Interview with Melissa Marcello

Born in 1991, Melissa Marcello is a professional fashion photographer with a strong passion for art, painting and haute couture. Her project UTPICTURA aims to communicate art in an unconventional and inclusive way, merging photography, painting and haute couture and translating the past into a modern language. 

Francesca Della Ventura (FDV): Fashion is a universal cultural and social phenomenon that has taken photography as its main means of communication, diffusion and affirmation.   Fashion photography, however, is still today a genre that is little studied and little valued when compared to artistic photography. Melissa, what is your approach to fashion photography? How did you find working in the fashion environment when you were very young and what does fashion photography mean to you? 

Melissa Marcello (MM): I have always been attracted by art, since I was a child: any material could be a source of inspiration to create something that reflected my imagination. So, I immediately approached photography, starting with analogue photography. In my twenties, when I became more aware, I decided to make it my profession. The discovery of fashion photography went hand in hand: I have always loved aesthetics and art, and fashion was a direct consequence of the union of these two fields. In my work as a photographer, I have come into contact with historic fashion agencies, fashion magazines and several designers; this environment attracted me to it and I have always felt part of it. In recent years I have matured as a professional, as a woman and as an artist and I have found the right expression for my art: UTPICTURA, a project where I am free to express myself and my style and which is giving me great satisfaction.  

At a time when we are used to observing and enjoying many images, I believe it is important to have one’s own poetics and to be able to express it through research and solid cultural foundations. This is what I try to do in my work today, bringing my own language through my shots, a language that can “come out” without the need for my words. 

Melissa Marcello on the photo set ©Melissa Marcello

FDV: You mentioned your project “UTPICTURA”. Can you talk about it in detail? How did you come to conceive UTPICTURA? What were your first works? 

MM: UTPICTURA is a part of me: the project was born in 2018, but it was in my head all along because since my first shots there has always been a strong connection with art. This project, UTPICTURA, is a constant inner search and personal, as well as professional, growth.

I started by shooting some models from a well-known Milanese fashion agency, not only very good professionals but also friends who liked the idea behind UTPICTURA, that is to turn a shot into a work of art. Over time, the project grew and I did some real casting calls for portraits. Now, a few years after the start, I receive numerous requests for commissioned work, not only from agencies and companies, but also and above all from private individuals.

“Wilhelmina Bush, from the UTPICTURA project, 2020 ©Melissa Marcello

FDV: You are the only photographer specialised in fashion photography in our inWomen.Gallery, can you tell us about a typical day on the set? What is the most difficult part of doing a job for Utpictura? 

MM: UTPICTURA is not just a shoot, it is above all research.  It all starts with an idea that can come at any time, the best ideas have always come during a walk or run in nature, which is fundamental for me; each idea is dynamic and I also draw inspiration from my personal experience and cultural influences. 

Once the idea has been identified, it’s time to put it into action. I then create a very detailed “moodboard” (a collage of images that helps me to plan) which I then share before the final set. I carefully research faces and subjects to portray, without any preclusion of gender, ethnicity or age: UTPICTURA is in fact a totally heterogeneous and inclusive project. The location of the shoot is also important and is chosen by me with care and attention. On the set I try to create a situation and a welcoming environment, trying to put at ease everyone who takes part: music is an important element because it stimulates creativity and helps to relax and immerse oneself in the mood. 

The work doesn’t end with the end of the shoot: after the set, in fact, the post-production part begins, another aspect I love so much about my work and where my art really takes shape. 

Melissa Marcello, self-portrait, ©Melissa Marcello

FDV: Melissa, in the last few years the campaigns of big fashion brands, Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton (which has actually been doing this since the 1960s) for example, have made great use of art history. What do you think art photography can draw from fashion photography and vice versa? 

MM: The dialogue between art and fashion has always existed and in recent years it has reached its peak.  I personally follow the big fashion houses with great interest because through their vision they are able to rewrite the contemporary world. My biggest dream is to introduce UTPICUTURA to Haute Couture and start a collaboration. 

Art and fashion for me are one and the same, I don’t see them as separate entities, and this is what I always try to convey in each of my shoots, even when I am working on projects unrelated to UTPICTURA. I firmly believe that the photographer, through the camera, can express himself by following the rules of fashion but reinterpreting them through art. 

The most complex part of my work, but also the most challenging, is understanding what you want to communicate to the world, asking the right questions and finding the answers, in a continuous dialogue between art and fashion.

Francesca Della Ventura
Francesca Della Ventura

Francesca Della Ventura is a journalist, curator and contemporary art critic, as well as founder and director of inWomen.Gallery.