Photographer Melanie Dunea Talks Yearlong Country Music Photography Odyssey
By Ben Trivett Posted Oct 19th 2010 04:00PM
If anyone can prove country music is more than pickup trucks and sad songs, it's photographer Melanie Dunea -- though she never could have known one shoot would be the start of a yearlong passion project. Melanie traveled the country, making quite a few stops in Nashville, to dive deep into country music and the artists who create it.
From Kenny Chesney to Taylor Swift, Melanie interviewed and photographed stars in unique environments to create a beautiful set of portraits. Check out our conversation with Melanie and hear what she had to say about country music, photography and more.
How did you develop the themes for this book?
I didn't know anything about country music. I'm from Chicago, I'm a northerner and I went to high school in Virginia. When I arrived there, they said, "Hello Yankee." I thought, "Why is this the biggest phenomenon in the country and I know nothing about it?" So, it's time to buckle down, get your earphones on, plug in Pandora and start listening to country music. I spent a year, pretty much, going back and forth from Nashville to Texas to Los Angeles, kind of all around the country, while I do my regular job, which is celebrity portraiture
Was there any specific style behind this book?
I tried to interview people and then think about how I'm going to photograph them, so that's the first goal. The second goal is if they won't do the interview until we're literally sitting there with the camera in my hand, I think, "OK, how will I photograph them?" I open a bottle of wine ... no just kidding. Sometimes I was told you're gonna be at the Grand Ole Opry, [so] make it work. But I always get to a photo shoot three hours before at least, so I can set up and plan because you can take a picture anywhere.
Are you a country music fan now?
Now I am. [Laughs] A lot of it opened my eyes. The thing is, for me, country music isn't so much about the beats as it is about the words, you know, the songs and the lyrics. It's sort of the poetry of today. If you break down country music, to me, you've got God, the military, family and tradition. That is what it is in a nutshell. You can quote me on that. [Laughs]
Being a country music fan and shooting all these other celebrities for a day job, have you done any other themed books?
I have done a book called 'My Last Supper.' I do themed books. I just like to look at a group, sink my teeth in, do a snapshot and then get out of there. I did a book called 'My Last Supper' because I was really interested in chefs, and what they would consider to be their final meals, then I wanted to get away from chefs and right staring me in the face was country music. I mean it's everywhere and how could I have not known anything about it?
Melanie Dunea: My Country
My Country: 50 Musicians on God, America, and the songs they love.
©My Country by Melanie Dunea / CPi. Published by Rodale Books.
Denise Truscello, WireImage
Then we flipped Melanie's country music interview questions right back on her!
What would be your ultimate photographic experience?
Well, first of all, if somebody wouldn't say to me, "Wow being photographed is like being at the dentist!" Or, "I hate being photographed." Rule 1: Don't tell me you hate being photographed. Rule 2: Pretend that you like it. Rule 3: Be open-minded. I would love to be photographing my dream, dream ... Paul Newman, even though he's not with us any longer. Some great icon, I'd love to be able to have time with them. I'd love to even maybe have a coffee with them before. I'd like to have a limitless budget so my imagination could run wild.
Who specifically is on your list?
Well, I'd love to shoot Madonna when she's in a good mood. I'd love to shoot Meryl Streep, and I'd love to shoot President Obama and the Dalai Lama. Can I have four?
You can have five.
Do you have any rituals before a shoot?
I'm very nervous before I shoot, but it never shows apparently. I'm a Capricorn, dude. I'm prepared.
If you didn't become a photographer, what would you have done?
I would have been a journalist, a writer or a war photographer, a correspondent. That's what I really would love to have done.
If you could thank God for one thing, what would it be?
I would thank God for the fact that I'm here.
What do you think it is that makes photography one of the most important things in culture?
I think the role of photography is to convey information, and that's what I try to do with my pictures. I really try to show you who that person is.
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