Melodie McDaniel (Photography and Imaging, Fine Art, 1991): I don't want to say I'm angry about it, but it is unfortunate. There are so many great, creative African American artists who probably don't know or have the resources to come to a place like ArtCenter.
MM: I was interested in art school, so I was looking to find the best place to learn my craft. Once I knew I wanted to go into photography and film, somebody I knew said, "You might want to look into ArtCenter." I came. I went through the gallery. And I was just blown away.
MM: I traveled to Israel right after high school graduation, spending time there and through parts of Europe inspired me to want to become a photographer. I specifically wanted to shoot cultural stories for National Geographic. I was also inspired by the visual references around the house. My mom had amazing artworks, books and National Geographics. When I looked through those, I knew I wanted to do that.
MM: Mom was completely supportive.
MM: There was one other person in the photo department.
MM: It was definitely unique.
MM: It was just something I was aware of. I wasn't treated any differently. I had a great experience. If anything, I felt like there was some curiosity, more attention being paid to me.
EB: Did you have a class that didn't go as well, but it made you stronger as a photographer?
MM: This school is very technical. I struggled with that. I was shooting products, lighting and I'm glad I did. But I always tried to push my natural light in a lot of the assignments, so I got a little trouble for that sometimes.
I think art is interesting when it comes from all kinds of cultural backgrounds. It would be great to have more African American photographers’ points of view.Melodie McDaniel (BA '91 Photography, Fine Art) Photographer, Director
MM: I would describe my work as authentic, natural. Fine art, documentary-style. I love shooting people, culture, cultural environments, environmental photography. Instead of using studio lights and all that, I shoot everything pretty much natural — personally I like shooting natural light; I do shoot studio light as well when it’s needed for commercial and fashion editorials.
MM: A little of both. I went in wanting to be a National Geographic photographer or wanting to work for a magazine like that. I spent time at the ArtCenter library researching books by Roy DeCarava, Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, William Eggleston; instructors also guided me, more specifically Paul Jasmin.
MM: I prefer just being a photographer. When I finished ArtCenter, I started working right away, which has been great. But I was never labeled. I didn't want to just be the Black photographer. I wanted to shoot everything.
MM: I remember being surprised. I think there should be more outreach. There needs to be more support. While I was here, I was so busy. Honestly, I was so focused trying to get the work done that I didn't have time, but when I did come across other African American artists here in other departments, it was great.
MM: I think art is interesting when it comes from all kinds of cultural backgrounds. I've talked to students, and I try to encourage them to look into ArtCenter if they want to explore art or photography. But, financially, it does become a burden. I figured out a way. I had to take loans, get grants, worked and did a lot of things. I feel like it would be great if students, and especially the faculty, could figure out a way to draw more African American artists to come or feel like they can come here. It would be great to have more African American photographers’ points of view.
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