Melody Melamed’s portraits of trans-masculine people share both a bracing and quiet awareness of the struggles and triumphs of the transition process. Taken at the homes of her subjects, Melamed’s photos are domestic and warm, subtle and empathetic, while focusing a lens on surgery scars, facial hair, and trans men with their partners. They pay attention to the aliveness of the word transition — the photos’ subjects are captured in all stages of the process, and the images vibrate with a painful energy.
On the phone in October, Melamed explained that the inspiration for her portraits of trans men, titled Works in Progress, came from another project she’d done, Two is One. “I did a series of portraits of androgynous males and females,” she said. “I had a subject named Joe who came to me about a year later for pictures and he started talking to me about his transitioning from female to male, so I started documenting him.”
“My work has always been about gender,” she continued. “There is something about female-to-male transition that I can relate to in a way. I’m female, not a trans person, but there is something I can relate to. I find a closeness to my subjects.” And in explaining the process of her shoots, she affirmed that this was true: “It’s the first time I’m meeting these people,” she said, but “typically I hang out with them for a day. I think we’ll photograph for about 20 or 30 minutes. Most of the time is spent getting to know each other and hearing their stories.”
Melamed’s portraits could be a confusing or emotional experience, especially for those who have never witnessed — let alone undergone — transition. This, the photographer maintains, is part of her intent. “I want it to touch people,” she said, but it’s not just for the unaware voyeur. “In a way, I think this is more for the people who are experiencing this kind of transition, specifically the people that I photograph,” she said. “I know that there are plenty of trans men and women who I’m sure can identify with these people and these images. Even if you’re not trans, I hope that you can get a sense of understanding that this is real, that this is existing. It’s powerful stuff and we should take it seriously.”