Melodie McDaniel: Riding Through Compton
Melodie McDaniel (b. Omaha, NE, 1967; resides in Los Angeles) is an American still photographer and director whose work challenges prevailing motifs of American identity, with a deep investment in the exploration of sub- and countercultures.
Riding Through Compton pairs three years of documentary photographs and formal portraits by Melodie McDaniel with text and interviews by Amelia Fleetwood conducted with participants, guardians, and volunteers involved with the Compton Junior Posse. (Text: Minor Matters Website)
Available for pre sales, Riding Through Compton published by Minor Matters Books order on their website here
First can you tell us about your background? How did you get interested in photography?
My mother took photographs, she always had a camera around her neck. As a young person I was exposed to her pictures from her travels abroad. There were always interesting art books and National Geographic magazines in our home. I was fascinated by the photo essays and wanted to do the same.
I grew up in a mixed race home, seeing both sides of cultural experience: my mother is Jewish and my father is African-American.
When I was 18 years old, I was able to travel to Israel to experience what it feels like to live and work in a radically different culture. This adventure sparked my interest in pursuing photography as a career.
Can you briefly tell us what this book embodies in it? What inspired you to create this body of work? How did it all start?
The Compton Jr Posse project came about through my friend Amelia Fleetwood. Her boyfriend Will Simpson, who is an Olympic Gold medalist equestrian , mentors several of the kids at CJP. Amelia appreciated my photography and knew that CJP & myself would be a great match.
Experiencing firsthand an equestrian after school program in the back of a house in the middle of Compton , CA is incredibly unique & inspiring! Through a series of portraits and candid moments, the book presents a multi-faceted portrayal of these young riders and their deep connection with these powerful and gentle horses.
The images in the book are Black and White only, no color at all. For me Black and White has in many occasions a feeling of looking at the past, something that is based in memory, mainly because we do not see naturally the world in BW and history of early photography has changes our perception on this visual. Can you explain the reasoning behind this choice for you? How does it tie into the subject matter of the book?
Black and white film is my medium of choice. I never considered using color film. I wanted to convey the classic and timeless nature of this subject and it’s inherent soul.
Compton is a place that many might have not visited in person but have heard of mainly as there are many culture figures that have come from there such as athletes and musicians; What was your experience photographing Compton? How did photographing there shape your vision on the place?
Compton is another community that makes up the sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles. Historically, Compton was once called Rancho Dominguez and is still zoned for agricultural use. In Richland Farms, CJP founder Mayisha Akbar’s property is the heart of today’s Compton.
The book takes a look at the younger generation ‘youth riding and equestrian program’ that highlights teens riding horses, learning how to take care of them and the overall after school program that is taking place. How did you first come to learn about this program? What inspired you to document Compton from the POV of these teenagers and their horses?
Mayisha Akbar founded and created CJP with the express desire to keep kids off the streets and on horses. The equestrian program teaches the students etiquette, equine science, horse maintenance, and instills a great sense of self confidence. CJP’s mission aids in advancing academic studies and directing career choices.
I think what I found interesting in this body of work is how personal it is, and how close you get to these kids, but there is still a feeling of distance. They are in almost a bubble of horses and urban landscape. There is something very hard and soft in these portraits and all these dualities and inner conflicts make the work what it is. Do you think I am reading the work as you intendant it too? Can you give us your insights?
My intent and desire while creating these photographs over 3 + years was to present my vision of the relationship between these kids and the horses in several different environments. More importantly; as a child of mixed parents, I was inspired and excited to see African American youth participate in a sport overwhelmingly populated by upper class Caucasians.
Book making, and especially in today’s book making competitive and expansive market, what makes a great book in your opinion? Why do you think books are important from your perspective? What is its power? What are its weaknesses?
To quote Maya Angelou “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” (Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings).
Go out and photograph!
Thank you Melodie McDaniel and Minor Matters Books – get a copy of book here
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