American Spectator: Melodie McDaniel


Sunday Best 4 ©1995, Melodie McDaniel

For years, I’ve been a frequent visitor to Melodie McDaniel’s web site. Leafing through her personal photographs, rather like the way I’d sort through my shoebox of so-called collectibles as a child, often finding precious nuggets – gems of images worth treasuring.

I’d fallen in love with a series of photographs she called Film Noir, a grouping of images that struck me as unique. Shot in classic, black and white film, my overriding thought when looking at Film Noir’s African American subjects was of the abundance of dignity they possessed, a trait rare in the representation of blacks in this country. Or should I say lack of representation?  Whether dressed up for church service or lounging in yards with friends and children, or holding court at a local dance hall, a tremendous sense of pride seems to emanate from McDaniel’s subjects.

Doo Drop Inn, 1998 © Melodie McDaniel

When we began working together to form an exhibition at Spot Photo Works in Los Angeles, I soon discovered the photographer’s vast archive, featuring a wide range of subjects that interested her. The daughter of an African and Native American father and a white Jewish mother, her photographs seek common ground and equal representation. “Coming from bi-racial parents, I’m always trying to comprehend where I fit in the world. I’m drawn to sub-cultures and outsiders probably because of my own feelings of otherness,” says McDaniel.

Sunday Best 1, ©1995, Melodie McDaniel
Sunday Best 1, ©1995, Melodie McDaniel
Waiting ©2013, Melodie McDaniel
Waiting ©2013, Melodie McDaniel

The photographs in American Spectator, are excerpts from several of her series of personal works, from within and beyond Film Noir. She has an explorer’s eye and her investigations of faith and race and of a variety of cultures speak to an endless curiosity and an ability to witness without judgment.

Melodie McDaniel with her work at the L.A. studio of framer Jeff Kies.

Photographically speaking, Melodie McDaniel looks so at home in whatever world she’s in that her images look unaffected by her presence, whether they are staged or documented. It’s one quality, I suppose, that has contributed to her reputation as a sought-after still photographer as well as a highly successful commercial director. McDaniel’s photographs allow the audience access in, along with the warmth or heartache or joy or resignation or alienation that comes with that access.

Melodie McDaniel graduated from Art Center College of Design and lives in Los Angeles. Her work has been published and broadcast internationally. American Spectator was photographed between 1993 and 2014 in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Kentucky, New York and California.

Spot Photo Works presents Melodie McDaniel: American Spectator, from September 19 through November 9, 2015.  An opening for the artist is scheduled from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., September 19th. Regular gallery hours are Monday through Friday 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Spot is located at 6679 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles.




J.K. Lavin: Mapping the History of the Moon

Full Moon Dream #6, © J.K. Lavin
Full Moon Dream #6, © 2013 J.K. Lavin

Moon River, Fly Me to the Moon, Blue Moon, How High the Moon, Bad Moon Rising, Clare de Lune, Moondance, Harvest Moon, Moonshadow. A nearly endless supply of songs named for the moon reflect our delight in a particularly striking lunar display. In Los Angeles photographer J.K. Lavin’s images, the moon has a huge presence, yet it remains unseen throughout the fourteen photographs in her exhibition opening Saturday, July 11 at Spot Photo Works in Hollywood. The moon is the lead character in the narrative, having tremendous impact on the course of events, yet it does its handiwork off-screen, out of frame.

© J.K. Lavin
Full Moon Dream #2 ©2013,  J.K. Lavin

J.K. Lavin takes to the streets deep into the evening when the full moon lights the night skies to photograph for her series Mapping the History of the Moon. With only the company of the moon as her guide and luminance, Lavin creates beautifully saturated color photographs that make us feel as though the night air is upon our skin and the incandescent window light on a porch shines through the hedge just across the street. There is a sense of home and a sense of belonging and there is the sense of observing a world just outside of reach. Someone is home, but it may not be you or I.

With the passing of her parents, Lavin wrote: “After deconstructing my family home, I stepped outside under a full moon and took a breath. I felt strangely at peace. A ritual began that night of photographing once a month by the light of the full moon. That sense of night and timelessness allows me to experience a world where I feel most at home, where in the stillness I can sense my mortality. I instinctively create the photographs that reflect what remains of the day after dark, the essence of light and life distilled into color, gestures, and liminal moments of memory and time.”

© J.K. Lavin
Full Moon Stairway ©2013, J.K. Lavin

A softness of focus that might be bothersome in many contexts, feels apropos in this case. While a subtle blur conveys the lack of ability to fully make out the details of a neighborhood at night, we also have the sense that sometimes we’re glad to let the clarity go and relax a bit. What remains is an overall languid quality, the sensation one has of taking a nightly stroll on a warm evening. Mapping the History of the Moon offers viewers a welcoming glow. You can almost smell the Star Jasmine, or hear the leaves rustling against a neighbor’s siding.

Full Moon Bungalow © J.K. Lavin
Full Moon Bungalow © 2013, J.K. Lavin

J.K. Lavin studied at The Visual Studies Workshop, New York, and received a Master of Arts degree in photography from Cal State Fullerton. Her work has been shown at Gallery 444, Palm Springs; Photoplace Gallery, Vermont and the Gallery at Roarke Art Museum, Minnesota. She lives and works in Venice, California.

Join us for an opening reception for the artist, J.K. Lavin, on Saturday, July 11, 2015, 6-9pm at Spot Photo Works, 6679 Sunset Blvd. (at historic Crossroads of the World) in Hollywood. Her exhibition will remain through September 10, 2015.  Regular gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.