Melanie Tjoeng is an avid traveller and storyteller. Born in Queensland’s capital city of Brisbane, she spent most of her early years playing in the tepid waters and dense jungles of Papua New Guinea’s Sepik coastal town of Wewak. She has been traversing the globe since she was born and has lived in Hawaii, New York, Mexico, Denmark, Australia and Papua New Guinea. As a learned Anthropologist, her passion for storytelling came naturally and when she discovered her love for the captured image, photography seemed like the perfect calling. Now based in Honolulu, fashion photography is Melanie’s main passion and focus. She believes in shooting from the heart, always.
How did the idea for the series come about?
It was actually a creative collaboration with my friend @yingang and myself. We were both going to be in New York together and Ying wanted to produce a shoot with me. So we found, Enya who was a good friend of one of our close friends, she is a great model and wonderful to work with. We shot on the roof on one of our friends places in Bushwick. We wanted this fashion story to be more about feelings than anything else. A lonely girl in New York, finding solace on her rooftop. Looking inward for the answers.
How do you approach these intimate shoots?
I find shooting somewhat of a spiritual experience. It’s almost an intimate dance between you and the model. I need to have a connection with the person I am shooting with. I always shoot from my heart and a greater place that goes beyond myself, connecting to something bigger. I guess, that is the artistic experience.
Can we photograph the female body differently in a more powerful way?
For sure. I think all images make a statement and have some sort of context to them. I think the female form has always been greatly admired but also greatly misused and disrespected. I think women have always been given boxes to live in, guidelines of how to look and how to be. I would like to say that’s changing now and as a society we are becoming more conscious of feminism and allowing women to use their inherent strengths and come from a place of freedom and independence, but, clearly, there are still so many flaws in our society. A lot of women are still held back, still expected to be a certain way and fit into stereotypical ideals of beauty. For some reason there’s this crazy expectation for women to have no flaws?! It’s crazy what are perceived as flaws too – as if there is one way to be. Like where on earth did that idea come from?! I know it’s been used as a power tool to keep women in their place, to make us feel like we aren’t good enough. But it’s such crap. I think just photographing women how they really are and not being afraid of it. When I shoot, I want to see what’s on the inside of the person I am photographing. What do you have to say. What do we both want to say to each other. What do we want to say to the world. Sure, you can be aesthetically beautiful but what do you have to express?! I think that it is really important, to portray women for what makes them a beautiful human being with a soul, not just a body. I want people to feel something, beyond the beauty, I want my photographs to take you somewhere.
What inspires you?
Everything. I am constantly inspired by imagery, music, sounds and words, the wind on my face in the morning when I go for a run, other artists who are incredibly talented, friends and their kindness, traveling to places unknown and places familiar. Seeing it all. Experiencing all of it.
How would you define beauty?
Beauty is anything that makes you feel something. Beauty is what you have when you strip everything else away, beauty is the source of all things good. Beauty has so often been described as just an aesthetic but I think it moves beyond the realm of the tangible.
Film or digital?
Film. But I still shoot digital all the time and I think it definitely has its place and can be beautiful too. But film is more purposeful and kind. It keeps secrets. It makes you feel nostalgic. I love it.
What makes you happy?
Living in Hawaii makes me really happy and I can’t believe I got so lucky, being able to call this place, home. Knowing that I get to do what I love to do everyday is a constant joy; photography saved my life. Freedom to move and be who I am. Traveling is a huge source of happiness for me. Helping others and seeing people happy and inspired and comfortable in their own skin. When I see animals wild, free and powerful without any human interference. All of those things and many more, make me happy. Being alive is such a weird and wonderful experience.
What’s next for you?
I hope that I keep being able to create work that I love, in the places that I love, with the people that I love.