Year of Rebellion Gallery Exhibition
July 15, 2008 - September 12, 2008
The Brooks Institute Cota Street Gallery, Santa Barbara, California
Joe Melchione's award winning photographs provide his viewers with the opportunity to witness a moment that they did not experience. As his images reveal, his subject matter is broad, ranging from photojournalism to landscape photography. In all of his work, he brings the viewer into the photograph to share the moment. Melchione is able to convey what he cannot say in words by portraying a narrative or a complex emotion within a single photograph. Melchione received his first camera in 1969 and has been an active photographer ever since. Other than a semester of study at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Melchione is self-taught. Much of his focus is on the dynamic scenery and varied lifestyles of California. Melchione's intuitive eye allowed him to produce stunning photographs early in his career. The portfolio from Isla Vista, taken in the 1970s, captures the essence of the youth culture in California at a time of dissatisfaction and protest. Simultaneously, he photographed the street scene in Santa Monica with sensitive insight and clarity. Melchione is reluctant to join the digital “revolution” and remains committed to film. His works are direct and unmanipulated. He believes that the image should be created at the time the photograph is taken and not in the lab. Beyond that, he believes that the truth should always be told.
In 1970, Isla Vista, home to the University of California's “Campus by the Sea”, witnessed an unprecedented level of political radicalism and immersion in the counterculture. Isla Vista was the last place that anyone expected this to happen. Three full-scale riots took place in Isla Vista. The unrest reached such extremes that the National Guard was called out and occupied the town. During the course of the rebellion, one student was killed by sheriffs' gunfire and the Bank of America branch was burned to the ground. These riots were initially sparked by the outrage that students felt about the University's highhandedness in denying tenure to a popular, but unconventional, professor. This was all against a backdrop of a growing recognition of the absurdity of the Vietnam War and the Nation's slow pace in providing equal rights to all of its citizens. The momentum for change spread to an otherwise apolitical and apathetic student body. Melchione portrayed the group dynamics of forces arrayed against each other. His iconic photographs of National Guardsmen pointing rifles and students flashing looks of empowerment sum up that turbulent era.
“The images capture what I witnessed. I have tried to present them objectively, but I must admit that being involved in these events was more important than recording them. Nearly thirty-five years later, I am proud to say I was there and I took part and sad to say that we seem to be at it again with an increasingly senseless war in Iraq.”
-- Joe Melchione
This portfolio depicts the faint loneliness and alienation that is so often experienced in the urban setting. These images function as direct vignettes of the urban environment. As an example, compositions juxtapose posters and graffiti with architecture and people. The images range from depictions of a lone figure amidst rows and rows of folding chairs to clouds proudly proclaiming Coca-Cola's newest flavor “Vanilla”.
Melchione is conscious of moments that are often overlooked. His narratives give insight into a shared experience between photographer and subject. Whether feeling shy, imposed upon, comfortable or simply ambivalent to the camera; the subject's connection with Melchione is evident in each image. The photographs demand a moment of introspection and thought. Each is spontaneous and unrehearsed. Although his commitment to genuine and direct photography has remained unchanged, his earlier images reflect a time when cameras were less ubiquitous and people were less self-conscious.
Melchione's great love of nature is evident in these photographs. As a committed environmentalist, his distress at the degradation of the environment has lead him to hope that his photography can enhance people's appreciation of nature. The images are powerful, yet intimate, and reflect his great respect for nature's beauty. These landscapes depict the familiar beaches of Santa Monica as well as the remote shores of Kauai. Although focused on nature, many of these photographs, especially the most recent, evidence a human presence in the belief that including a human figure makes the images more accessible.
Melchione's underwater photographs are reflective of his approach to street photography, demonstrating his ability to capture a moment directly and unequivocally. His experience as a Master Scuba Diver aided him in overcoming the extreme challenge of capturing images underwater. Melchione has presented us with vibrant and intimate portraits of sea life making an alien world familiar and immediate by eliminating the gulf between the photographer and the subject.
You will only find a few images in this gallery. Melchione hopes to add to this gallery if he can get out of the water long enough. Hope you enjoy.