In issue six we featured After the Fire by Melanie Eclare, who sadly passed away in 2016. Another of Melanie’s series, Pandora’s box, was not widely seen, so we’ve given it a platform online. I took the opportunity to talk with Sara Bradford about her sisters thoughtful approach to photography.
Harry Flook: Can you talk a little about Melanie’s background in photography, and her transition to a more artistic led practice?
Sara Bradford: Melanie was a successful commercial, garden and portrait photographer before she made her transition to her artist led practice. She found her true creative genius exploring demons from her intergenerational trauma; she described her work as laying ghosts to rest. Through Pandora’s Box she was free to travel back to childhood dreams and wishes where she could relive her love of dressing up in costume, make believe, fairy tale and innocence.
HF: What was Melanie’s experience of studying on the MA at Plymouth?
Melanie’s confidence and belief in her talents grew exponentially with the remarkable attention of her tutors. With great enthusiasm and a complete focus she was unstoppable. She was determined to make known her creative voice and vision in her photography, writing and speaking. She showed a compelling conviction for the truth whilst also revealing a vulnerability, profound innocence and deep wisdom.
I was told her presentations at the university were captivating.
HF: Melanie’s work is quiet, and it feels as though she often observed from a distance rather than shooting in close. What was she like as a person and how do you think this impacted her approach to image making and storytelling?
SB: As a person she was passionate, heartfelt and enthusiastic. Nowhere was this more evident than in her love of people and finding ways for authentic meaningful connection. She was incredibly generous with her time in nurturing others’ dreams, concerned for their happiness. Behind the camera Melanie found sanctuary and stillness. From this space she could give generous attention to her subjects whilst retaining a healthy distance. Her warm manner meant not making demands of her subject. She didn’t want to get into personal space; rather she held space for her subject to be in their innocent selfhood. Seeing others in this quiet and heightened present moment was very transformative for her.
HF: Can you talk about the use of costumes in Pandora’s Box?
SB: The costumes and settings were fantastical and gave her subject the feeling of being in a mysterious universe. Often the ordinary world would be going on all around and Melanie created a mesmerising and original vision of these juxtaposing worlds. She photographed a family group in full theatrical costume whilst standing in the ice cream queue on a busy holiday weekend all acting as if this was totally ‘normal’.
Melanie had an incredible knack of making us believe in her vision. Her breath-taking and creative genius seemed to flow effortlessly.
HF: Melanie’s website mentions her concern for ‘overprotective or dysfunctional parenting’. Who are the children in Pandora’s Box and what’s the significance of photographing them rather than the adults.
SB: The children in Pandora’s box were given freedom to explore their identities through imagination and creativity. Perhaps in life children are overprotected and not being given these opportunities. Busy dysfunctional parenting means the magical potential of children is not noticed or nurtured, resulting in a loss of self-belief. The work questions imposed sexual identities as in boys being constricted by stereotypical norms whilst girls become easily objectified. Pandora’s Box comments on the roles we are given within the family and how in redefining these roles it is possible to find endless possibilities to reinvent ourselves.
HF: Where did this interest in children come from?
SB: Melanie’s work commented on her own childhood, and in turn drew her to observe children. In giving to her subjects their sense of wonder, innocence and awe she was receiving the same in return. In these reflections she found a sense of hope for the future. Looking at the work now I can see a beautiful mirroring between Melanie and her subject.
She didn’t always photograph children on their own but often with adults. A key feature of Melanie’s work was recording the relationships between the child and the adult. She had a keen observation of the human condition and especially the family dynamic.
HF: Melanie’s later work was concerned with our relationship to a changing environment. Do you know where this interest in our disconnect with nature came from?
SB: Melanie’s interest in nature deficit disorder came from her direct experience of moving to the country after living all her life in cities. She found a strong connection and sense of purpose through nature and with that came healing, hope and self-belief. She became interested in documenting and observing this in others through her work. This led to an honest awareness of the psychic or existential distress caused by extreme environmental change both at a personal and global level. Referring to these conditions that define us as the Anthropocene generation.
HF: Following that, how is the idea explored in Pandora’s Box?
SB: Nature and our connection to it was the constant in Melanie’s work. In Pandora’s box she was using nature to describe the innocence of enchanted worlds, it was the backdrop for her subjects and she was a master at capturing its beautiful qualities and perfect light which gave the work an otherworldly feel.
She described nature in a visceral way, which gave her work an incredible aliveness and vitality. This is depicted in the destructive forces of forest fires of California and the soft deep flowing beauty of the river Dart in Devon.
HF: Which of Melanie’s images was your favourite and why?
SB: It is taking time to see through the clouds of grief and to begin cataloguing the huge legacy of her work. There are so many photographs that no one has seen before. Whilst searching through some of the photos for the article in Issue six, After the Fire, I saw an incredible portrait of Melanie’s daughter Rose wearing the bridal veil. Rose looks stunning, and it’s a standout portrait that for me defines Melanie’s vision. The bridal veil was a much-featured prop in Pandora’s Box. Most of her subjects, from children to adult men and women, wore it in many of her photographs. She used the veil as a metaphor for being objectified.
One of my favourites of the series is of Rose standing by the river with the twin flames. This was one of the last photographs she was able to publish. I see so many ways to interpret this image, and question what the twin flames that Rose is holding across her eyes represent. Is Melanie saying I see you? Do they represent Rose and myself and our creative flames? Is she seeing her work living on through us? I remember Melanie making reference to the river being a metaphor for the underworld and how this photograph was about ‘returning from the underworld’. I like the dog looking down at the water as if something may still be down there lost forever. There is that incredible light on the river of the fading day. The whippet shows its love and devotion that in real life it had for Melanie and how this echoes my love and devotion to Melanie.
To see After the Fire in print, grab a copy of issue six at: www.loupemagazine.com