People who only know Melanie LaMountain as the director of adult education at West Bay Community Action are missing the bigger picture, literally. LaMountain is also know as one of the best freelance photographers in Rhode Island, and it was in that role that she appeared at the Wickford Arts Festival this past weekend.
“Although my focus early on was to pursue my studies and career in the education and social service fields, my desire has always been to pursue my photography more seriously,” said LaMountain in her artist’s statement at www.eyephotographyou.com. “Attending Rhode Island School of Design and Maine Media Workshop's summer residency program has allowed me to study the art and craft of photography in more depth. As the world continues to fascinate me, so do the many genres of photography.”
A visit to LaMountain’s website will offer you a glimpse of the aesthetic judgment she brings to her photography. She has what is often called a “painterly eye” with which she captures the dramatic contours of a coastline, as in her “Rock Wave, Pemaquid Point, Maine.” It evokes the powerful vision of Rockwell Kent and Ansel Adams in its portrayal of the power of the sea. Another nocturnal photo, “Pondering Providence,” during a Waterfire event manages to be both intimate and large as it encompasses people and buildings in one view.
Her photographs of reflections on water in color are mysterious and commonplace at the same time. You look at the picture “O’ Frabjous Day!” until the water, the light and the wit of the photographer reveal themselves to you as almost a surprise.
LaMountain’s background included teaching adults, case management and interpreting for the deaf. She is an active member of the Adult Education Advisory Council to the Rhode Island Department of Education and also works with the Rhode Island Workforce Alliance. Occasionally, the photography and the social work come together:
“Once, when I was working with Dorcas Place, a literacy project in Providence, I had the students take pictures as part of their course work,” she said. “With it, they were able to see things entirely. We eventually framed the works and pictures. You could see how it opened their eyes to things.”
As much as she loves photography, she also acknowledges the satisfactions of teaching adults and getting them further along in life.
“Teaching children, you don’t always see the results of what you are doing,” she said. “With adults, you see immediate changes in their lives. You see them getting job training or going on to college right away.”
But her love for photography is a different sort of satisfaction. “For over 20 years, my passion for photography has only increased. Starting out at age 15 with my first all manual 35 mm camera, I was finally capturing on film what my mind’s eye had been composing and framing all along. Starting out in high school and college working in the darkroom, I have eventually transitioned to a digital format, without entirely abandoning film.”
A 1983 graduate of Toll Gate High School, LaMountain earned a degree in Human Development from California State Long Beach and graduate work at the National University in San Diego. But she did come back to Rhode Island and still has close ties to Warwick.
“I saw some of my high school classmates in Wickford this weekend,” she was pleased to report. “We are going to have a get together with some others later this month, a mini-reunion.”
As for her older cameras, LaMountain said she keeps a rangefinder camera to help her frame a composition, or to see it from another point of view.
She has also taken to experimenting with the surfaces of photographs and using encaustic wax to add texture to a composition.
“Coating it with the wax gives it a certain look, mounted on wood, it has an atmosphere about it,” she said.
“Attending Rhode Island School of Design and Maine Media Workshop's summer residency program has allowed me to study the art and craft of photography in more depth.”
LaMountain said she has difficulty labeling her work as any school or genre. She is just as happy portraying idyllic scenery in traditional compositions to the more abstract and surreal, from the classic portrait to the interpretive self-portrait.
LaMountain had a booth at the Wickford Art Festival over the weekend, and although she is not boasting of record sales at the event, she’s not complaining.
“The weather was beautiful, I had a great location and I sold some pictures,” she said. “It was great.”