Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, California | Leading By Design

Melodie McDaniel

Photography '91

Photographer and director Melodie McDaniel grew up in Los Angeles and has traveled extensively across Europe and Israel. After graduating from Art Center, her first professional job was shooting album artwork for singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega.

That assignment led to work with Smashing Pumpkins, Mazzy Star and Pizzicato Five. More recently, she has worked with Cat Power, Pharrel and Lily Allen. McDaniel has also directed music videos for Annie Lennox, Tori Amos, Patti Smith and Madonna, among others.

Her editorial shoots for Jane, Dutch, V, Jalouse, Nylon, Black Book, Numéro, Maxim Fashion, Arena Homme Plus and Arena stand out for their natural lighting and subtle emotional nuance. McDaniel has worked extensively in advertising, including campaigns for Gap stores, Chevrolet, MGD, Mastercard, Toyota, Avon, Nike, Zune, Emporio Armani, Saturn, Sheridan's Irish Whiskey, Dockers, Blue Cross, Kate Spade and Heineken. McDaniel is a frequent lecturer at Art Center.

Art Center: Many photographers are concerned that technological change is likely to render their profession, as it currently exists, obsolete. What are your thoughts?
Melodie McDaniel:
I'm not digitally savvy or great with a computer. I like the idea of film, loading it in the camera, developing it, going through the proof sheets, and going to the darkroom and making a print. Digital photography is something that I don't see myself using right now. I've seen some good digital work out there so I don't want to knock it, but it's just that everything seems so sped up. All this computer technology, email and Photoshop, everything is moving so fast that you don't really take time to think things through.

For me, some ideas take a while. Right now, with technology, if you don't have an idea within minutes, you're out. I find that very challenging and, at the same time, somewhat boring. Where are we going to find new inspiration to create new ideas? Part of my art might be to stay with the old school way of doing things.

AC: What primary challenge will creative people face in the next decade?
Originality. Things are becoming more and more the same. People want to make sure they get the job. Having to come up with ideas so quickly makes for work that is distant, not thought out, and not that interesting.

AC: Who inspires you?
Family. Even though they're not literally artists, they're artists in their own way. I admire my mother because she has given me all the things that she was not. For whatever reason, she was trying to express herself as an artist, but her kids were very important to her. I'm so appreciative that my mom exposed me to so many different things and cultures.

I grew up in an interracial environment. My mom's white and Jewish. She was brave, and I admire the courage it tookespecially during that timeto marry a black man. I just love the fact that now that has an effect on my art. The fact that I could adapt and just want to understand other cultures and be open to experimenting.

I also admire artists like Diane Arbus. I love how brave she was, someone coming from her background and documenting the outcast. That's my world, as well. I love tense art, but I think my work is also a little dark. My clients often ask me to lighten things up a little.

AC: What would you tell students as they prepare for the future?
It's all in how you approach your work. I like to work as a documentary photographer; working with real people. Be respectful, not exploitive. Sometimes people, in their art, in order to get an emotion out of somebody, will shock them or upset them or scream and yell at them. People need to be respected for who they are.

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