Viewfinder: Rod Melotte

by Jim Dittmann
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Image titleBy: Rod Melotte

What is that, a painting?  A photograph?

This is the one question I hear over and over at art fairs and my basic reply is,  “It’s a little of both, except I’m painting with pixels and a mouse, as opposed to a paint brush.”

I did not start out trying to be “an artist” that sold photographs.  Well, perhaps I did when I was in high school but I quickly realized that all of my work, well to be honest, bored me.  I would have what I considered a great shot in my viewfinder, but the finished product was not what I had in my mind’s eye.  I was a frustrated photographer for many, many years as I kept underwhelming myself.

Fast forward to 2008 and I had taken some photos of our State Capitol using a couple of new techniques I had been playing with.  I liked the finished product, but was it just me?  So I printed them on canvas and, just for giggles and because it was free, put them up at a Starbucks just to see if there were any reactions, good or bad.  WELL, the month that those images were up was a surprise to say the least.  I received phone calls and requests for other images “in that painterly technique” and things sort of took off from there.

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The problem was which “painterly” technique are you talking about?  Many times I cannot actually recreate what I do from photo to photo.  I sort of “jam.”   Like a guitarist that picks up a new guitar and just goes with the flow.  For me, I sit down, look at an image that I shot and just . . . flow.  I am never sure where I will end up.

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For instance, my photograph of the Umbrellas on the Square:  It was a very wet day, but the lighting was perfect, and I felt when I took the photograph that it was almost raining very colorful paint.   My problem when I started to work on the shot was that I could see people’s faces.  I did not want that, as the viewers would look to see if they knew anyone.  So instead of sharpening the shot, I went the other way and sort of blurred and fudged and layered it, and yes – those are all natural-colored umbrellas; I got lucky.  People have told me that it stirs memories of the square when they worked in Madison.

But then I will go the other route.  The Antique Wooden Boat image has more saturated color than what was actually present, and I wanted more and more detail, the little bubbles in the water and so forth.  I wanted to make it like I was right there, right now.

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Here is the funny thing.  Once at an art fair I was asked who my favorite classical artist was and I honestly could not think of one.  One thing leads to another and the woman suggested I go to the library and look at some of the classic art books.  You see, I do not remember ever taking an art class, so I was never exposed to all of those “old” artists.

I went to the library, got a big 20-pound book by the masters and started flipping through the pages, and when I turned the page to Paris-based impressionistic artists of the late 1800s… WOW, OH MY!  I can still feel the chills, these are wonderful, I had only seen a few of these artists and I instantly fell in love with the likes of Monet, Pissarro and Guillaumin.  What I loved the most was the subject matter.  Common ordinary things people see everyday, but created in a way that tweaked your brain, like a little memory pinch that said, “Remember this?”

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The colors are not real but that is how all of your combined memories have it stored.  Maybe you have not seen that scene but you have seen other scenes like this and all of those combined memories flood your senses and you get a warm feeling.

My cow photo, Inquisitive Yet Cautious:  People will stop and out of the blue will tell me cow stories and as I listen it is like they are reliving a moment in their lives; their eyes are sparkling and they are smiling and they say they can almost smell the manure (I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing).

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A new piece is the Sunset from the Cana Island Causeway.  It was a warm night, the kind where you can feel the air moving, but it is not up to a breeze yet.  The water was calm enough for reflection and I had this very, very serene feeling.

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And then there is my man cave art.  You have all been to art fairs and typically there would be a couple with the female inside my canopy looking at art and the male looking terribly bored and looking at his watch.  Well, why not put up some images that appealed to the bored people.  Plus – I liked shooting “guy” stuff.

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So I shot some photos of the B-17 and trains.  At one show a guy was standing looking bored when all of a sudden he approaches me and is looking at my work.  He looks at me and says, “I go to these blasted fairs all the time and you are the first artist that seems to be different.”   He purchased an F-16 fighter that I took from the National Guard Air Base.

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There is one tip I want to give photographers that want to get into the business.  Do not listen to people in the business.  I was told so many times that I had to have a theme like windmills, flowers, nature, horses and so forth.  Well, I say shoot what makes you feel good.  If you love the subject, it will show in your work.

Have fun and do not force it.  It is an adventure!

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