LOS ANGELES — Silver Lake-based fine art photographer Melanie Pullen is a bit of a fetishist when it comes to footwear. Shoes are not only the most important part of her outfits, they’re the building blocks for her crime scene-inspired fashion photographs. Her exhibition, “High Fashion Crime Scenes,” opens on Saturday at the Silver Lake Society for Authentic Arts, and is part of the city’s 10th annual Muse Art Walk, to benefit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The show consists of her large-format color and black-and-white photographs of the “dead,” who are impeccably accessorized. While researching the crime scene photographs of the Forties and Fifties, Pullen became quite “tight with the L.A. coroner.” WWD sat down with the artist last week:
WWD: What is the significance of the Forties and Fifties in terms of your work?
This story first appeared in the June 10, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Melanie Pullen: If we accept fashion as code, which communicates essential information about the wearer, I’d say that people took the code more seriously in those days. If you look at suicide photos from the coroner’s files, the people usually put on their best clothes to do it. Men would put on a tie and a hat.
WWD: And of course, ladies would wear their best shoes.
MP: Of course! When I am building an image, it really does all begin with the shoes, even if you can’t see the feet in the final shot. Both men and women respond to shoes as really powerful.
WWD: Where do you and your style team shop?
MP: We pull from the showrooms downtown, and there’s always Barneys.
WWD: You state the fashion element serves to soften or filter the experience of death for the viewer.
MP: Believe it or not, I don’t want to be gruesome right off the bat. Fashion adds a few layers between the viewer and the terror.
WWD: The way radio back in the Forties filled in the blanks in the listener’s mind?
MP: Right, like those old detective serials on the radio. It’s much scarier to imagine a killer coming down the hall than to actually see him.
WWD: So your intention is not to shock or terrify the viewer?
MP: I want it to be more of a subliminal effect, and I like a long buildup. I am very particular about the way I arrange the photos in an exhibition. I always start with the least gruesome ones toward the front of the gallery. I start with something ambiguous and let the mind take it from there.
WWD: What’s the most interesting part of your work from a fashion standpoint?
MP: I am being stalked by lots of designers who want me to use their clothes! I am also being offered sponsorship opportunities. I might do some work with Henry Duarte, because I consider him a true artist.
WWD: What’s your next project?
MP: It’s a secret, but I will tell you this much: No more death.
MP: Well OK, maybe just a little.
— Victoria Thomas