Melissa Trotter is an Edmonton based photographer specializing in alternative themed photography. By now, you've likely seen the blood dress that she created with model Anja Love. If you haven't, where have you been? At the time of this post, it's been viewed more than 1.7 million times on Imgur.
I reached out to Melissa and she kindly agreed to an interview. Read on to find out what inspires her, how she deals with negative reactions to her work, her dream art project, and her advice for emerging or aspiring artists.
1. How did you get to where you are right now as an artist?
I've been shooting for approximately two years and started with flowers and landscapes. After dabbling in lifestyle and boudoir photography for a short period of time, my ex-partner and I threw ourselves into horror photography and haven't looked back since. We decided to part ways in October and I was on the edge of quitting photography completely, but in the process of trying to fit all the pieces back together and really concentrating on what would make me happy, I started my own company at the end of March.
On a technical front, my first camera was a slightly more advanced point and shoot model, and we upgraded to an entry level DSLR relatively quickly. Online resources were the greatest help in terms of learning how to shoot in manual mode, learning lighting techniques, and picking up PhotoShop procedures I had never had to use before.
2. Do you think it is important to have a formal education in order to be an artist?
I don't believe it's necessary. Helpful in some cases, but not necessary. If someone has the drive to hone their craft and constantly strive to be better, they'll find a way to do it whether it involves a school setting or not.
3. Describe a typical day for you.
I work full time in an office and then try to shoot as much as possible outside of regular work hours. If I'm not shooting, I'm editing (or procrastinating).
4. Who or what inspires you?
Dealing specifically with horror photography, my main inspiration was my partner while we worked together, although maybe inspiration isn't the right word. There was a creative energy that seemed to feed both of us and ideas flowed fairly easily. Now that I'm on my own, the ideas haven't stopped (thankfully) and I'm inspired by everything. There isn't a scenario or object I can't twist into something else to make it my own.
In terms of people who inspire me, I've always loved Renee Robyn's work, Amanda Diaz is amazing, Adam Pixel always makes me smile, Joshua Hoffine is brilliant, Cindy Koning does beautiful things, and Christopher McKenney always manages to steal my breath.
5. Has the recent attention for your blood dress brought you any new clients or opportunities?
Unfortunately not, but that's based on location than anything else. I've gotten loads of inquiries, but they've been scattered throughout the US and the rest of the world and as much as I'd love to head out and do a tour, it's just not financially feasible. Edmonton largely ignores me, but it's always been like that.
6. Your work has some dark themes. Have you experienced any negative reactions because of that?
Oh absolutely, and it's something I had a hard time processing at first. There was the part of me that thought it was hilarious that people would get so upset, but there were equal parts of disappointment and self-doubt. I've had a love/hate relationship with the local photography groups on Facebook for a very long time. I wanted them to love and appreciate the work that went into what they were seeing, but at the same time, I didn't want to care. It was exhausting, to be honest, and I rarely pay attention to anything that happens in those groups now.
It came down to understanding two things - one, those people were never in my demographic to begin with, and two, any reaction is a good reaction; there's nothing worse than indifference. I've come to love the negative reactions just as much as the positive ones, however, I know there's a place for my art and it's not worth my time or energy to constantly push punk rock into top 40 groups and demand acceptance.
7. What is your dream art project?
I spend a lot of time trying to fake things - whether it's locations, costumes, or props and for that reason, my concepts are fairly minimalistic. My dream art projects involve travelling to Iceland and Europe, fully fleshing out costumes and makeup, and creating something intricate and detailed and...well. Most likely bloody. If I had to choose one, I would absolutely die to create a Crimson Peak-esque shoot.
8. What's the best art related advice you've been given?
That's a tough one. I've been given lots of business related advice, but in terms of art related, I would probably have to say I get the most criticism on my details. I'm absolutely horrible with them. I become far too excited with specific aspects of the frame, whether it's a certain look I want from a model, or a certain effect I want to see with a prop that the rest kind of goes out the window. Like if my model's nailed a face, I don't concentrate on what her hands are doing. It's a huge struggle for me, admittedly.
9. Do you have any advice for emerging or aspiring artists?
I'm not sure I'm qualified, but I will say that nobody gets better by sitting and wishing. Get out there. You'll never have enough money for it, and you'll never get to a point where you know all there is to know, but if you're truly passionate about it, none of that will matter. And write everything down. If you`re struck by something, if you see a flash in your mind of a concept or picture, write it down. Those ideas disappear so quickly and if you`re ever struggling with a creative block, a book of ideas is so helpful in pulling you through.
10. What's next for you?
I think it's business as usual. I'm just continuing to shoot and work on creating a better set than the one before. I'm not entirely sure there will ever be another photo that will do as well as Blood Dress has in terms of exposure, but in the end, I'm selfish and I take the pictures I want to see. That one just happened to be a picture other people wanted to see too.
All photos provided by Stolen Innocence Photography
Stay up to date with Melissa's creepy creations here:
Interview by Glodeane Brown