Mélanie Desriaux · Les Passagers du Mississippi

Jan 14, 2020

Mélanie is a French photographer who works around documentary photography inspired by the vernacular and establishing visual connections between epochs and between imaginaries. In her series "Les Passagers du Mississippi", Mélanie explores the concept of the "frontier", an idea that has influenced and shaped the history of North America. Inspired by "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ", Mélanie travelled along this mighty river photographing its landscapes and neighbours, and at the same time depicting the legacy and consequences of its past events.

am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?

MD - I was born in La Rochelle, France and I live and work in Paris and Lyon. I graduated from the School of Fine Arts (Rennes, France, 2006) and later obtained a Higher Competitive Exam in Education in Visual Arts, with Photography as a major subject (Aix-en-Provence, France, 2010). Ever since, I have split my work between artistic assignments, teaching and personal research.

In 2015 I won a scholarship for a wandering photographic tour in The United States titled "La conquête". My work about the Oregon trail gave me the first "Fisheye magazine Jury Prize". In 2019 I won again a scholarship to continue my research. Then I did "Les passagers du Mississippi".


am - What is “Les passagers du Mississippi” about?

MD - The Frontier is a limit zone. Also, it is one of the historical myths of The United States. In the 15th century, the word « Frontier » was borrowed from the French by the English language, to mean the region of a country that faces another country. In North America, « Frontier » means a region that borders a civilized territory. It’s a pioneer front. This limit zone has hold a strong role in the American imaginary and its identity.

Since the "New Topographics" exhibition, Robert Adams notified in The New West: "Landscape along the Colorado Front Range, the necessity for an iconographic renewal of the Frontier. This limit zone was less a geographical division between East and West, that the meeting point between savagery and civilization. The photography’s purpose was now to reconcile us with a wild nature."

"The passengers of the Mississippi" is a continuation on my photographic research. Indeed, Mississippi would be the pursuit of "The Conquest". I have gone along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans. The sinuosity and the overflows of the Mississippi River reveal the illusion of a border and symbolizes migration. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain – symbol of this America imprint of freedom but also of conservatism – allowed me to made my itinerary, and to document the persistence of the border and the territory issues. Between fiction and autobiography, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" reveals the identity quest of a young hero, grown up through the Mark Twain writing, a writing that operates a shift from fiction to reality.

am - What were you most interested in capturing with these images?

MD - For me, to see is to be able to imagine. So, I try to make links, to create analogies and to elaborate a storytelling between many temporalities. Each project is for me as a ritual initiation to other worlds. What interests me above all is otherness. In these images, I wanted to express the atmosphere of the South and the collective imagination to which it refers.


am - Did you have any references or sources of inspiration for this series?

MD - Each project comes from readings, movies and current issues, which I study to understand my subject and to know how to approach it. For this project I read "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Life on the Mississippi" by Mark Twain, and "Ligth in August" by William Faulkner. I also watched "Mud" by Jeff Nichols, "As I Lay Dying" by James Franco and "LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton" by Deborah Dickson, Susan Froemke and Albert Maysles. I looked at the pictures of Danny Lyon, Joel Sternfeld, Stephen Shore, Walker Evans and William Eggleston for instance.


am - What is your favourite photo book?

MD - My favorite photo book is "Redheaded Peckerwood" by Christian Patterson; a body of photographs, documents and objects that utilizes the underlying narrative of a true crime story as a spine.


am - What are your plans for the new year interns of photography?

MD - I don't use to talk about my projects before I make them.


am - Thank you very much for your time and your contribution to analog magazine.

All images © Mélanie Desriaux

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