The reactions that Melanie Pullen's photography renders are as intriguing as the artwork itself. The combination of beauty and violence makes viewers stop in their tracks."My work has had this strange impact on a certain audience.." Pullen shares."The more disturbed the viewer the longer they stay to look and discuss the work. I’ve had people come back to my shows seven or eight times because they don’t like the pieces and they’re so disturbed, I even had one lady sit in a gallery I was showing with from the time it opened until closing for a week straight."
At Paris Photo Los Angeles, ArtCrasher viewed Pullen's series "High Fashion Crimes". This body of work consists of more than "one hundred photographs that comprise High Fashion Crime Scenes is based on vintage crime-scene images she mined from the files of the Los Angeles Police Department, the Country Coroner's Office, and other primary sources. She began re-enacting the crime scenes, outfitting the "victims" (her selected models) in current haute couture, and photographing them in her staged settings."
For Pullen, her work goes much deeper than that of the average fashion editorial. "The fashion in this series is about giving the “victims” an identity while making fun of commercialism, branding, and toying with concept of feminine exploitation (something the media does endlessly). I was leaving and I passed by this body covered with the blue sheet, her toe was tagged and both feet were visible. It was the only part of her you could see… she had these beautiful toe nails painted manicured perfectly and they were this cherry red color. I happened to be wearing the same color nail polish. It was so weird and gave this woman (that I couldn’t see under the sheet) this entire identity and a weird connection to me. I never did see anything but her manicured toes but that’s always been one of the things that has stuck with me the most."
As a child, Pullen didn't have to look far over her shoulder for artistic inspiration. Surrounded by multidisciplinary artists while growing up in New York City, Pullen "...didn't know people did anything else but art until I was fiften years old because that was that was it and art was all I knew." Her grandmother was part of the beat generation. Her mother was a model and painter. "Emily Glen lived in our building...Robert Dinero lived next to us on Barrow Street and I would get his son in trouble all the time and Warhol would eat at my great grandparents because my great-grandfather gave him some of his first illustrating work."
It was Pullen's childhood that set the foundation for her passion for art. When she was six she was given a powerful tool; Her first camera. As a young child, she soon realized a camera gave her "this power to get adults to stop and totally listen to you - the power you’re longing for as a kid. So I just loved it. I knew I wanted to be a photographer at that point." She developed her own technics by learning "...to shoot by trial and error. I never read a book or anything really… it was just a feeling and scouring photo shows and archives and seeing trends that I wanted to avoid and finding rules to break. For me it’s always been about bending the rules of “traditional photography” figuring out how to alter what’s “right”'.
Pullen's work stands out because it dares to rip the blindfold off of the viewer. It does not sugarcoat reality. Her subject matter and the way it can sink its teeth into even the most ignorant viewer makes it impossible to not look like a deer in lights while looking at her photography.It's attraction is that magnetic. At one point while viewing Pullen's work, a young woman turned to me and said "How is she able to be make such a gory subject look so...elegant? Part of me is saying I should be mortified, but I can't look away."
Speaking of reality, Pullen's upcoming series "Soda Pop! So-Da-Licious!” explores a series of adventures brought on by insominq. "It kind of retelling this time in my life as a child 6-7 years old when I had insomnia (something I’ve had for my whole life).. My bedroom window looked out onto this corner and every night at exactly 12am this seven foot black transvestite with a blond wig would show up to work my corner. We became friends as I had no one else to talk to at midnight...So this series is me going out between 12am-3am (my friend's old hours) and finding these young male street walkers or just young guys wondering the streets and getting them to pose with these kind of funny bizzare old soda bottles… these bottles all have a meaning and the guys need to choose one that really means something to them or that they can relate to so you can kind of know something about them." And so, Pullen and her lens continue to share the beauty and the beast of reality.