Bio ~ Melanie Jane / Sugar Creative
An avid photographer of people since she got her hands on her first Kodak camera at age ten, Melanie has studied photography at various schools and workshops in Winnipeg (her hometown) and Vancouver, including Vancouver Photo Workshops. Her company, Sugar Creative, specializes in creative beauty, fashion and pin-up photography.
For The Tattoo Project: Body. Art. Image., Melanie chose to create ultra-feminine images of women with tattoos, photographed in poses and scenarios reminiscent of the classic pin-up girl. These “housewife cheesecake” images are meant to engage the viewer with imagery that is either harmonious or contradictory, depending on the viewer: images of women with tattoos, in feminine poses and lingerie, doing traditonal women’s work. “When the classic pin-up girl became an icon of the late 1930’s, 1940’s and 50’s, tattoos were not considered feminine and pin-up girls did not have them. On the other side, women in our culture today do not typically like to consider ironing, mending and doing laundry ‘women’s work’.” Like the women of classic pin-up girl art, her subjects are both playing a role and expressing a part of themselves. Yet unlike classic pin-up girl imagery, her images do not assert but rather ask questions about what is feminine.
Melanie Jane Interview
Do you remember the first time you saw a tattoo, and what your reaction was?
I don’t remember the first tattoo I ever saw, but I first really became aware of tattoos in the eighties while listening to hair metal, watching Video Hits and pouring through the pages of Metal Edge magazine. All those rockers had them, mostly tattoos of chicks and roses and knives through bleeding hearts, that sort of thing. I think those came in the headbanger starter kit, with the hair bleach and tight pants. I was totally into that in junior high.
Do you have any tattoos yourself?
No. I have often considered getting one, but I can’t seem to handle the commitment.
As a photographer, do you approach shooting a model with body art any differently than a model without tattoos?
There is no difference for me, other than the obvious, which is incorporating the tattoo art into the piece as a focal point. When photographing women, and in classic pin-up style, which I do a lot of, there are certain points of interest to hit. For me it always starts with the face. With pin-up, the eyes and lips, or smile, are key; the curves of the body, even the shoes, and if she’s got tattoos, then the tattoos are important features to highlight as well, with the body pose, the clothing and the lighting. I like busy images, a lot going on, so there’s a balance to be found in filling the subject area with information, while not detracting from or totally losing the tattoos.
How did you approach the Tattoo Project weekend? Did you have a concept in mind? After the fact, do you think your concept was successfull? Did you get what you wanted from the weekend?
I approached it with many hours of planning including model casting to find the right women to photograph, and running all over town to gather the props I needed to tell the story I aimed for in each image. I had a carefully planned out concept, which also was an organic process that evolved once I had selected the women I wanted to photograph. I am more than delighted with the results of the photo shoot. The collaboration with the models as well as makeup artist Cloe Johnston and hair stylist Sophie McMullin turned out beautifully. This is a shoot that really started with a particular vision in my mind, and seeing it come to life and thrive with the input of other talented artists is always a thrill.
Any tips for other photographers, for working with models who have tattoos?
The only thing I would say is, just like any photo shoot, first decide what the image is about and what it is for. What are you intending to say, and what is the end purpose of the piece? If you answer these questions first then you know where you are going with it and the rest falls into place. If you are shooting a person, or you are shooting a tattoo, or you are shooting a person with tattoos, these are all very different things.
Are tattoos and body modifications a problem in other work that you do? Do you ever have to shoot around tattoos or use cover-up make-up? Do you ever Photo Shop out tattoos?
It’s not really a problem. Unless they are very extensive, it is simple enough to remove them in post, if need be. I have only needed to do that once that I can recall, as the model in the photograph asked me to remove them for her. She got them when she was younger and at the time of our shoot said she no longer liked them.
What is it about a particular tattoo or a model with tattoos that you find interesting? Have you ever seen a tattoo, or a person with tattoos and said, "I have to shoot that!"?
I have not yet had that reaction to meeting anyone with tattoos, until I was casting for this shoot. When I saw the seam tattoos up the backs of Yomi Jordan’s legs, I definitely knew I wanted to shoot her. When I met her and saw in more detail the pirate ships and nautical theme on them, I just loved them. The seams mimick the seams of stockings, which plays on the pin-up girl theme I was casting for. Also the other models I photographed for this had feminine pieces that I felt really played on the subject matter: Erynn has a tattoo of a corset on her arm, for her grandmother, and Joelle has flowers up her arm. I wanted to photograph women with tattoos that contained ultra feminine symbols, as tattoos originally were not considered feminine at all. In the time that the classic pin-up girl became an iconic image, in the 40s and 50s, pin-up girls did not have tattoos. So I find this a fascinating juxtaposition.
Was there a particular tattoo or tattooed person who stands out in your memory from the Tattoo Project weekend?
I was surprised and very impressed with Yomi, one of the women I photographed. I cast each model based on both herself (look and personality) and her tattoos, but I would say I cast Yomi based primarily on her extraordinary tattoos, and secondarily on her look and sweet attitude. However she brought so much more to the shoot than I had even hoped, and I am thrilled with her final images.
As a photographer and visual artist, what defines a good tattoo in your eyes? What design and aesthetic qualities are you looking for?
Strong lines, clean ink. I can’t say I’m a fan of those sloppy eye sores that look like they were done in someone’s garage. Bold, clean colour. Something unique and original, and personal to the individual wearing it.
What would be your advice to someone who wants a great photo that shows their body art to its best advantage?
Do your research, look through photographers’ portfolios to find one that speaks to you, and pay a professional. Assume that what you see in their portfolio is exactly what you are going to get, and remember that you get what you pay for.
What is the biggest difference between shooting editorial work - say for someone like Bob Baxter at Skin & Ink - and working in a studio?
Working in a studio usually means there is time involved for pre-planning, and possibly bringing in a full creative team. This is slower-paced, more deliberate work. Once we get shooting, it can become quick and dirty as I like to say, but that’s ok. Shooting at events is always quick and dirty, and not my cup of tea in general.
Any tips for taking good photos at tattoo conventions?
Bring along an off-camera flash with diffusion to avoid deer in the headlights shots and nasty reflections/hot spots on skin.
What tips would you give to the home photographer, tattoo enthusiast or tattoo artist who wants to take a great photograph of a tattoo?
Hire a professional! Taking tattoo shots with a point-and-shoot camera with flash will always look unprofessional. If you don’t have professional equipment or knowledge, try taking the shots outside on a bright but overcast day or in slight shade, without flash.
What would be your dream tattoo photography assignment?
Pretty much what I did for this project – I adore the classic pin-up girl style, so would love any opportunities in that area.
Was there any one thing in particular about participating the the Tattoo Project weekend that surprised you or that stands out as a truely memerable moment?
Unfortunately my shoot took place at my studio, a few blocks away from the VPW studio where most of the others took place, so I missed out on that part. I am absolutely delighted to be involved, and I can’t wait to see everyone’s work! I know it will be an amazing collection.