Nina Contini Melis Wins Gold
New LPA member Nina Contini Melis won Gold in the single image category of our portraiture competition Let's Face It: 6. Although she shoots a lot of portraits, she doesn't consider herself a portrait specialist, telling us "my speciality is cultural reportage: photographing people in the arts both as environmental portraits and whilst they are performing their art, whether that's music, drama, dance, or sculpture."
The winning image was already in Nina's portfolio. "I entered it on the spur of the moment," she says. "I saw the portraiture competition announced and thought of that image: a portrait without a head, showing the subject from the back. I remembered that various people who had known the subject personally immediately recognised him by several characteristics I mentioned in my caption. I liked the idea of a portrait without a face but with identifying clues."
Nina tells us about the image of Miles Davis which won her top prize in the single image category. "It was taken backstage in Rome 1982 as he was stepping onstage. He had not worked for seven years due to a serious motorcycle accident. This was his first foreign tour since the event. Why did I take it? Everybody recognises Miles in a more conventional portrait. I wanted to try something different, to make an image that captured the moment, and to do so in a less obvious way than a face-on portrait. This was my favourite image from the shoot."
Nina likes the composition of her shot and the sense of drama and anticipation it holds. "Like many of my images, it's taken in "available darkness" due to common circumstances in my line of work and preferred shooting methods, but I think it suits the moment," she says.
Nina had always liked to take pictures casually, but didn't get into photography seriously until she started covering jazz in Rome in the late 60s. Some of her photos started to be published in Italian newspapers and jazz magazines. She had on-the-job training at a commercial photographer's studio where she worked as a secretary, and ended up mostly working in the darkroom learning to process film and to print, and working as a studio assistant.
Nina became known as a jazz photographer and then expanded into other artistic and cultural fields. She now lives in Paris and continues to photograph, doing album covers for musicians and record companies and developing other projects, among which is a photography book on the garden of the Italian ambassador to Indonesia. She's had an exhibition of jazz photos at the Italian Cultural Institute in Jakarta and the Java jazz festival (2009) and will return there to shoot the photos for her book. Nina also has some ongoing projects including an expanded series on the graffiti and wall paintings in the Sardinian town of San Sperate.
"It is a difficult economic climate at the moment," she admits. "It isn't easy to find work in this period, though I do have a book commission. I'm willing to do work in commercial environments if it is consistent with the type of photography that I specialise in, which isn't studio photography but more environmental portraiture and reportage (or book cover illustration and album photography). I also sell prints as fine art photography."
Nina is currently working on her book commission, for which she plans to take photos in Indonesia in May (to augment the photos already shot on two previous trips). She is also working on a project scanning more negatives of the wall paintings in San Sperate, and will possibly travel there to take more photos and develop a specific project on that theme.