Meet a Lab Assistant: Melissa Blackmon

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How long did you work at LATITUDE as a lab assistant? What brought you to LATITUDE?

I worked at LATITUDE for a little over a year. As a freelance photographer, so much of the work I was involved in rarely involved a team, it was always just me. I reached a place where I was craving creative collaboration and finding a sense of community. I then learned about LATITUDE and the opportunity to be a lab assistant. The idea of being surrounded by other artists who all had different creative passions and ideas sounded invigorating. I was able to learn the ins and outs of running a print lab, continue my education and find the community I had been looking for.

Tell us about your art making practice. What ideas, materials, or people sit at the center of the work you do.

My passion for photography comes in the form of finding moments rather than creating them. I was always drawn to street photography and photojournalism, capturing a moment that could never be recreated is fascinating to me. The ultimate goal is to not only capture that one moment but to also impact thought and change in people. I feel most people are influenced through images rather than words. You can create your own picture based off what you read but you can't change the truth in details of a photo. Recently, my focus has been on an organization I'm part of, Chicago Creatives. Our group provides not only collaborative opportunities for creatives in Chicago but we strive to use this creative community to empower disenfranchised communities to make positive social, political and economic change in our city. To make this possible we provide fundraising and collaborative opportunities with non-profit organizations in Chicago. We work as a liaison between spaces, artists, community influencers, and marketers. Working on this project has opened my eyes to how I can use my art of storytelling, documenting moments, to make a change and bring awareness.

List three things that changed the way you look at/think about/or make art.

1. There was a period in my life not too long ago that I decided it was important for me to face some fears. To do that, I left the country and traveled solo. Not only did I learn a ton about myself but I rediscovered what it was to photograph for myself. I had lost the initial passion of photography and when I found it again it was therapeutic. Travel changed my life in many ways and I highly recommend everyone experience it alone.

2. I started surrounding myself with more creative humans, not just photographers. It pushed me to see shapes, color, and light in completely different ways. I'm drawn to what I like, to what instantly intrigues me, but being around friends who created in different ways than my style was invigorating and helped push me to step outside my comfort zone.

3. The 'Women of Vision' exhibit at the Field Museum a couple years ago changed me. It highlighted the work of 11 women photojournalists on assignment for National Geographic. THIS IS MY DREAM. I walked through the exhibit in absolute awe, I basically fell in love with it all. The photos, the people, the sad hard truth, the brutal honesty, the beauty. It was mesmerizing. There were times in my travels when I was in countries where it was extremely hard to be a woman photographer trying to float in the shadows capturing life. Here were these amazing powerful women, photographing in places and scenarios that you can't even imagine. I later saw one of the photographers Lynsey Addario speak and it just sparked something inside me, I saw the true power a photograph can really have.

What art, film, music, food, etc are you currently into?

I recently revisited The Salt of the Earth documentary which follows the life and work of photographer Sebastiao Salgado. His book Genesis is also definitely worth experiencing. I will leave it at that and let you have your own first impression of it all.

What's your favorite prized possession?

My most prized possession is a necklace. On it are 3 charms; a good luck Buddhist charm that I got in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a small elephant my boyfriend brought back for me from Italy, and also a charm which was given to me by the mother of a friend of mine who passed away. My friend's name was Jill and her mother gave all her very close friends charms from when Jill was young. I love this necklace dearly and I think it gives me superpowers.

What is your sun sign?

I sit here as a stereotypical Leo joined by Lucille Ball and Barack Obama. Can't beat that.

View a selection of Melissa’s work below:

Staff FeaturesColleen Keihm