melanie pullen

16 March 2012

I was first introduced to Melanie Pullen's High Fashion Crime Scenes, a series of photographs based on vintage crime-scene images, first-hand accounts, and documents the artist culled from the archives of the Los Angeles Police Department and County Coroner's Office, by a colleague while doing my Master's in the History of Art, Design, & Vuisual Culture.We shared a love of the grotesque and macabre (although she professed a greater love for high fashion than I did), so when she presented the images to me I was immediately struck by their disturbing beauty and surreal, almost cinematic quality, but also by the compelling stories underlying the works.

Pullen began the project after reading a copy of Luc Sante's 1992 book, Evidence (1914-1919), chronicling early-twentieth-century crime scene photos from the New York Police Department. As she recounts, she became so fascinated with the details and artful framing of the images that she almost didn't notice the crimes, their violence and gruesomeness receding into the background. Intrigued by the ways in which we have become desensitized to violent images in contemporary visual and media culture, she re-creates the crime scenes and styles the photos to draw out these details, outfitting her "victims" in haute couture and bold, saturated colours. In doing so, she employs the power of the cultures of fashion and beauty to distract, to divert our attention away from what are otherwise deeply disturbing events and subjects, while nevertheless allowing this violence to ambiguously lurk in the background. All of the photos in the series are based on real crime scenes and speak to real tragedies, however buried in the past or lost in archives they may seem. It is these haunting and inaccesible back stories that drives the series and that Pullen seeks to evoke, examining our desensitized, glamourized relationship to violent imagery. At the same time, however, she also celebrates the history of crime scene photography, paying homage to photographers like Eugene Atget, Alexander Gardner, Jacob Riis, and Arthur Fellig (aka Weegee) who often worked as both artists and professional photographers, producing artistic crime scene photos that were evocative of tabloid illustrations or film noir at the same time that they documented violent and gruesome events.

Melanie Pullen, Anna & The Grass, 2003

Melanie Pullen, Dorothy (Barrel Series), 2003

Melanie Pullen, Half Prada (Hanging Series), 2003

Melanie Pullen, Miyake (Metro Series), 2005

Melanie Pullen, Last Light, 2004

Melanie Pullen, Red (Water Series), 2005

Melanie Pullen, Mr. Rossi, 2004

Melanie Pullen, Caovilla, 2004

Melanie Pullen, Phones, 2005

Melane Pullen, Oscar's Grass, 2005

Melanie Pullen, Blue (Water Series), 2005

Melanie Pullen, Milla's Welcome, 2004


Melanie Pullen, Hugo's Camera, 2004

Melanie Pullen, The Weitzman File, 2004

Melanie Pullen, Self-Portrait, 2003

Melanie Pullen, Mirror (Hanging Series), 2005

Melanie Pullen, Renee's Tree, 2004

Melanie Pullen, Rebecca, 2004


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