Today we’d like to introduce you to Mel Taing.
Mel, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I am a second generation Cambodian American. My parents had lost almost everything in the Vietnam War and the ensuing genocide in their home country of Cambodia. As a child to immigrant parents, there were extremely high expectations for me to become a doctor or an engineer. Although I excelled in math and science, I was irrevocably drawn to art. Painting and drawing eventually led me to photography when I was thirteen. The internet changed everything for me. Platforms like Flickr and Tumblr exposed me to a beautiful, visual world and the possibility of living as an artist.
I started my photography business when I was sixteen, doing senior portraits and family photos. I spent all of my free time learning more about photography, editing, and collaborating with my friends to make an honest, authentic image. When it came time to apply to colleges, my parents and I had an explosive fight. I wanted to go to art school. They wanted me to go to pharmacy school like my two older siblings. I told them that I would apply only to art schools and pursue a career in photography.
When I got into Mass Art, my parents eventually came around. It’s been an incredible journey with my parents to understand and accept my identity as an artist a journey we’re still working on to this day! I ended up falling in love with filmmaking from an Intro to Film class my freshman year and studying Film/Video at Mass Art. I’ve worked at multiple museums in the Boston area during my time in school and now work in the photo department at the Peabody Essex Museum while doing freelance filmmaking and creative portraiture.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
What I mainly do now is creative portraiture that is intimate, colorful, and a little bit surreal. A lot of my current work comes from collaborating with other artists to create a mutual vision that captures their vibe through my eyes. I am a very social person and love to connect with people deeply and intentionally. Beforehand, there are often mood boards being passed back and forth, color palettes picked and props to decide on. But when it comes to actually photograph, it takes time and tenderness to have a subject relax in front of the lens and be their true selves. The moments in between shots are just as important as when the shutter clicks.
I create this work because I love making people feel beautiful. I love validating the integrity of the human spirit. I do think that the human body is a channel for the divine. Documenting that divinity and creating that connection is my reward. Affirmation and acknowledgment in holding space for my subjects to play and be themselves is their reward. And for my viewers, I invite them to celebrate the awesomeness of being human, the ability for a color to create a dream space and hopefully for them to see themselves reflected and celebrated.
What do you know now that you wished you had learned earlier?
NEVER UNDERVALUE YOURSELF! Pricing your labor and work is the hardest thing for me as an artist. One thing I wished I learned earlier was the value of business knowledge. It’s awesome to hone your creative self, but you can’t live unless you harness your business self. And I’m currently working on really finding a genuine mentor to help me learn this knowledge. Be real about what you don’t know, but don’t get paralyzed by it. It’s okay to be in flux, to not know *everything. Try to see yourself as a constantly evolving, growing person. It’s really hard when everyone out there is trying to hustle – sometimes folks just want your labor without giving you anything in return. Be careful about the energy you give out in the world because you want to be sure you’ll get something back. Also, you won’t know until you ask. You won’t grow until you do what challenges you. I tell this to myself ALL. THE. TIME!
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
We live in a digital world so that is also where my work currently resides. Instagram and my website, mainly! I am very passionate about my art going towards a direction of highlighting the lives of POC. As an Asian American, I work with the tension between my Cambodian culture and my American culture every single day. There are so many parts of my experience and other POC experiences that folks don’t know about. My art can be a part of that movement towards empathy and understanding the lives of our friends, neighbors, and fellow strangers. People can support my work by just following me on that journey. Or… slide into my DMs if you’d like to collaborate.
- Website: http://www.meltaing.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/m.ltaing/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/meltaingphoto/
Subjects in photos: Horse Jumper of Love, Aaron Lindenberg, Emily Hatch, Sophie Pratt, Stephanie Bogle, Rosa Jiyoon, Kelsey Francis (of the band Lilith), Emily Burke