Exclusive Interview with ELAINE CRISTINA DE MELO PEREIRA SOUZA – Brazilian Photographer
Elaine Melo is a young Brazilian photographer from Sao Paulo passionate about the ability of the image to transfigure reality and transcend it. She particularly appreciates the use of photography to let the world discover her country, on which she invites to take another look.
After winning the Best EY Dallas photography Contest in 2016 and the Best Osasco Butterfly Contest of Sao Paulo in 2019, her work was exposed at the International Film Exhibition. Then, she worked as a photographer for the Orchestra Camerata Borlenghi, for the Philharmonic Orchestra of Santo Amaro, for the Museum of Modern Art of Sao Paulo, for the Pinacoteca Museum of Sao Paulo and for famous Brazilian singers like Roberto Frejat.
In 2020, Elaine Melo began to enter her works into international festivals and contests. So far, she won five awards and 29 nominations for her photos in various countries like the United States of America, Brazil, Russia, Iran, India, Slovakia, Estonia, Nigeria, Belarus, Turkey, and Romania.
NY Glam: Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
My parents came from the Northeast of Brazil, a very poor region of the country. To get a better life, they went to live in Sao Paulo, the most important city in the country. But they were considered immigrants even if we are all Brazilian born and raised. As anyone coming from the Northeast, my parents suffered strong racial and class prejudice. The Southeast people believe they are superior to other Brazilians from the rest of the country. I remember that when my parents had to find a school for me, the school director didn’t want me, or any black person like me, to study at this school because she was saying that this school was not for us. There were very few black people in this school. My mother fought tooth and nails and even went to the police station to file lawsuits until the school agreed to take me. But even once I was in that school, the racial harassment kept going with a lot of bullying and humiliation. Even after my school years, when I went to college, I was the last girl from my class to get a job or an internship despite having very good grades. All because of my skin color. To this day, wether I go to the museum or any other art building, it’s not rare that I get reported or taken for the cleaning lady. In the minds of too many people here, people with dark skin are only there to serve and clean. Hopefully, my family was culturally rich. My father always liked music and I grew up listening to a lot of Brazilian popular music. I think that music inspires my art a lot because when I’m taking a picture, lyrics of old songs that my father sang come to my mind. As I’m writing this, my heart is being clenched because we shouldn’t have to suffer such racism and rejection from the country we love so much.
NY Glam: How long have you been a photographer?
I have always been in love with art. During school, I was often used to attend cultural centers that were presenting works of art, music, dancers, paintings, books etc. I studied at a college located near the Pinaconteca of the state of São Paulo and the Portuguese Language Museum, two very reknowned art centers. Whenever I could, at least once a week, I visited these places and took photos of the works of art, of the buildings and their details. This was a way for me to always keep art close to me, as the pictures were travelling with me on my cell phone. The more I was taking photos, the more I was falling in love with it. However, for financial reasons, I was not able to graduate in arts, so I graduated in secretarial and writing automation. I kept art as a hobby, my “Violon d’Ingres” like I was used to say. I was taking pictures of my family members, of things I ate, of nature and of everything that touched my soul. One day, some friends asked me to take pictures of them. It was a revelation for me. I trully fell in love with the process. I then decided to take photography lessons, even though I didn’t have a camera yet, as the equipment was very expensive for my financial conditions at the time. After months of learning and practice, with the support of some friends, I was finally able to buy an entry level camera.
NY Glam: What type of photography are you interested in?
I love to do portraits because it takes me into this fabulous journey of capturing the innermost beauty of a human being. And when the model is satisfied by the beauty of its very depiction, I feel I’m on the right track in my photographic journey.
The world is filled with so much sorrow and so many ills. I wish I could improve and uplift this world. This is why my goal, as naïve as it may seem, is to bring light and love to people through my photographs. I love to photograph everything that touches me, everything with photographic beauty, everything connecting me with the sacred. A flower, a smile, a silence or a music. I feel a burning compulsion to photograph anything that touches my soul.
NY Glam: How would you describe your style?
My favorite style definitely is black and white, because the contrast drags me within the picture for me to witness the power of this dance between light and shadow. I also enjoy taking pictures in colors, but I definitely favor subjects with bright and strong colors.
NY Glam: What do you consider the most important breaks in your career and why?
The most important breaks in my career were for me to win the Best Osasco Butterfly Contest of Sao Paulo and to photograph the International Film Exhibition. I remember the day when my photography teacher, Martin Gurfein, called me to congratulate me because I had been selected in the contest. Long before I begin studying photography, Martin was a photographer I admired a lot for his work, his intelligence and his generosity. Martin photographed a lot of famous people in Brazil and in the world.
NY Glam: What are you currently working on?
This is a difficult time for everyone. There is a lot of darkness and negativity in the media, the newspapers, and even in our conversations with our friends. Hope seems to be gone. So many are depressed or lost into low self-esteem. So many lost the desire to live. That is why I’m working on a project where the theme is about turning our darkness into light. I want to encourage people to believe that the future can be better if we start doing something with what we have now. I want to show people that even within our limitations, we can build great things. I want my photos to show people that they’re beautiful the way they are and that perfection is dull. The beauty standard where everyone is the same or has the same haircut does not belong to the forthcoming post-Covid era. Because the more we’re different, the stronger and the brighter we are.
NY Glam: What’s one of the most interesting shoots that you’ve done?
My most fascinating shoot was definitely “Primeira Luz” (First Light). It was about shooting the birth of a baby. I remember every second of it. I remember that Martin Gurfein showing me the books “The Archer Zen”, “History of Beauty and History of Ugliness” and talking about issues of ethics, zeal and responsibility when shooting. I remember the prayer I said before the shooting. And when I entered the delivery room, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. I remember the eyes of the pregnant woman and the kiss on the forehead that she got from her husband. When the doctor said it was time, I positioned myself, held my breath and captured this miracle of life while feeling like an archer with only one arrow.
NY Glam: Who’s your favorite model you’ve done a shoot with and why?
My favorite model is Leticia. Pictured in a big part of my portfolio, I definitely love her photogenicity, her kindness, her patience and the power of her eyes.
NY Glam: Do you have an all-time favorite camera/lens combination?
I have a canon Rebel t6i with Canon and Tamron lenses. But in the future, I would love to try Fuji and Hasselblad cameras along with Sigma and Leica lenses. Right now, I really have a thing for the 50mm Canon lens, but I love to have fun with all the types of lenses.
NY Glam: Describe your biggest accomplishment to date?
In 2020, I began submiting my pictures to competitions and festivals worldwide. Between September 2020 and April 2021, I had the pleasure and the honor of winning 4 awards and 28 nominations, with my pictures being exposed in many countries like the United States of America, Brazil, Russia, Iran, India, Slovakia, Estonia, Nigeria, Belarus, Turkey and Romania.
NY Glam: Who would you like to photograph next?
I would like to photograph the Brazilian rapper, singer and songwriter Emicida. He often talks to the diversity and about what it means to be black in a racist country. He also encourages black people to dream and go after their dreams. I want to photograph our former president Lula, for all that he represents to Brazil and mainly for having taken the needy and hopeless population to the university through social programs.
NY Glam: Who/what inspires you?
I’m inspired by other photographs like Annie Leibovitz and Peter Lindbergh, by the Bible, by Ruben Alves, Michele Obama, Rembrandt, Umberto Eco, by smiles, flowers and love.
NY Glam: Have you traveled much for work? Do you have a favorite location?
I’ve traveled to Bahia and it was amazing. I really enjoyed two very striking locations. One was Pelourinho, a place that stands out for its diversity of colors and beautiful architecture, and of course I can’t help but mention that it is a very interesting place culture wise. There are moments when the sea and the sky mix and we don’t really know which is which anymore. And the other location was in the Church of Bonfim, regarded as a holy place for bahians. Every Friday people wear white and create a fantastic contract with the colorful ribbons that enfeinate the church, as well as the sea and the red. The church has neo-classical style with rococo façade. Inside, in addition to tiles and frescoes, there are many details in gold.
NY Glam: Favorite quote?
It’s quite a difficult question. My instagram is full of quotes that I love very much, but there is one that I think is very special and that motivates me to photograph:
“Those who experience beauty are in communion with the sacred.” Rubens Alves.
Photography makes me feel in communion with the sacred. I can see the infinite beauty of it through the lens, regardless of where I am. Even in the midst of chaos, in a difficult day or in a very poor place with few resources, I can see the sacred.
NY Glam: What is your advice for aspiring photographers?
As Peter Lindbergh perfectly stated it, “Maybe all this is a question of how deep we are willing to go.”
Every picture you create should contains a part of you, a part of something that is hidden deep within your soul. This is how your art will be unique and impactful. You wont become a great photographer if money or equipment are your main motivations. You must channel love, anger, frustration and passion through your pictures. All these emotions should function as your main driving forces. Then, it’s necessary to show a deep respect for your subject, whether it’s a person, an object or a place. Respect and ethic are fundamental to open yourself to photographic mastery. Finally, it is important to always study and train, every day, as an athlete dreaming of winning the Olympics. Hard work always pays off.
NY Glam: What is next for you?
Sadly, in Brazil, we are still in the middle of the Pandemic. The news are sad. I believe this time is like winter. Flowers are gone, lost in the immaculate landscapes of snow. But as spring comes, flowers also come back to life. I believe our spring is coming in the near future. This is why I’m working on a photographic series about finding beauty, even in the most difficult times. I want to show how lives have been transformed during the pandemic and what we can get out of all this.