At Prodibi, we love to meet artists that mix different forms of arts to produce unique and fascinating results. We had photography & dance or photography & fine arts before, but today is a whole new experience that we are presenting to you!
Meet Melissa Zexter, a Brooklyn based artist who carefully embroiders her own photographs to create captivating, multi-layered images. Her intuitive sewing made of shape and colors gives textures to her portrait and landscape photos.
Discover Melissa's artistic work and make sure to zoom and explore her photographs!
A few words about you? Where are you from? How did you start photography?
I’m originally from Bristol, Rhode Island (the smallest state in the USA). I was given my first camera when I was eight years old. I attended the Rhode Island School of Design where I studied photography. The day after I graduated from RISD, I packed up and moved to New York City and have been here ever since.
Initially, my goal was to become a news photographer- to photograph for newspapers and magazines. For many many years, I have been combining hand-sewn embroidery with photography. I take and print all of my own photographs- both analog and digital.
You have a unique approach to combine embroidery with photography, how did you come up with this idea?
I have a background in photography, but also have always loved hands-on art making techniques. I have been combining photography with embroidery for the past twenty years.
My approach of building upon my photographs with thread happened in response to my first job when I moved to New York. Initially, my intention was to work as a photojournalist. However, after working at the Associated Press as a printer and later in the editorial department, I quickly felt that there was already too much photography that was indistinctive I wanted to make photographs that were unique and one of a kind. I wanted to make pictures that were different than what I had already seen and what I recognized.
I first sewed on hand made paper. The sewn drawings were of anonymous figures. I also made pillows and sewed images onto them. Soon after, I began to incorporate sewing into my larger scale photographs. The photographs were also of anonymous figures and the sewing acted as a map or grid over the figures.
Over the years, my portraits have become more specific; less anonymous. For me, sewing was another way to build up a surface and to build upon the content of my photographs. I had never sewn before and loved the therapeutic process- it was in such contrast to the technologically more immediate medium of photography. I was also interested in how thread blended in and reacted to the photographs. The combination of sewing and photography brought together two very different processes that I love. The use of embroidery is a reaction to the photographs and is a process that transforms the identity of the person or place photographed. The addition of embroidery to the images adds color, texture, and another dimension to the otherwise two-dimensional images.
Can you explain to us your creation process? What comes first: the photo or the embroidery idea? Do you only work on your own images?
I take all of my photographs. I have no interest in appropriated images. My process is to take and print the photographs and then invent stitched patterns that work with the photographs. Much of my process is very intuitive in terms of pattern and color.
Is portrait photography your favorite genre or do you also like to explore with
different style of images?
Although I shoot other subjects besides people, I often return to portraiture. I feel most connected to pictures of people. Many of these pieces explore memory and personal experience. The photographs of people are often personalized with sewn detailed “maps” of personal significance. Most of my subjects are people that I know.
For you, what describes a successful picture and why?
A successful picture might be something that I haven’t already seen before -- in this day and age, that is very difficult to come by. I think that there is too much sameness. Predictability is dull. Also, the transference of effort is important to me.
Are you inspired by the work of other photographers or artists? Which ones?
I love analog black and white photography. I just saw an exhibition of the photographs of Peter Hujar at the Morgan Library in New York. I recently saw a wonderful exhibition of paintings by Florine Stettheimer. I like the beautiful and mysterious fashion photographs taken by Lillian Bassman. The first photographer whose work I loved was Diane Arbus and I still love her photos. I am inspired by many paintings and objects made by unknown artists that I have collected including a beautiful hooked rug of a peacock.
Do you have projects for the future like workshops, personal series?
I am working on a series of altered photos of historical haunted houses that I have lived in and another series of portraits of my fabulous daughters.
To see more of Melissa's work:
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