’d like to see it,” says visual artist, photographer, and creative director Mélanie Lehmann. She continues, “Growing up mixed race, I have a lot of this awkward feeling that I don’t truly fit in anywhere and I think that contributes to my urge to create a world through my images where I feel I belong.”
Based in London, Mélanie explores different mediums to depict herself and others that are all weaved together into themes of a dreamy utopian world. Her style is promptly recognizable for exploring expression, freedom, love, nature, and youth, in abstracts of bursting color and texture. Whether it be turning her subjects into fairies or taking them to otherworldly places, or transforming herself into a retro Catwoman or Minimoy, the ceiling of Mélanie’s imagination is boundless.
Lehmann’s lens has unsurprisingly captured exciting names like Kodie Shane, Ashnikko, Dana Slosar, Jamilla Strand, and AWA to name a few. Not to mention, her extensive work with long-time girlfriend and musical polymath Gia Ford, whom Mélanie can be often be seen photographing and directing a music video of hers on occasions. Although, beyond being an extremely talented photographer and creative to watch, Lehmann’s images are comparable to paintings in the way they utilize color, composition, and novelty.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Mélanie Lehmann about what prompts her to take a picture, self-portraiture, insecurities, and more. Read on for our conversation.
Your work is greatly influenced by your own life experiences and boundless imagination. Can you talk about how this has shaped your perspective and mission as a photographer?
100%! I feel like my photography is the result of me wanting to create my own world, what has shaped my world, and how I’d like to see it. Growing up mixed race, I have a lot of this awkward feeling that I don’t truly fit in anywhere and I think that contributes to my urge to create a world through my images where I feel I belong.
When you pick your camera up to take a picture, what prompts that? What do you look for in an image?
Wow, this is quite a loaded question. First of all, it depends on if I am on a job and what brief I have been given, what comes after is how I can inject a little bit of me in. I am someone who shoots very fast and for me, it’s usually the slips that excite me. I love movement, I love it when it looks like the images is moving.
Congratulations on your recent shoot with Raveena for Wonderland, what was that experience like, and how does the creative process of working with an editorial team offer differ from your more intimate works?
Thank you very much! I must say, I don’t take on editorials that often because it doesn’t usually pay, but when I do take it on, it means I really care about the project, the team, and the concept. For me, there isn’t much of a difference to be honest, because I always have a team around me. I do have to say that I love it when every role is filled, because it just allows the creativity to grow so much more.
You’re oftentimes the subject of your own oeuvre, do you think there’s a power in self-portraiture? In being the one in charge of the way you present yourself—and your image—to the world?
Of course, it is pretty much like a complex selfie. I think there is this misperception that when you are behind the camera, you should stay there. I have been told this so many times, but I am one who believes the boundaries can be pushed and world can be merged. My self-portraits are just an extension of my portfolio; it’s a quick way I can test out new skills without having to book a whole shoot.
As both an individual and photographer, what’s been your biggest insecurity, and how have you learned to accept it or tried to mask it?
I briefly mentioned this above, but merging me as an individual into my photographic work definitely scares me. I have these thoughts all the time if I’m posting too much of myself or if I’m posting too much work? The way I go about this is to remind myself that the world is my oyster and I am free to blur the lines.
On the other hand, how do you think photography can be used as a tool of empowerment?
This is quite a tough one, but reclaiming a tool—the camera, that was once meant to document the “exotic lives” of people of color like myself, and using it to create my own world is definitely empowering.
Last year, you photographed powerful women across social media such as Jamilla Strand and Chandra Scott amongst others. Can you tell us why projects like these are special for you?
I feel like this might sounds super bland, but for me, if I have an idea a concept or simply want to work with someone for whatever reason that might be, I just go for it. I love using my time to test out new skills, see what works, see what doesn’t. Even though I am a Virgo and every step I make is calculated, I am also quite spontaneous, if I want to shoot, I shoot and there isn’t too much thought about it to be fair.
As far as things going on in today’s landscape, what most excites you right now in terms of music, art, television, literature, and film?
Two things—number one being my girlfriend’s music release. I do all her visuals and whenever there is a release coming, I am concentrated, determined, and focused. Working with my girlfriend will always be my number one priority. The second thing I am currently obsessed with is F1, so much drama, I love it.
Coming off the heels of a busy year, what are some projects or shoots you’d like to do in the future? Is there anything that you’re looking to explore within your artistry in 2022?
This year, I just want to bust my ass off. For me, because 2021 went so well, 2022 is to go bigger. As I mentioned before I am a Virgo, so my whole life is planned haha, but I sense a change coming in 2023 so this year for me really is to keep on doing what I already am and prepare for 2023.
Elsewhere in photography, Natalie Goldstein chats about NFTs, finding her aesthetic, and more.